Falon Hurst said he fell into genealogy by accident.
That “accident” led Hurst, a sergeant at the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office for eight years, to outline the identities, terms and backgrounds of each Calhoun County sheriff since its creation, then Benton County, in December 1832.
When presenting his research at the AlaBenton Geological Society’s monthly meeting Saturday, Hurst blamed his need for order for pulling him down the research trail. Throughout the presentation Hurst told attendees about bits of Calhoun County history he’s uncovered in the process — like adding Benjamin L. O’Bryant’s 1918 line-of-duty death to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. Hurst also talked about his desire to improve file preservation within the county.
AlaBenton Genealogical Society president Peggy Smith said Saturday’s meeting was Hurst’s second time presenting to the group. She said the society loves welcoming new speakers and members to monthly meetings; the bunch spoke with high-anticipation of speakers lined up for 2019. Smith said the Alabama Room, on the second floor of the Public Library of Anniston and Calhoun County, houses loads of documents that help people like Hurst find information they’re searching for. The room also welcomes information others have found, Smith said.
“We just like to preserve the history of our families and, like with Falon, the Calhoun County sheriffs,” she said.
Hurst said the county went without government for a little less than six months until its first sheriff, James Brown, took office on April 4, 1833. From Brown to current Sheriff Matthew Wade, Hurst detailed each man elected into the seat throughout the decades.
“There are still some gray areas, especially during the Civil War and before,” Hurst said. “But we know who every single sheriff was.”
Through his research, Hurst found census records showing sheriffs and their families living in homes alongside inmates. In fact, Hurst said, the first city and county jails in Benton/Calhoun County were still-standing homes.
“If you were to drive by there today, you’d never even know,” he said.
Hurst smiled as he shared the story of the county’s name change in January 1858. Initially named after Missouri Senator Thomas H. Benton, county residents voted to strip the name after hearing the senator share “pro-Union politics.” County residents gathered and voted to rename the area Calhoun County on account of South Carolina’s “pro-states’ rights” Senator John C. Calhoun.
Hurst said county officials moved the county seat from Jacksonville to Anniston in 1899, just four or so years after building a new courthouse in Jacksonville.
“It was a hot button issue,” Hurst said. “Later the courthouse became a women’s dormitory for JSU’s predecessor. It eventually burned down.”
Wrapping up his presentation with photos inside the Calhoun County Courthouse clocktower and others of preserved files kept inside the courthouse dungeon, Hurst said he appreciated the opportunity to share the research he enjoys.
“I love sharing this stuff with people who care about it, too,” he said. “And yes, it’s actually called the dungeon.”