History of the Tennessee Valley Historical Society
By: William Lindsey McDonald
The Tennessee Valley Historical Society was organized on November 15, 1923, in the Chamber of Commerce building in Sheffield, Alabama. This organizational meeting came about through the efforts of a local historian, Frank R. King of Leighton, Alabama. The speaker for this occasion was Dr. Peter Brannon, Curator of the Alabama Department of Archives and History. There were thirty-seven charter members of the Society. Members elected Frank R. King as the Society’s first president. Other officers included two vice-presidents, Dr. W.H. Blake and Mrs. Susan K. Vaughn and secretary/treasurer, Mrs. J.H. Nathan. Mrs. E.P. Rand, John D. Rather, Mrs. John R. Price, James W. Milner, J.W. Sanderson, Mrs. A.H. Gillespie, and Dr. J.W. Clark served on the first Board of Directors. The Society grew in membership under the capable leadership of Frank King. Among important projects undertaken were the placing of historical markers at the LaGrange College site, Town Creek Civil War Battlefield, Buzzard Roost Spring, and the home of Chickasaw Chief George Colbert at Colbert’s Ferry. Following the death of Frank King in 1939, the Society became inactive for a number of years; however, in 1954 a number of interested people, including W.T. Archer, Nina Leftwich, Charles Wilder Watts, Sadie Shrader, Eleanor Holder, and William L. McDonald, gathered at the Tuscumbia Utilities building to revive the Society. In this revival, the membership elected new officers: Charles W. Watts, president; Nina Leftwich, vice-president; Mrs. John Newman, secretary; and William L. McDonald, treasurer. One of the first actions of the reactivated Society was the establishment of a small state park at the LaGrange College site in 1957. As the Society continued to grow, the first issue of Historic Muscle Shoals was printed in 1962. In 1973 under the leadership of Dr. Kenneth Johnson, the Society began publishing the Journal of Muscle Shoals History. In recognition of the Society’s outstanding contribution to historic preservation, it was presented the prestigious Distinguished Service Award by the Alabama Historical Commission in 1970. In 1989 the Society was presented the Local Historical Organization Award by the Alabama Historical Association for its “outstanding achievement and significant contribution to a greater appreciation of the history of the community and the state.” Through its effective leadership, the Society continues to serve the Muscle Shoals area of the Tennessee Valley through its outstanding programs and projects such as a university scholarship program for high school students. Today, the primary mission of the Society remains one of collecting and preserving historical materials and the promotion of interest in the history of the Muscle Shoals area of northwest Alabama.