Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Dr. W.B. Palmer wrote over a century ago of the 'haunted hills' near Furman

I enjoy good, spooky ghost stories, and a week or so ago, I stumbled across an old, interesting document that opened my eyes to even more about Wilcox County’s haunted history.

It was while digging through the archives of a library miles and miles from Camden, that my eyes fell upon the yellowed pages of “A History of Furman, Alabama” by Dr. William Bradley Palmer, which he compiled more than a century ago, in 1916. As I scanned Palmer’s history of Furman, a community in the northeast corner of Wilcox County, I came to a section that Palmer titled, “Haunted Places.”

According to Palmer, two high hills called “Old Savage Hill” and McCondichie Hill were considered “haunted places” by many older residents of Wilcox County. These two hills were located within a mile of each other, south of Furman. Many people were afraid to travel near these hills, and Palmer believed that the spooky tales about the hills had to do with “several deaths in houses that stand, or once stood, on these hills. In such instances, something tragic has occurred.”

Later, Palmer wrote that, of all the “ghost-infested places,” a location called “Rock Hill” is the setting for many “weird tales” told by older residents of the Furman community. According to Palmer, this supposedly haunted hill is located on the east side of Wildcat Creek on the road from Furman to “Rocky Prairies.” This road was said to have passed by the house where J.B. Watson lived in 1916.

“Many are the experiences told by the superstitious… about the ‘Rock Hill’ haunts,” Palmer wrote. And many “dread passing along this road at night. They see lights and hear chains being dragged down the hill.”

After reading Palmer’s descriptions of “Old Savage Hill,” McCondichie Hill and “Rock Hill,” I pulled out my dogeared copy of the “Alabama Atlas & Gazetteer” and studied pages 50 and 51, which provide a detailed map of the Furman area. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to put my finger on exactly where these high hills are located. Perhaps readers living in that area today will know where they can be found.

Also, my map showed the exact locations of well-known creeks in that area - like Wolf Creek, Turkey Creek, Bear Creek and Pine Barren Creek – but Wildcat Creek wasn’t indicated on the map, so far as I could tell. There was also no listing for a location called “Rocky Prairies,” but the community of Rock Springs was clearly marked just a few miles southwest of Furman.

Many readers will be interested to know that Dr. William Bradley Palmer was a unique and remarkable man. Born on March 1, 1868 at Furman, he went on to receive a pair of degrees from the University of Alabama in 1889 and 1891 before studying medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Tulane Medical College. He received his medical degree in 1898 and went through further medical training in New Orleans, New York and Chicago.

He eventually returned to Wilcox County and began practicing medicine at Furman in 1899. He became Wilcox County’s county health officer in 1915 and was an active Democrat and Baptist. He passed away on his 75th birthday - March 1, 1943 - and is buried in the Palmer Cemetery off of Wilcox County Road 59, south of Furman.

I believe that the “J.B. Watson” that Palmer referred to in his history of Furman was none other than John Baptist Watson, who is also buried in the Palmer Cemetery. Watson was born on May 4,1858 at Furman and passed away at the age of 71 on May 26, 1929 in Selma. Watson was married at least twice and came from a large family, and I think it’s likely that many of his descendants are still around today.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that McCondichie Hill was no doubt named for the McCondichie family of eastern Wilcox County. Cemetery records reflect that there are no fewer than 21 members of the McCondichie family buried in the Old Snow Hill Cemetery. Many readers will know that Furman was once known as “Old Snow Hill” because it grew up on the first site of the town of Snow Hill before it moved two miles westward to be on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. The town’s name was changed to Furman (after the small town of Furman, South Carolina) when a post office was established in Old Snow Hill in 1884.

In the end, I’d like to hear from anyone out there in the reading audience who has more information about the people and places mentioned above, especially those who know where to find “Old Savage Hill,” McCondichie Hill and “Rock Hill.” It would be interesting to know if anyone remains who can shed more light on the ghost stories about those spooky places. Who knows, maybe even today you can go there and “see lights and hear chains being dragged down the hill."

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