David M. McElhaney, A Vintage Vignette

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David M. McElhaney
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
August 18, 2009

Before the town of Madison was founded, while no private person could own the land of the historical district in Section 16 of Township 4, Range 2 West, the surrounding area was still settled and well populated. The area was known as “McElhaney’s Tax District” or Precinct 8, encompassing all of today’s Madison within Madison County and some of the areas to the south toward Triana. No private person could own what has become the historical district because all of Section 16 of each township and range grouping was reserved to the state by the federal government. That was done in order to provide for public education, so the 16th sections were called “School Lands”. The state could let the land remain unused, lease it for growing crops, or even sell it to raise money for schools. In 1854, half of the 16th section where Madison is located was sold to James Clemens, who laid out the town plat and began to sell lots to establish a railroad depot town.

Before Clemens’ purchase, a citizens’ board of commissioners rented out the land annually through public bids. They represented the area’s residents for the township and range quadrant. For example, in 1823 a notice in the Huntsville Republican newspaper of November 7 announced that on Saturday, December 6 the cleared lands of the 16th section, Township 4, Range 2 West would be rented to the highest bidder on the premises. The land commissioners named in the ad were James Bibb, Charles Betts, and David Gray – known residents of the area around the site of Madison’s founding and living within today’s city limits.

The enigma is why the name McElhaney became namesake of the precinct. The reference probably arose from David M. McElhaney’s ownership of land where the Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse is now located along Highway 72 in Madison. His name was first found in the 1830 census, living next door to James Clemens, the founder of Madison 20 years later. Nearby were several Hilliard families plus Vaughn, Tuck, Bishop, Pettus, Fowlkes, Blackburn, Deadman, Douglass, and Parvin families – all names of known Madison, Monrovia, and Harvest area residents.

McElhaney owned additional land in the area, including a parcel south of the east end of Douglass Road, on the west side of Ardmore Highway. This parcel was sold by the sheriff to Bartley M. Lowe, son-in-law of James Manning. Lowe was the highest bidder when the property was auctioned on the courthouse steps in Huntsville on December 18, 1827. While initially one could think that McElhaney must have been a deadbeat to have his property seized and sold by the sheriff, that was not exactly the case.

McElhaney had underwritten a judgment of the County Court in a case against Abram S. Wright brought by Allen Bryan in favor of John H. Sneed. Wright’s debt was the reason for McElhaney’s property loss. However, McElhaney also had another parcel. He owned land in the Harvest area, across from the Tuck family cemetery. That property is north of Stovall Road, on the east side of Wall-Triana Highway. Even Mary G. (Hilliard) McElhaney, a daughter-in-law of the senior David McElhaney, was party in 1870 with her Hilliard siblings in the sale of land located along Matt Phillips Road and Farrington Road, south of Douglass Road. Mary Hilliard had married the junior David M. “McClehaney” in 1861. The elder David McElhaney married Nancy Ann Wilson in Madison County in 1824. The senior David may have had a brother named Moses who lived in both Madison and Limestone Counties. Moses was married in Madison County to Sally Gaither in 1818. There was also an Allen “McElhany” who married Judah Blankenship in Madison County in 1823, so again there was probably a close relationship.

The McElhaney name was dropped from the precinct identification after the senior David’s passing in 1854. The County Commissioners’ Court Minutes, 1856-1861, record a petition by the citizens of McElhaney’s precinct being approved to abolish the name “McLehaney’s” precinct and move the polling place to Madison depot on the Memphis & Charleston Railroad. The change took effect on the first Monday in August 1857.

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