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.
At the end of the Civil War, the Reconstruction Era legislature guiding Alabama’s future decided to create a new county – Lee County – from the northern most portion of Russell County. Because of this decision, there was a call to move the county seat – at Crawford at the time – of Russell County to a more centralized location. The location selected for the new county seat was the community of Seale in the middle of Russell County.
With the removal of the courthouse from Crawford, which was now in Northwest Russell County instead of in the middle, a new courthouse was needed in Seale. The courthouse, initially a wooden structure, was constructed in 1868. In 1908, the exterior of the courthouse was covered with red brick.
After the merger of Girard and Phenix City in the 1920s, there was pressure to relocate the county seat to the much more populous Phenix City. In 1926, Phenix City served jointly with Seale as the county seat. Less than a decade later, around 1935, the seat was moved permanently to Phenix City. The Seale location became a branch courthouse for the county until 1943 when it was permanently closed.
Over the coming years, the old courthouse was used for various needs including as a gymnasium for the high school. But its use was little and the building fell into disrepair until the mid-1970s when local citizens decided the old structure should be renovated. The building was used as a haunted house at Halloween to begin raising money for the renovation and later a Labor Day Fair was started and is still being held today.
The courthouse is now used for a multitude of events such as dances, weddings, family reunions and as a museum of natural history. The inside of the building and the outside have been restored to their original beauty. Bathrooms have been updated. An elevator has been installed to make the facility more assessable for the invalid and handicapped.
Those individuals and groups wishing to use the facility may do so through the Russell County Commission Office in Phenix City.
An historic marker located in front of the courthouse in Seale reads as follows:
OLD RUSSELL COUNTY
During the Federal occupation of the former Confederate States of America, the Alabama Legislature created Lee County primarily from the northern half of Russell County in 1866 and ordered the selection of the county seat “more centrally located.” Government in Russell County was practically non-existent at the time; few records were kept and taxes levied only for favored political purposes. An election was called; Seale won. Simeon O’Neal and Cicero McBride selected this commanding site. John Lewis was architect.
SEE OTHER SIDE
RUSSELL COUNTY COURTHOUSE
Political opportunists kept confusion reigning; another election was held in 1866; Seale won; excavation began; records were removed from the former county seat at Crawford to a nearby store until rooms were sufficiently complete. Permanent funding was not enacted until 1871, the total cost being $9,600.00. Simeon O’Neal was the contractor. The wing rooms, the inside stairs, and exterior rebricking was accomplished in 1908. In 1935 the branch at Phenix City was elected the county seat with Seale remaining a branch until it was closed in 1943.
ERECTED BY THE HISTORIC CHATTAHOOCHEE COMMISSION AND THE OLD RUSSELL COUNTY COURTHOUSE ASSOCIATION 1984