Oakman Area History
There is much doubt and speculation as to the age of Oakman but one can get a good idea by considering facts about some of the early settlers. While John Key was getting settled on Lost Creek northwest of Oakman, in 1824, Thomas Davis was born near Oakman on Cain Creek in 1826. Tinson Shepherd settled on a nearby farm in 1827, and Hugh Lollar settled near Providence before 1820. In 1840 Mortimer Corry was living near Oakman and William Turner Sartain had settled near Providence.
A post office was established near the present site of Oakman of the old Jasper to Tuscaloosa road, and was called York Post Office thus verifying the community was named York at that time. Mortimer Corry is thought to be the first postmaster.
In 1816 William Byrd Day came in and settled at the gap in the mountains that surround the community. Shortly after this the community was called Days Gap, the main street ran north and south, with the east side being called Days side and the west side being called Corry side. These two men had either entered or bought land, and generously offered six lots 40 feet by 40 feet, to any religious, group on which to build a church house. The First Baptist and the Methodist churches were two that took advantage of this opportunity. The community did not grow to any size until 1884 when the Georgia Pacific Railroad was built from Columbus, Mississippi. Before this most of the freight and food supplies were transported from Tuscaloosa by wagons drawn by mules and oxen.
With the coming of the railroad, the community sprang into immediate prominence as a distributing point for the entire county. A stagecoach route was operated to Jasper, South Lowell and Birmingham, and it was seriously considered making Oakman the county seat.
During this period of growth, Oakman had the first telephone in the county with service from Oakman to Jasper; also at one time Oakman had five saloons. Oakman had become a center of trade, and farmers from far and near came to buy supplies. While in town, some of the farmers would drink too much and their friends would simply put them in their wagons and head the teams toward home. The men usually arrived home safely. During the period of open saloons women were afraid to go to town.
This was before the invention of the automobile, and the usual method of transportation was by horseback or wagon. The streets were not paved, and the wagon wheels cut up the streets. During rainy seasons, the mud would sometimes be knee deep. As a result the merchants would put boards across the streets, forming a sidewalk.
About this time, J. E. Cook came from Columbus, Mississippi, and bought a large parcel of land on the other side of Days Gap. Cook's wife, Mary Etta, was reluctant to leave her home in Mississippi. In order to persuaded Mary Etta to move to Walker County, Cook told her that he would build her a big house and would build a town and name it after her. Obviously this worked as the town was named Marietta. Cook also built a sawmill, a grist mill and a store. There has been a sawmill and a store on that place since that time. The large parcel of land is still owned by the Cook family.
Sometime around 1888 a man named Oakman came to Days Gap on the train. While in town, Oakman offered the town $10,000.00 to change the town's name from Days Gap to Oakman. The town's officials considered the offer and decided to change that day.
Submitted by: Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Sartain to Ruth Teaford and entitled "Town of Oakman". Sources: An article in the Daily Mountain Eagle dated January 13, 1989.
The Georgia Pacific Railroad had begun laying its tracks in Columbus, Mississippi, moving eastward, which would carry it through Fayette and Walker Counties. In anticipation of this, the Corona Coal Company was organized with the help of financial backing from General Coulter, an outside investor who served as the company's president. L. B. Musgrove obtained the vice-presidency of the company. The first active mining at Corona was begun on August 14, 1883. About this same time another mine began production at Patton, under the supervision of W. E. Leake and Dunn Brothers. Soon coal tipples had been constructed and coal was stored on the ground until the first train arrived. By 1884, the railroad had reached Alta, in Fayette County, about five miles from Corona and Patton. The Dunn Brothers then began hauling coal in wagons from the Patton mines to the railhead in Alta, where it was then loaded on trains and shipped to Columbus. The mines at Corona sent out less coal, but were the first to be reached by the Georgia Pacific railway, which hurried a temporary track into the Corona mine in order to meet their contract deadline.
On a Sunday morning in 1884, David Kirkwood, superintendent of the Corona mine, loaded five Mobile and Ohio rail cars and placed them on this track, shipping out the first coal ever to leave Walker County by railroad. More than five hundred people gathered to witness this momentous occasion. Later that same year a forty ton boulder of solid coal was sent by rail from the Corona mine by Evans J. Dunn to New Orleans where it was placed on display at the 1885 World Exposition. It is believed to have been the largest single piece of coal ever mined, and two rail cars broke down enroute hauling it to its destination, as the massive boulder exceeded their maximum capacity by more than ten tons.
By November, 1884, the Georgia Pacific Railroad completed its line into the present-day town of Oakman, where a terminus was established. Soon a town began to spring up around the railroad, which became known as Day's Gap, named after William Byrd Day, who settled there at the gap between the mountains in 1862. A post office had been established nearby many years earlier, which was given the name of York. A stagecoach line was run from Day's Gap to Birmingham, via Jasper and South Lowell. Spur tracks were soon laid from the railroad to nearby mines at Coal Valley and Mountain Valley which rapidly came into production. By 1885, the town of Day's Gap (now Oakman) had a population of four hundred. Community leaders such as Wiley W. Hutto, James Odom, J. J. Phifer, and James S. Watts were among the town's prominent residents. The growth of the area even attracted a number of Jasper businessmen, such as Dr. W. C. Rosamond, J. H. Cranford, and Dr. J. W. Gravelee. Joe Bush served as the town's marshal. Building lots were offered free to any religious denomination that would construct a church, compliments of James Corry, who became known as the "Duke of Day's Gap".
From The Heritage of Walker County published by Heritage Publishing Consultants, Inc., Clanton, Alabama., p. 3. To order a copy for $59.40 plus contact the Jasper Public Library. Make checks payable to Walker County Heritage Book Committee, P.O. Box 2290, Jasper, AL 35502.