Landmarks of Dekalb County, Alabama

The Black Oak Community ›

Reproduced from the Landmarks Bulletin

One of the earliest settlements in DeKalb County was Black Oak, formed on a brow of Sand Mountain overlooking the Tennessee River. The surrounding thick forests abounded with deer in the plentiful undergrowth where cattle and hogs could also find ample grazing areas. Hunters found abundant game which included rabbits, raccoon, opossum, turkeys, and quail. Occasionally an unwanted black bear or panther was also seen.

Among the first families to make their homes in this wilderness were the Calahans, Sloans, Isbells, Kirtlands, Ryans, Stinsons and Stancels. The first grist mill at Grove Oak, one built by Ephraim Bridges, worked very slowly at turning the millstones. About 1838 John Hamilton built a larger grist mill on Town Creek. Later enlarged into a flour, wool carding, and lumber mill, it became known as Elrod’s Mill.

Black Oak Church founded in 1846 by “Pop” Robinson and Enoch Floyd, was an old abandoned shack where the Methodists and Baptists worshipped together. When the membership increased enough for a separate building to be needed, the Methodists retained the name for their church. For many years following the Civil War, large camp meetings and revivals were held here, with worshipers coming from miles away by means of the slow but ever dependable ox-drawn wagons. Frank Stancell, Josiah Rains and Thomas S. Rains were among the first preachers.

Schools were the typical tuition type, with teachers soliciting their pupils to attend classes during the summer months in improvised structures with slab benches. John L.A. Brown, Daniel McCurry, Reuben Kirtland and George Kirtland were amont the first teachers.

The first post office at Black Oak was established in 1812 with Samuel G. Gilbreath as postmaster. Other postmasters, before the post office was discontinued in 1905, were J.J. Gilbreath, Warren E. Durham, Alexander Graves, Patrick H. Hansard and Absalom C. Howard.

Around the turn of the century some of the leading families, amont them the Ryans, Stancels and Stinsons, moved away. Thomas Ryan and his family settled in Los Angeles, where they operated an aeronautics company. It was there that T. Claud Ryan designed Charles Lindberg’s Spirit of St. Louis.

The Stinson family, after living for a short time in Fort Payne moved to Detroit, Michigan. Eddie and his sister, Catherine, both became noted aviators, she being one of the first women flyers ever licensed. Around 1920 Catherine visited Fort Payne, using Dr. Duff’s farm as a landing field. Eddie, who won numerous prizes and awards as a stunt flyer, was killed in a crash in Detroit in 1933. Both these aviators are well known to students of aviation history.

Other prominent people who came from this little Sand Mountain community include former congressman Albert Rains, musician and composer V.O. Fossett and mathematician Wayman Strother.