William T. Garner, Sr., A Vintage Vignette

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William T. Garner, Sr.
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
May 11, 2011

Madison pioneer William Thomas Garner, born in Alabama on Valentine's Day of 1830, was primarily, but not exclusively, a merchant. He in 1868 established a store on Lot 12 at what today is 112 Main Street. In the 1850 census, William was listed at age 20 in the Jackson County (Alabama) house of his parents, Ruth and John K. Garner from North Carolina. In 1860 the census listed him as an overseer and head of his own household with his first wife Adeline and his mother Ruth. The 1870 census shows him as a merchant in Madison, as do the censuses of 1880 and 1900. (The census of 1890 was destroyed by fire in a warehouse in the Washington D.C. area, so it is not available today.) The 1880 census also shows that B. F. Harper at age 30 lived in William's house, with the occupation of “clerk in store”. Harper in 1900 was the Mayor of Madison, but he probably came here initially to work in Garner's store. William died on June 2, 1906, so he is not in the censuses after 1900. His tombstone in the old part of the Madison City Cemetery on Mill Road is a large obelisk in the bordered Garner family plot at the west end, near Maple Street's intersection. The west face of the obelisk has the name and dates for William Senior. At its foot, the Sons of Confederate Veterans have emplaced a military marker denoting that William Senior was a Private in the 4th Alabama Cavalry of the Confederate States Army. The Madison County Records Center shows that William T. Garner (Senior) married Adeline Flippen on January 17, 1854, and he married Laura Douglass on January 18, 1870. The east face of the Garner obelisk has the name and dates for William Garner Junior, May 30, 1872 and May 3, 1902. William Jr. was married to a woman named Lucy. They were both enumerated in the household of William Sr. in the 1900 census.

William T. Garner Sr. appears in several early land transaction records in and around the town of Madison. He was often found as one of a group of trustees dealing with sales of lots for commercial enterprises. However, probably his most important transaction was described by Berneice Dilworth in a draft of her book HISTORY OF MADISON COUNTY SCHOOLS, found at the library in Huntsville. On page 3 of the section about the town of Madison, she wrote, “The first organized public school in the City of Madison was Madison Male and Female Academy. August 31, 1885, the following men, W. T. Garner, Thomas B. Hopkins, J. B. Floyd, James B. Hopkins, J. A. Humphrey, and others met and presented the court their written declaration stating that they had formed themselves into a body for the purpose of education and improvement of the children of said Town of Madison in Madison County and for the creation of an institution known as Madison Male and Female Academy, to be used solely for school purposes.”

“They had a capital stock of $875.00 divided into 36 shares at 25 dollars per share.” (The math shows that they perhaps needed schooling themselves.) “They owned lots No. 20 and 21 in the plot of land in the NE quarter of Section 17, Township 4, Range 2W, in the Town of Madison.” (Today that land is on the south side of High Street and near Pension Row.) “A few days later the stockholders met in said Town of Madison and elected the following men to serve as trustees: W. T. Garner (merchant), S. Doolittle (blacksmith), J. W. Burton (druggist), W. A. Russell (owner of the gristmill for which Mill Road is named), and G. W. Wise (merchant).”

“A two-room building with a hall was erected immediately. There were two teachers employed at the academy.” One teacher was a daughter of trustee Floyd, the building's owner. He closed it in arguments over her eligibility. The students then attended school in the office of attorney James H. Strode for a time. This was ten years before the establishment of Madison Training School, which became Madison High School.

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