Madison Balch Families, A Vintage Vignette

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Madison Balch Families
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
July 16, 2007

When I assumed the task of writing the sesquicentennial book of Madison for the Historical Society with backing by the city, it was obvious that the 144-page limit imposed to fit the standards of the American Community Heritage series by Donning Publishers would require tight selection of the family stories that could be included. Thankfully, this column in the Madison Spirit allows some additional coverage of notable families of Madison. Among the most fascinating are the Balch families, who lived in homes on opposite sides of Church Street.

In 1915 Samuel Williamson Balch purchased the 1880s Burton house at 312 Church Street, along with two lots for $625. The house at 311 Church Street was built by his son Joseph Austin Balch Sr. on one of the lots. In 1951 Joe Balch Jr. bought the house of his grandfather and lived in it until his own death in 1998. Both Samuel and Joe Sr. were letter carriers for the post office. Samuel married Martha Parsons, who was an orphan raised by James Dublin and his wife Eleanor Gooch, a daughter of pioneer Roland Gooch. Joe Balch Sr. married Clara Vaughn, daughter of William Vaughn and his wife Fannie Eason. One of the children of Joe Balch Sr. is Samuel Eason Balch, now about age 88 and still very active. Samuel E. Balch grew up in Madison, working at times to record crops grown on land that today is Redstone Arsenal. He became an attorney and partner in the Balch & Bingham firm of Birmingham. That firm today employs over 250 lawyers, with offices not only in Birmingham but also in Montgomery, Atlanta, Washington DC, Jackson (Mississippi), Gulfport, and several other cities. Even the firm itself has roots in this area, as it was founded in 1920 by Judge William Logan Martin Jr., a former Attorney General of Alabama, with connections to the Madison Martin families of the first lot owner in the town.

The Balch families of the area descend from Hezekiah J. Balch and his wife Tabitha Vaughn, who were the parents of Samuel Williamson Balch. Hezekiah was a charter member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Monrovia, where he served as the first Sunday School Superintendent. He and Tabitha have the earliest marked graves in the church cemetery. Hezekiah was born in 1811 in Sparta, White County, Tennessee. He died in 1874. Another of his sons was William McKinney Balch (1841-1914), who married Martha Louise Parvin. Their son William Walter Balch married Mary Hilliard. Their family included sons Ira Clifton Balch, Merril Clayton Balch, and Monroe J. Balch – all involved in the history of Madison. Clifton worked for the post office, while Clayton was manager of a cotton gin and an enumerator of the 1930 census. Marriages tie the Balch family not only to those mentioned earlier, but also to local surnames of Pike, Gooch, Camper, Crutcher, Clutts, Broyles, Lewis, Clift, Sisco, Vasser, Bailey, Hereford, and Blackburn.

The U. S. history of the Balch family is well documented in a number of sources. The genealogy has been clearly traced back to a John Balch born in 1635 in Bridgewater, Somerset Co., England. He came to Maryland and was progenitor of several famous members of the surname. Henry Hezekiah Balch, who lived in Huntsville in the 1950s was American Consul General in Dublin, Ireland, in the 1930s. Another Hezekiah Balch was credited as the primary author of the 1775 Mecklenburg (North Carolina) Declaration of Independence -- first in the world and thought to have been used as a model for the declaration written a year later in Philadelphia. Another John Balch from Somerset County, England, came to America in 1623 and lived in what is now Beverly, Massachusetts. In 1636 he built at that site the oldest still-standing house in America. The Balch name is of Welsh origin and means “proud”, as well they should be. Their line has shown repeatedly how a strong work ethic and keen intelligence can lead to great achievements in our country. Balch descendants and relatives still gather annually for a well-attended family reunion in the Madison – Huntsville area.

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