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.
The home of former Phenix City Mayor Arnold Ashby Thompson burned down recently – like that of another former mayor, Warren Williams, did as well. While not as old as the Williams-Holland Mansion, Thompson’s home was tied into the fabric of Phenix City’s history and that of Russell County. The Thompson home stood near the location of the original Russell County Courthouse in the Girard section of what would become Phenix City.
“This Victorian architecture home sat upon the hill in what was known as Carr’s Reserve. It was a two-story home with a wrap-around porch that displays woodwork patterns. A two-story home was expensive to build, but it suggested the financial prosperity of the owners,” according to its description in the book The Heritage of Russell County, Alabama, published in 2003.
The short story in the 2003 book continues, “This is the old Courthouse Square Historical District. On deeds from the 1870s, the Thompson hill is referred to as ‘the Old Courthouse lot or Square.’ It seems that John Godwin built a temporary courthouse on Thompson’s hill in the 1830s. This courthouse was used until they moved it to Crawford.”
The road to the old home was closed after the recent fire, but the remains may still be seen while driving along the Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway to U.S. 431 South.
Arnold Ashby Thompson was the son of Washington Van Thompson and Nannie Lou Richardson. He married Myrtie Kennon.
In 1908, Washington Van Thompson, a wholesale liquor merchant, bought the house that faces north. He was forced out of the liquor business by prohibition. He then became a grocer and candy business man.
Arnold Ashby Thompson was the owner of Columbus Motor Company in Columbus, Ga. He served as mayor from October 7, 1958 until October 5, 1959. He also served two years as a city commissioner. His term on the city commission was not without controversy. His first action on the commission was to turn in a letter of resignation.
The story is relayed in the January 31, 1957 edition of The Phenix Citizen newspaper as follows:
“In a few minutes Tuesday, Phenix City Commissioners quenched months and months of probable court litigation and stymied once and for all efforts to oust City Commissioner Arnold A. Thompson on the basis of irregularities in his voting qualifications.
Commissioners, in short order, acted thusly:
(1) Commissioner Thompson submitted his resignation.
(2) Mayor Clyde Knowles and Commissioner Leonard Coulter voted to accept his formal notice and the mayor read Mr. Thompson’s letter of resignation.
(3) The commissioners then appointed Mr. Thompson to fill his own unexpired term.
Mr. Thompson’s official resignation immediately halted quo warranto proceedings brought against him last October when B.L. Cole filed suit seeking the newly elected commissioner’s removal from office charging that Thompson was not a qualified elector of Russell County.
Mr. Cole charged that Mr. Thompson never re-registered here after living in Columbus in 1945, 1946 and 1947. Mr. Thompson said he had been informed by the proper officials that he was a qualified voter in this county.
The action appointing Mr. Thompson back to the seat he officially vacated apparently leaves no doubt as to his legal position as a commissioner since he has re-registered “to meet technical objections.”
In seconding the motion to appoint Mr. Thompson commissioner again, Commissioner Coulter said, “the people showed last September that they wanted him (Mr. Thompson) when they gave him the majority of the votes cast.”
Mr. Thompson’s letter of resignation reads as follows:
Hon. Clyde Knowles
Mayor of Phenix City
Phenix City, Ala.
Last fall when I qualified as a candidate for election to the Board of Commissioners of the City my name was on the list of qualified electors of Russell County as a qualified elector in Phenix City. I had previously inquired of the proper officials whether or not I was duly qualified. I was informed that I was on the qualified list, and that I was required to do nothing further except pay the poll taxes due before I obtained the age of 45 years, which remained outstanding and unpaid. This I did. My name has never been stricken from the records of qualified electors of Russell County and in view of the Constitutional provisions adopted in 1951, which provides that once registered shall not be required to re-register, I see no reason why there should be any question about my qualifications.
After my election a suit was filed to challenge my eligibility to hold office on the grounds I had not re-registered since returning to Alabama. I feel that ultimately, we will be able to win this suit. However, litigation according to my attorneys will be pending possibly a year before it is finally disposed of, and at great cost to all parties concerned. I feel that I should eliminate any question about my legal status or qualifications to serve as City Commissioner long before that time. Therefore, I herewith submit my resignation as a member of the Board of Commissioners effective as of this date.’
To meet the technical objections, I have re-registered and am willing to serve the unexpired time of my term of office if the other members see fit to appoint me.
I wish to further state that I never made a false statement about my qualifications to anyone. I have never voted or attempted to vote in the State of Alabama while residing in the State of Georgia, not vice versa. Nor have I ever willfully or knowingly evaded or attempted to evade my responsibility towards duly qualifying myself as an elector.
Arnold A. Thompson”
Thompson completed his term in office and never ran for a political position again.