Editor’s Note: Russell County has a long history that is important to the State of Alabama and its evolvement from an area described in the book “Russell County in Retrospect” by Anne Kendrick Walker as a “barbaric land” to what it is today. Many of the people who set their roots in the county in its early days including the state’s first Territorial Delegate to the United States Congress, important Native Americans who paid with their lives to cede land that created the county, a family that started a place of higher learning in south Russell County that later led to the establishment of one of the state’s most known institutions of education today and a former slave who placed a monument to honor his former owner, are very much important to the formation of Alabama. The story that follows is another of a series to inform you – our readers – about the history of Russell County.
You will be hard-pressed to search through the history of Russell County and find a more dedicated public servant and community leader than Dr. Ashby Floyd. Floyd, born June 13, 1866, just after the end of the War Between the States in Opelika – at the time a part of Russell County.
He attended the college at Highland Home, Alabama Polytechnic Institute in Auburn and graduated with highest honors from Tulane Medical School in 1892 thanks in a very great part to the sacrifices of his sisters Minnie and Sarah. In return, Dr. Floyd provided the two with a home for the remainder of their lives. Upon graduation from Tulane, Dr. Floyd moved to and set up his practice in Phenix City.
In 1899, Dr. Floyd purchased property from the Ingersoll family at the top of what became known as Floyd’s Hill. One of the final battles of the War Between the States was fought at the location in 1865 on the old Ingersoll plantation.
He and his wife Edith Williams Floyd had two children who died in infancy – Elise and Elliott. They were also the parents of five doctors – Dr. Seth Jordan Floyd, twins Dr. Cecil Floyd and Dr. Cyril Floyd, Dr. Ashby Floyd Jr. and Dr. Charles Eddy Floyd.
In 1908, Dr. Floyd had his home transformed from a Victorian cottage into a neoclassical mansion by having the house with the exception of the kitchen and dining room raised to allow for the construction of a new bottom floor with high ceilings. The home still stands today atop Floyd’s Hill overlooking the Chattahoochee River and much of downtown Phenix City and Columbus, Ga.
The annals of the Floyd family there is a story of a strong storm arising during the construction of the lower floor that caused the upper floor to sway mightily on the stilts used to raise the upper level of the dwelling. Cyril Floyd begged his mother to leave the dangerous upper level for safety on the lower floor. She refused because the lower level belonged to Dr. Floyd’s sisters and she would not step into their domain. So, Cyril remained with his mother and waited out the storm.
Over the years Dr. Floyd called Phenix City his home, he served approximately 44 years in some public office while also running his practice. Dr. Floyd was the city’s mayor, on its school board and as court recorder. He did not step away from his civic duties until just weeks before his death.
There is another Floyd family story of an incident that occurred during Dr. Floyd’s early years as mayor. Mayor Floyd moved swiftly to stop violent saloon brawls near the Dillingham Street bridge. Two brothers who owned taverns across the street from each other were prone to violent battles when they became inebriated which endangered innocent citizens and other businesses in the area. The gangsters, upset by the commission’s cracking down on the businesses, threatened the lives of Dr. Floyd and his family. The Floyd home was protected by city police during the day and by the Floyd sons Cyril, Cecil and Ashby Jr. at night. The youngsters carried firearms to school each day, checked them in with the school principal during the day and picked them up at the end of the day. On one evening, the Floyd boys caught an intruder who had climbed an oak tree that grew to overlook the upstairs bedroom of their father. The intruder confessed to his actions and gave up his bosses for fear of reprisals by the city fathers. Dr. Floyd did his best to see the city did not have a bad reputation and was for the most part successful in his efforts until his death.
While a member of the school board, Dr. Floyd mortgaged his home to rebuild the school that had been destroyed by fire. He even made the school better as he donated funds to have the structure reconstructed using brick – thus, the name that stuck with the school on South Railroad Street during its use became Brick Elementary school.
Dr. Floyd died on October 5, 1947, at the home he had built and in the city he loved. The respect for the late public servant and community leader – and doctor who was said to have delivered over 6, 500 babies during his medical career – extended beyond his hometown and was shown in the October 6, 1947, edition of The Opelika Daily News. In Dr. Floyd’s obituary in his birth city was written:
“Once in a great while a leader in some community passes away and the entire citizenship feels that the main prop of community existence has been taken from the general foundation. The people of Phenix City today find themselves in that position, as Dr. Ashby Floyd, many times Mayor of that city, is dead at the age of 81 years.
“Dr. Floyd, primarily a family physician, became a local political leader back in 1892 when he, fresh out of Medical School at Tulane moved there to carve his career. Dr. Floyd was a native of Beat 13, Lee County, being a member of an old and widely known family. He was an honor student at the Tulane Medical school.
“It is not written here just how many terms Dr. Floyd served Phenix City as Mayor. And when the Aldermanic form of municipal government gave way to the Commission form, he became a City Commissioner. All the while Dr. Floyd was giving succor to the ill and injured. He won esteem and confidence of all the citizens and was more beloved, perhaps, than any other man in that community. As City Recorder, he was familiar with the people’s habits, their characteristics and their shortcomings. In his capacity as Recorder, he never forsook the humanitarian angle in his dispensations.
“When Phenix City was a part of Lee County, political leaders here always appreciated the influence of Dr. Ashby Floyd. ‘As Floyd goes, so goes Beat 10,’ was the usual prediction on the eve of county elections. And that is how Beat 10 went, eleven times out of a dozen. Yet, there never was even one whisper of suspicion of any Floyd political misdoings. It was a case of people having complete confidence in their leader.”
Large crowds of citizens, faces streaming with tears, stood on the porch or in the yard of the Floyd home to pay their respects to one of Phenix City’s greatest – and most beloved – leaders. The attendance, no doubt, was in response to the memory of a remarkably determined, honest and generous man who kept faith with his dreams for his hometown in its earliest days.