Jasper in 1891: Population 3,000 and growing


As promised last week, I'm digging into the Daily Mountain Eagle archives for the start of a series of columns that I hope to continue through the fall.

Our archive includes bound volumes of issues from the Eagle as well as now-defunct newspapers such as the Walker County Times and the Jasper Advertiser, dating back to the 1930s. Papers from 1884 onward can be accessed on microfilm. 

The oldest original issue that we have on-site is a special edition from 1891, the paper's 19th year of publication.

The paper was put together to celebrate "the dawn of a new era of prosperity for Jasper and all this section of Alabama."

The Jasper Land Company had been organized in 1887 when the town's population was about 300. The group of local officers had just enough capital to buy almost every unimproved lot in Jasper, but did not undertake any development projects after a recession began. 

In 1891, a group of English investors bought most of the Jasper Land Company's holdings, which included approximately 4,000 acres in and around Jasper, 20,000 acres of timber and about 30,000 acres of coal fields.

One article in the 1891 issue listed a series of reasons why Jasper, which had grown to a population of 3,000 by that time, would soon become a great manufacturing city. Some of the reasons echo those used in modern marketing materials: "Because the cost of living here is very low...because Jasper is just far enough from Birmingham and not too far...because plenty of reliable and competent labor can always be obtained at reasonable prices...because the people here always extend a warm welcome to all good, honest men who come to locate among them."

The issue included numerous profiles of local leaders, such as Mayor G.H. Guttery. 

Guttery, a former county sheriff, had served as mayor since the town was incorporated in 1886. The Eagle gave this glowing assessment of him: "Mayor Guttery is still a young man, and the new company that is going to do so much for the building-up of Jasper will find in him a man who will do all in his power to aid the good work. He clings to no old fogy ideas or traditions but is liberal-minded and progressive. It would be hard to find a better man for the office of Mayor at this time."

On the same page as Guttery's profile, Eagle editors dedicated two columns to an overview of the paper's history in an effort to show how it had grown up with the town.

Men by the name of Anthony and Persinger (no first names given) established the Mountain Eagle in 1872. 

In 1876, the paper was sold to Judge F.A. Gamble, a three-term probate judge, coal mine owner and president of the Jasper Trust Company, which was then the only bank in west Alabama.

In 1878, the Eagle burned, losing "everything except its books and goodwill." Gamble soon sold to Mr. Persinger, one of the paper's founders. 

In 1880, the paper was purchased by L.B. Musgrove and consolidated with the Walker County Times. By 1891, the Eagle had the largest circulation of any weekly paper in the state.

Eagle editors did not shy away from advocacy journalism. When several railroad companies began negotiating land grants with local property owners in 1885 and 1886, the Eagle warned its readers that their property was more valuable than the railroad officers had led them to believe.

"(The Eagle) opposed the contemplated land grants to the railroads and for a long time was alone in the fight. Its enemies declared it was opposed to progress and the development of the country, but the paper kept up the fight and won. The people were, in the end, convinced of the folly of giving away their valuable mineral lands just for the asking," the editors wrote.

In addition to the newspaper, Jasper had four hotels and 30 stores in 1891. Several retail stores reported $150,000 in annual receipts. Two railroads ran through town, and 20 public roads led residents from all over the county to the city center.

"Jasper is not a mere railroad crossing or boom town on paper," the Eagle reported. "No town in the state has enjoyed a more rapid and substantial growth during the past two years, during which time no sort of effort was made to boom the place or to advertise its advantages to the world."

With the arrival of the English-owned Jasper Town and Lands, Limited, which was expected to invest $1 million in developing the town, the future was looking bright for Jasper in 1891.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.