George Washington Wise, A Vintage Vignette

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George Washington Wise
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
June 22, 2007

It is ironic that one of the most involved and prominent early citizens of Madison is buried in the city cemetery without a tombstone. There is an enclosed plot for the family of George Washington Wise, including his parents and a brother – all of whom have monuments except G. W. himself and his son of the same name. It is not known why G. W. has no headstone, but his life certainly had a strong influence on the town.

George Washington Wise was born in 1854 in Virginia to Samuel and Sarah Wise. Though they had several children in Pennsylvania and Virginia, Samuel and Sarah purchased a farm just south of Madison, moving here in 1872 with their two youngest sons, G. W. and James Arthur. By the early 1880s, G. W. was a merchant in Madison, and James was a farmer in Limestone County. During the next several decades, both brothers bought several parcels of land in Madison. George became a partner of the Burton & Wise Pharmacy, but soon set up his own general store with his brother. He was also in partnerships with the Hertzler family and with B. F. Harper, mayor of Madison in 1900.

Among his other accomplishments, G. W. became the President of the Bank of Madison and a trustee of both the Madison Training School (1913) and the Madison Male and Female Academy (1885). In 1893 he married Hattie Martin, a daughter of Madison’s first lot owner and merchant, George Washington Martin. Hattie was a twin sister of Hassie, who died tragically in a railroad accident, as did their mother, Nancy Leeman Martin, in an earlier accident. Perhaps the best life summary of G. W. Wise was given in his obituary as published in the Huntsville Daily Times on September 10, 1931: “George W. Wise, 78, for 40 years a leading merchant of Madison Station, died at his residence yesterday afternoon after a brief illness. Mr. Wise was born in Winchester, Va., and moved to Madison at the age of 38 years (should be 18 years). He was one of the leading residents of the community and took an active part in all community affairs. He was an active member of the Methodist Church.”

“Surviving are a son, George W. Wise, Jr., of Madison, and a daughter, Mrs. R. S. Banks of Birmingham. Funeral services were conducted from the Madison Methodist Church this afternoon at 4 o’clock, the Rev. Ted Hightower officiating. Burial followed in the Madison cemetery, with Womack in charge. The following served as pallbearers: D. S. Lanier, J. L. Brewer, R. E. Cain, J. S. Cain, Ernest Cain and C. H. Dublin.”

George’s father Samuel died in 1876 at age 65. His mother Sarah died in 1895, after a life of 79 years. His wife Hattie died in 1915. His brother James died in 1889, living to only the age of 28 and having a son Arthur Sydney who died at 7 months of age. James in 1884 married Lucy F. Harris, daughter of Thomas Harris, who has the earliest death date on a tombstone in the city cemetery. Lucy’s father Thomas was a son of Dr. Algernon Sydney Harris of Madison. Thomas died in Madison in 1869, before the Wise family came to Madison, from wounds received at the Battle of Manassas.

G. W. Wise and his wife Hattie had sons G. Cantor (1898) and George Washington Wise Jr. (1904). They also had a daughter named Sarah Betty (1901). Sarah married Robert S. Banks in 1926 and lived in Decatur before moving to Birmingham. George Jr., a farmer, never married and died in 1937 in Decatur at his sister’s house. He is buried beside his parents in Madison’s city cemetery, without a tombstone, just like his father.

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