By Stephen Dawkins
Maplesville’s train depot has seen a lot of history.
Students once hopped on a train to Plantersville each day so they could finish their education. A town doctor contracted with the railroad to be ready to zoom down the tracks anytime a railroad worker was injured on the job. And Maplesville residents frequently boarded railcars to visit friends and relatives in Selma, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa or some location beyond.
The depot will never again be used as it once was, but the Maplesville Historical Society has plans to return the depot to its status as center of a bustling town.
The society was founded in 2007 by residents Clem Clapp, Sheila Haigler, Sarah Bohanon and Joel Atchison in an effort to prepare the town for its bicentennial celebration as part of former Gov. Bob Riley’s Great Alabama Homecoming initiative.
One of the group’s first projects was to build a pictorial museum in the town’s historic depot.
“We just started asking people in the community to bring photographs to us, and we built up a pretty good collection,” Atchison said and added that Clapp’s mother, Margaret Nix Clapp, contributed many photos taken by her father, Dr. H.M. Nix during the town’s early years.
Those photos are stored in a room at the depot, but the Historical Society’s work isn’t finished.
Maplesville, first known as Mulberry, is Chilton County’s oldest community. It was a stagecoach crossroads, nestled between Birmingham and Selma from north to south, and Montgomery and Tuscaloosa (then the state capital) from east to west.
The community was named Maplesville in the early 1820s after Stephen Maples, a Connecticut yankee who was son-in-law of Daniel Williams, who first dammed Mulberry Creek and built a mill in the area.
A post office opened in Maplesville in 1823.
In the 1850s, Maplesville landowner Turner M. Goodwin gave land to the railroad to pass through. The construction of Maplesville Station, the first depot, was the first of several events that altered the course of the town’s history.
Old Maplesville was located about three miles east of the current downtown, just off Highway 191 to Jemison. With the stagecoach business quickly losing ground to new technology, businesses began moving, realizing the need to be closer to the depot.
“They got tired of coming over here to get things and taking the stagecoach back,” Atchison said.
The post office moved in the late 1850s, and the old town was deserted by the 1880s.
The town’s history is not without turmoil. In 1865, Union General James H. Wilson and his army came through town and burned the train depot, along with other major buildings.
A new depot was built, but in 1911 it also was lost in a fire that devastated a town comprised mostly of wooden buildings. In 1912 a third depot—the one that stands today—was completed and was integral to the growth of the town:
•Maplesville’s school, which was built in 1924, wasn’t accredited until the 1930s, so for a time high school students boarded a train to Plantersville each day so they could finish their graduation requirements.
•Maplesville’s Methodist church disassembled its building and moved it across the train tracks from the depot because passengers complained about not being able to see a church in town as they passed through.
•Town doctor Charles Nichols Parnell contracted with the railroad to be on call to treat injured rail workers.
•And Maplesville’s status as a rail town and its proximity to major cities in the region allowed it to reach its peak in the 1940s and 50s.
“On Friday evening or Saturday afternoon, you couldn’t walk the sidewalks without having to get out in the streets,” Atchison said. “There was a theater, taxis. It was booming here.”
But Maplesville “almost became a ghost town” in the 1970s and 80s, Atchison said.
“All the people that went off and got an education, there was nothing here for them, so they just moved away,” Atchison said.
The town survived, but Atchison and others involved with the historical society want it to thrive again.
The society planned Maplesville Heritage Day on April 9 to include guided tours of historic structures, a showing of a DVD about town history and opening the museum to residents and visitors alike—along with vendors and a food court.
Atchison said plans for the future include improving the grounds around the depot and making a town garden in the small triangle of land just across Highway 22 from the depot.
But more significant than those projects would be transforming the entire depot into a museum.
“My point of view is to stir interest of people coming through—a source of information that will wow people,” Atchison said.