Lauderdale County, Alabama
William B. Wood
Contributor: Pat M. Mahan
THE HONORABLE WILLIAM B. WOOD
"The Father of Florence."
The Honorable Record of a Busy Life.
Peacefully resting under the shadow of his hospitable home, spending the evening of a useful, active and honorable life, and surrounded by a host of friends, Hon. William Basil Wood may well be content with the record he has made. It is the lot of but few men to win so high a regard as that Judge Wood has so conspicuously earned. "From his youth up" he has been a leader of men, and there rests not one light shadow upon his long and brilliant record of active life, replete with good deeds and valuable service to the public. Of commanding stature, strong intellectually, physically, and in character, progressive in thought, blunt of speech and of iron will, he was in his prime naturally a leader, and in every sphere of action, whether in peace or in war, in church or state, among all classes of men, he was easily ‘primus inter pares’ – first among equals – and his desire for the public good and his unselfish interest in others was never questioned.
William Basil Wood
A conspicuous feature in Judge Wood’s busy life has been his active interest in public improvements, and long before the war, his friends inform us, he was forming combinations for railroad enterprises and manufacturing industries. It is not surprising, therefore that in the rejuvenation of the south he should have taken an active part. Hence we find him ten years ago, or more, calling public meetings of the citizens of Florence whose welfare has always been nearest his heart, to communicate to them the new spirit then first awakening. His efforts were presistent [sic] and effective, and the new life now pervading the community is directly traceable to the seed he had sown, which has resulted in a train of circumstances that have placed Florence in the lead of the growing cities of the south. His first effective work in this direction was the organization of the Land, Mining and Manufacturing Company, whose work gave Florence a commanding position before the county and accomplished great things for the city. Subsequently, in connection with Maj. Field and others, Judge Wood organized the railroad & Improvement Company, of which he became the president. The great work of this company is too fresh in the minds of our people to need mention here.
In "Northern Alabama" a handsomely illustrated volume, published in 1888,we find the following article concerning Judge Wood. The article, though brief, speaks volumes of the unwearied labors of this distinguished gentleman, and proves how justly the title of "Father of Florence" has been earned by him:
"William Basil Wood, president of the Florence Land Mining & Manufacturing, of the W.B. Wood Furnace Company, of the Charcoal and Chemical Company, of the Florence, Tuscaloosa and Montgomery Railroad Company, of the Florence & Chicago Railroad Company, and secretary of the Alabama Improvement Company, was born at Nashville, Tenn., October, 31, 1820. His parents were Alexander H. and Mary E. (Evans) Wood – his father a native of Virginia, his mother of England.
"Wm. B. Wood’s paternal grandfather was secretary to Alexander Hamilton, and had commanded troops in the Colonial army. His father was an officer in the war of 1812. Upon his mother’s side, his grandfather Evans was a colonel in the British army, but after the declaration of peace he chose to return to this side of the water and cast his lot with the ‘Rebels.’
"The subject of this sketch was educated at LaGrange College, Franklin county; read law under Judge Coleman (afterward of the supreme bench); was admitted to the bar at Florence in 1842; began the practice of law at once, and in 1844 was elected judge of Lauderdale county. While in the army in 1862 he was elected judge of the circuit court, and in 1866 was re-elected and occupied the bench until 1880, except during the reconstruction period. In August 1861, he was elected colonel of the sixteenth Alabama Infantry, in fact, he raised that regiment and organized it at Courtland, became its colonel and commanded it for nearly two years.
"In 1863 he was transferred to the army of Northern Virginia, appointed by Mr. Davis, president judge of the military court of the first army corps, and was there to the close of the war. As colonel, he participated in the battle of Fishing Creek, Ky., where Zollicoffer was killed. He was also at Triune, Tenn., Murfreesboro, and his regiment was at Shiloh and all the battles of the Army of Tennessee. At the close of the war he returned to Florence, and as we have before seen presided over the circuit court of his district. Prior to the war Mr. Wood, in addition to his professional duties, was largely interested in various other enterprises. He was engaged in the manufacture of woolens; was interested in the steamboat business; was principal owner and controlled a line of steamers which plied the Tennessee, Ohio and Mississippi rivers. He was in the steamboat business after the war. His company built the ‘Rapidan’ in 1868, and the ‘Florence Lee’ in 1870. He also owned the ‘James R.’, built the ‘Sallie Wood’ and the ‘William Dickinson,’ and retired fully from steamboat business not until 1876. In 1882, he began turning his attention to railroads. He was one of the organizers of the Indiana, Alabama & Texas railway, now completed between Clarksville, Tenn., and Princeton, Ky., and was its vice-president. He was also one of the organizers of the Birmingham & Tennessee railroad, now known as the Sheffield & Birmingham. He organized the Alabama & Tennessee railroad and sold it to the Nashville, Florence & Sheffield Company. November 29, 1886, as one of the organizers of the Florence Land Mining and Manufacturing Company, he was made president, and re-elected in November, 1888.
"Judge Wood is a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, a Master Mason, R. A., and Knight Templar, and in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows was grand master of the state two years (1869 –70).
"He originated the idea and raised the subscription for the Florence Wesleyan University; (now the State Normal college); gave liberally to it himself and was for some years president of its board of trustees. Its endowment being exhausted at the end of the war, he succeeded in having it sold to the state and it was converted into the State Normal School, with which Judge Wood has been sine officially identified.
"Away back in 1844 he organized the Methodist Episcopal Sunday school, to which he has since given particular attention and devoted much time and money. That he has since its organization been its superintendent, teacher and regular attendant, he says he ‘regards as the proudest achievement of his life.’ He has been steward and trustee in his church since 1846. He organized the Sunday school two years before he became a member of the church.
"He was married April 21, 1843, to Sarah B. Leftwich, daughter of Major Leftwich of Virginia."
On an inside page of the same paper is the following:
"The life-like engraving of Hon. W. B. Wood, which we present today, does credit to our artist and gives to our patrons a view of one of the best and noblest gentlemen the state has ever produced. The Times is pleased to announce that Judge Wood’s health is improving and that his physicians speak in a very encouraging manner, of his condition."
Hon. W. B. Wood is Dead.
Florence Loses a Citizen Whose Loss Cannot be Repaired.
Judge William Basil Wood is dead. On Friday evening last at 7:30 o’clock the dread messenger came, and the spirit of Florence’s leading citizen took its flight to the realms of the unknown.
Immediately after having eaten supper, and whilst sitting before the fire, the action of the heart ceased, the beloved citizen fell forward on his face, and before he could be placed on his bed, the end came. At the time, he was talking to his nephew, Mr. Sam Rice, and was in his usual good spirits.
Thus has passed away a great and good man, one whose active life constitutes a large part of the local history of his time. A born leader of men, with a broad and vigorous mind, of unconquerable perseverance and boundless energy, he naturally arose to the leadership of any movement of public spirit among his people, and his friends recall the fact that he originated and organized nearly every enterprise which resulted in the great material development seen on every hand in our beautiful city. In peace and in war, he ever acted a prominent part, and as a soldier, as a pure and upright and just judge, as a public spirited citizen, and in the holier circles of the church, in society and the family, he built a character that will linger affectionately in the memory of our people for generations.
We have neither the time nor the data, at present, to do justice to the character and services of Judge Wood. By other hands these will be done ample justice, and we can only here record our high regard for the distinguished citizen who is no more, and point to his example as a model for our younger generation.
On Sunday afternoon, with the unostentatious and impressive service of the Methodist church, the remains were interred in the Florence cemetery, Rev. G. W. Briggs, assisted by Rev. Dr. Heard, conducting the ceremony. The large auditorium of the Methodist church was filled with the relatives and friends of the deceased, and the procession to he grave was one of the largest that ever escorted a departed citizen to that city of the dead. The pall-bearers were Judge H. C. Jones, Henry W. Sample, Judge Geo. P. Keys, Dr. J. C. Conner, Geo. W. Karsner, E. S. Gregory, T. B. Ingram, S. D. Rice, George P. Jones, Andrew Brown, S. C. Brown and Hon. R. T. Simpson.
To the stricken wife and other relatives our whole people extend expressions of sincere sympathy and condolence."
Source: The Florence Times, Saturday, April 11th, 1891.