If you wanted to celebrate Alabama’s Bicentennial, you probably couldn’t find a more fitting place than the small Henry County community of Haleburg.
Yes, there is plenty of history in larger cities like Montgomery and Mobile. Tuskegee, Muscle Shoals and Cullman all have unique twists.
Most of Alabama, however, is just like Haleburg. It is small, tight-knit communities away from population centers where everybody knows everybody else and speaks of their town with pride. Many of the residents fly the American Flag in their front yards and bring a covered dish to residents who are sick or have suffered loss.
While Haleburg itself is not yet 200 years old, much of the community gathered this weekend to celebrate what would have been the 200th birthday of its founder, Jonathan Hales.
Hales came to southeast Alabama in 1870 looking for a nice piece of land. He opened a store soon thereafter at a crossroads where people going from Abbeville to Newton and back often traveled. Soon, there were a few more stores and a post office located in the store belonging to Hales.
The town incorporated sometime around 1880. Because the post office was located in Hale’s store, the town became known as Halesburg, and Haleburgh at some point before finally settling on Haleburg.
For a while, the town boomed. Monte Irvin, who was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973 after a successful career in the Major League and Negro League, is from Haleburg. So is Robert Earnest “Curley” Money, a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame who grew up in Haleburg in the 1920s and 1930s. Grover Hall, a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper editor of the Montgomery Advertiser was born in Haleburg in 1888 before moving north.
Longtime residents can remember five stores open at the same time in Haleburg. It boasted a population of 300 in the 1930 census. Now, the stores are gone and just about 100 people live in Haleburg. The mayor and council serve without pay and the town doesn’t have anything to generate a tax base.
But there is more to a town than tax revenue. Mayor Roger Money, part of a long line of Haleburg residents, said he is proud of his town because it just contains a bunch of good people.
“We all come together try to help each other, regardless of race or color,” Money said. “When there’s a need, the churches are there to help out. We have a volunteer fire department and volunteer rescue. Just good folks.”
It’s often exaggeration to say most of the town turned out for an event, but more than 80 people squeezed into the Haleburg Senior Citizen Center Saturday to hear about Haleburg’s origin and to share in cake and punch. Many of them stayed to share old stories and even older stories.
Charlotte Doster, who lived elsewhere for most of her life but obtained land to retire in Haleburg, said the small community gives her something large cities can’t.
“It’s a big family,” she said.