Landmarks of Dekalb County, Alabama

History of Sylvania ›

Soon after the formation of DeKalb County, settlers began making their way up Sand Mountain with many choosing their homesites in what is now the Sylvania area. N. D. Mason came from Illinois and Jim Duncan, who gave Sylvania its name, came from a Georgia community named Sylvania. The Kaisers and Hunts came from the Dakotas, the Smiths from Kansas, and the Stones, deShields and Workmans from South Carolina. Other early settlers were the Reeves, Bethunes, Mitchells, Crawfords, Tolberts, Neymans, Shepherds and Culverts. When a new arrival moved in, the neighbors helped him build a house and clear a section of woodland to cultivate.

Before long the community had a number of small stores. Some of the first merchants in Sylvania were Joe Berty Neyman, John Reeves, Joe Bethune, Oscar Culver, Chris Crawford, and Pat Baxter. Jeff Stone owned one of the first cotton gins and sawmills. Others who operated early mills included J. B. Neyman, Sam Nappier, Jim Igou, Willie Elliot, and Jonathon Culver. Dr. O. W. Clayton was proabbly the first physician. The post office was established in November, 1893, with Elizabeth H. Duncan serving as post-mistress.

Sylvania school house in 1928.
Sylvania school house in 1928.

The first school built around 1900 was a small log building located where the road to Sylvania Lake and the main Sylvania road intersect. Edd Deanas was the first teacher and Lizzie Mason became the second in 1902. A normal school was held with Dan Cagle and Luther Dean as two of the teachers.

For some time there were no churches. Union Grove Baptist was one of the earliest in the area and Unity Baptist Church was organized in May, 1880. Enoch Stone, whose family was among the charter members, named the church for one he had attended by that name in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

John Garfield DeShields came from South Carolina in 1884 and helped organize Trinity Methodist Church that year, along with Bud Workman and Joe Carlyle. Tommy Stone, who came from South Carolina in 1884, helped Jim Stone cut timber where the old business district was later located and Jeff Stone cut the logs into lumber.

In 1915 Bennett Haralson, who married Janie DeShields, set up a printing press and published a newspaper which he named the Sand Mountain News. In the 1920’s, George Gilbreath established a hotel, which proved to be a short lived business venture.