John W. Woodward, A Vintage Vignette

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John W. Woodward
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
December 20, 2010

Vivian, the only child of Charles and Laura Woodward, was abducted, raped, and murdered in Huntsville in 1936 at the age of 19. She is buried in Maple Hill Cemetery, as are both of her parents, who divorced after her murder. Before their passing, both parents remarried to others and lived elsewhere. Apparently, in death the family wanted to be together again at last. The second spouses of Charles and Laura are not buried in Maple Hill with them. The tragic story of Vivian’s rape and murder, along with the resultant trial and execution of the perpetrator, is fully documented in a book by Huntsville attorney (former District Attorney / Prosecutor) Fred Simpson. The book is “Murder in the Heart of Dixie”, published in 2003. Vivian's story is told in pages 55–83.

Vivian's father Charles was a twin brother of John Woodward. The twins were born in 1889 to John W. Woodward and his wife Sally (sometimes recorded as “Emma”) Bell. The 1900 census of Madison County shows that Sally had given birth to eleven children, but only nine were alive in that year. Sally herself was born in 1863, and her husband John W. was born in 1853. John W. died in 1913, according to his tombstone in the Woodward family cemetery on Redstone Arsenal. The 1920 Meridianville Precinct census shows that Sally Woodward was living as a widow in a household headed by her widowed daughter Edna Woodward Darwin.

Edna Woodward married Jeff Darwin in 1907, but Jeff died in the great flu epidemic of 1918. Their son John Tyler Darwin (1917-2000) married Evelyn Ruth Robison in 1957. Tyler died at age 83, but his mother Edna lived to age 101, dying in 1989. Evelyn and Tyler used political influence to get the Army to agree to their purchase of the “Harris House” (which could be called the “Cooper-Lea-Harris House” to commemorate its earliest owners) at Redstone Arsenal in order to prevent its destruction. Senator John Sparkman and Huntsville Mayor Joe Davis (a close friend of Evelyn's) “cut through the red tape” for the Darwins. They moved the house to Madison in 1977. It stands today overlooking Huntsville from the west side of Metaire Lane and the north side of Eastview Drive on Rainbow Mountain. More of the history of the house was told in my Vintage Vignette of December 19, 2007.

While it may be that the Army at one time resisted a Woodward descendant's purchase of a historic house from the arsenal, they have in fact meticulously maintained the family's cemetery. John W. Woodward's burial is the last known to have occurred in the cemetery, according to inscribed tombstone dates. However, his mother's tombstone shows the earliest birth year there. She was born in 1819 and died in 1885. Her name was Susan Bell, and she married John S. Woodward (John W.'s father) in 1840 in Madison County. In the 1850 census the family was living in the Green Grove or Pond Beat area of the arsenal, with an official “Woodwardville Post Office” there in 1842. The census shows that area inhabitants included known pre-arsenal landowners Margaret Finch, Hughy Smith, and Joel Joiner plus the family of Dr. Preston Capshaw. The doctor was part of the Capshaw family that became the namesake of the community, road, and church 15 to 20 miles northwest of “Woodwardville”, extending into eastern Limestone County.

The senior John Woodward was born in Tennessee in 1813, but he has no tombstone in the family cemetery. The cemetery is located in Test Area 5, about 150 yards south of Building 8875. That puts it in the southeast quarter of Section 28, Township 5 South, Range 1 West. Even with the activities going on around it, the lightly wooded cemetery is serene, a very pleasant place to visit. Appropriately, it is literally the “end of the road”, being at the southernmost end of Pershing Road in the controlled access area. However, Evelyn told me a few years ago that she still occasionally visits the family cemetery with her son, so the Army continues to be gracious about allowing family access.

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