Hugh Nichols, A Vintage Vignette
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
January 11, 2011
One of the newer housing developments along Jeff Road in the vicinity of Vaughn Lake and Vaughn Corners (at the junction with Old Monrovia Road) is called Nichols Bend. Nichols Spring Branch runs from Vaughn Lake into Indian Creek in an area along Nichols Creek Lane, with Millstream Drive to the north, both on the east side of Jeff Road. Today few realize that at one time there was an old mill and a cotton gin at the location. The Nichols Spring Branch name for the smaller creek derives from one of the early owners of the land, Hugh Linzy Nichols. The names of the creeks and the landowners have varied over the years. On maps used before the Civil War, Indian Creek was known as Price's Fork (of Indian Creek) and sometimes as Hurricane Creek. Deeds recorded by Hugh Nichols for the land of the area used both names for the main creek. At that time, the name Indian Creek designated what is now known as Huntsville Big Spring Branch, flowing from the courthouse bluff through Redstone Arsenal toward Triana, near which it joins today's Indian Creek.
Hugh Nichols (sometimes spelled as Nickles) was not the first recorded owner of the land. Pieces of the total parcel owned by Hugh were initially patented from the federal government by James Titus, Ransome Fowlkes, and James Camp during the period from 1809 through 1831. Camp got the final portion of the tract in 1831. He sold his part for $2625 in 1832 to John C. Beasley, with mentions in the deed of the “gin and press” and the “gin pond”, using the high water mark of the gin pond as one of the boundaries of the property. Just over six years later, Beasley sold the property back to Camp for the same price, using exactly the same description of the parcel. The boundaries were described in terms of the high water mark of the gin pond and with references to a white oak and a poplar tree, as well as to the banks of the two creeks.
In February of 1854 per Madison County Deed Book Z, pages 369-370, Hugh “Nickles” purchased 452 acres of the land from Bryant Reedy and his wife Mary Ann plus John Reedy and his wife Jane. Hugh paid only $1500 for his parcel, indicating that the farming, ginning, and milling business must not have been profitable at that location. This time the deed record was more specific, giving the precise legal land description in terms of the locations within Sections 14 and 15 of Township 3, Range 2 West. The language specified an exclusion of 64 acres along the north side of the northeast quarter Section 14, and it referred to Nichols Spring Branch as a canal. That term implies that the natural bed of the creek was perhaps enlarged or straightened to facilitate the mill and gin or press operation at some time earlier. The deed further recorded that Nichols' purchase included 16-1/2 acres in the southeast quarter of Section 15, “...on the north side of the branch running from the Spring near the dwelling house of the said Hugh Nickles and north of the canal conveying the waters from said (Nichols) Spring Branch to the branch or creek running from Price's Big Spring” (now called Kelly Spring), referring to today's Indian Creek.
Hugh Nichols first purchased land in the Monrovia area in 1839. However, he also patented government land in the New Hope area. He was enumerated there in 1850, living two houses from George Sullivan, who became a Madison physician. Hugh (age 48, born in North Carolina) was enumerated in Monrovia in 1860, with his wife Mary, four sons (Alexander, Benjamin, James, and William), and an Alexander Nichols, age 99, born in North Carolina. His neighbors then included George Pike, John Taylor, and James Beasley. Mary died by 1863. Hugh died by 1870. Thomas Pettus was administrator of their estates, which today host up-scale housing. Their son James continued to buy and sell land in the area until at least 1910, when he made a purchase from J. O. Kelly. Hugh wouldn't recognize the place today.