Landmarks of Dekalb County, Alabama


Will Rains
Will Rains

Landmarks has been searching for the Will Rains for whom the town of Rainsville, Alabama was named, the man who established Rains and Son General Store at the crossroads atop Sand Mountain over 100 years ago. We have encountered several other Will or William Rainses who were not the store owner of the early 1900s.

The illusive information has been found and verified because of the fact that our last Bulletin was observed on Landmarks’ website one day by a Rains descendant in Liberty, Missouri. Ginny Rains Oscarson invited your editor to attend a reunion of Rains cousins she was planning to hold in Rainsville last July.

Olivia Baxter Cox and Judy Brown, Landmarks board members, attended and met many delightful Rains descendants. One of them was a daughter-in-law of Will Rains the store owner, Jewell David Rains-Clark, a very youthful and effervescent lady in her late eighties. The oldest person at the reunion, she was the wife of Will’s son Clarence Thomas (1911-1973).

Jewell graciously granted us an interview in which she related many fascinating details about the William Henry Rains family. According to Jewell, she never heard him called Will except by one of his sons, Edmund. This fact may help explain our difficulty in finding information about him.

William married Selethia Caroline Head, a Baptist entering a well-known Methodist family, in January 1903. Selethia was the daughter of Daniel Baldwin Head and Sarah Elizabeth Fultz. She and William soon started a family: Joyce Virgil (1903-1956); Edmund Bovard (1906-1988); Maurice (1908-1986); Clarence Thomas (1911-1973); Margie (1914-2000); Ernest Daniel (1916-1968); Clyde (1918-2007); and Francis Asbury (1921-1984). Clyde and his two sisters were not given middle names.

William Rains’ first five children were born in what is now Rainsville. The family then moved to Henagar, where Ernest Daniel was born. Next they moved to Sulphur Springs, hoping the water there would help restore Selethia’s failing health. From there they went to Chattanooga, where some of them would spend the rest of their lives.

The children remembered their mother as having been sick in bed most of the time. They finally discovered that she had tuberculosis, a disease which would inflict four of the children. Maurice, Clyde, Francis, and Margie would be victims of T.B. before spending time in the sanitarium.

Will Rains Store in Rainsville, AL
Will Rains Store in Rainsville, AL

Sometime between 1903 and 1916 William Henry Rains built his small store in the midst of what is now Rainsville. It was known as Rains and Son, the son referred to being Edmund, the second oldest. The oldest boy was actually Joyce Virgil, but his father later explained that he did not speak distinctly when young. He was also known as being a “slow” child. The business was mainly a grocery store, but sold other goods commonly found in country stores, including patent medicines, bolts of fabric, and shoes.

Like many businesses across the nation, Rains and Son General Store was forced into bankruptcy during the Great Depression. William never prospered after his business failed. After Selethia’s death in 1930 he married a Juliette, who had four daughters. One of William’s sons fretted that the formerly strict disciplinarian was helping the girls’ mother spoil her daughters.

Eventually William accepted a job traveling over Florida selling Watkins’ Products. For a time Francis, his youngest son, traveled with him, but later decided to live with his father’s cousin Cora to finish high school.

William Rains spent his last years living with or near his son Clarence Thomas and his wife Jewell in Tallahassee, Florida, where she taught school. He died there on his 85th birthday, December 13, 1965.

Thomas Samuel Rains, had died 37 years prior to William’s death. Thomas’ death occurred after an unusually sad and baffling incident involving a group of male travelers on a cool and windy night in May 1928. Thomas’ brother, Henry William Ignatius Rains, had died at Asbury and a group of men set out for that community in one of the early automobiles. After they had settled into the noisy car, some sort of trouble developed, as often happened with the first cars. They all got out while one person tinkered with something and everything seemed to be all right. Then they piled back into the car and resumed their journey. In all the confusion nobody noticed the frail figure left behind in the shadows.

The poor old fellow trudged along in the dark, fighting darkness and exhaustion until he reached his destination and collapsed. He lived only one hour before being declared dead and placed in the same room as his brother. They were both buried that weekend, his brother, Henry William Ignatius on Saturday at Asbury and Thomas Samuel on Sunday at Grove Oak.

Nancy Jane Wade Rains died on May 28, 1920, almost eight years to the day before her husband’s death. They were also preceded in death by two sons, Lemuel I. and John Wesley, and by one daughter, Elizabeth Alice. Those who wrote tributes to Thomas Samuel Rains upon his death included a well-known Methodist minister, the Reverend John L Brasher, over 100 years old at the time.

Thomas S. Rains, Williams’ father, and the 6th child born to Josiah Francis Rains and Sarah S. Denney in Meriwether County, Georgia, was a veteran of the Civil War, and was a noted circuit-riding preacher who practiced his profession for 32 years, administering to as many as eight churches at one time. Thomas apparently came from a family of strong-willed men. His grandfather, Dabney Rains, was so opposed to slavery that he had his abolitionist stand carved on his tombstone.

He married Nancy Jane Wade, the daughter of Joseph D. Wade and Mary Angeline Griffith on March 17, 1864 in Marshall County, Alabama. According to the 1870 census, Thomas S., Nancy Jane and three children were living in Subdivision 45 of Marshall County. According to the 1880 census they had purchased land in DeKalb County, and were making their home there.

The eight children of Thomas Samuel Rains (1847-1928); and Nancy Jane Wade (1847-1920) were: Ellen Josephine (1865-1935); Sarah Ann (1866-1954); Mary Jane (1868-1944); Lemuel I. (1870-1890); John Wesley (1873-1900); Christine (1876-1969); Elizabeth Alice (1878-1910); and William Henry (1880-1965).

Little did the family imagine that a town would be named for their eighth child and his store.