Original headstone of John Ash

This is the original headstone of John Ash. In addition to being the namesake for Ashville, Ash was a St. Clair County judge and three-term state senator.

ASHVILLE -- The 200th anniversary of St. Clair County’s creation is quickly approaching, and this bicentennial year gives many a chance to trace the origins of ancestors, locations and also names.

Yes, names. Names are important and also fascinating things to study, both their meaning and origin.

On Aug. 18, the inaugural John Ash Day will take place in Ashville. The festival will be from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

This will be a celebration of Ashville’s history and the life and legacy of the city’s namesake, John Ash.

Ash was born Nov. 30, 1783. He was the son of William and Jane (Fleming) Ash. The family originated in York County, South Carolina, and, making their way south, found themselves in Franklin County, Georgia, for a time.

John, his brother, James, and their families made their way to Alabama.

In January 1817, they were making their way on the Old Montevallo Road, which led through modern-day Ashville and Odenville in Beaver Valley. They camped there.

Fate was once described as “unseen in the background and quietly leading” events, and one afternoon, it did precisely that.

Spying game in the distance, John dismounted his wagon, took aim with his rifle and fired. The shot caused the horse to bolt, and Betsy, John and Margaret Ash’s daughter, was thrown from the wagon.

She lay unconscious for three days until Jan. 27, when she died at the age of 3.

Not finding it in their hearts to leave Betsy alone, the family stayed with her. A log dogtrot house was constructed for John’s family and his wife’s parents, the Rev. Thomas and Ann Newton.

This house, the Ash-Newton Cabin, still stands today and is the oldest structure in St. Clair County. John would have a two-story house built not far from the Newtons and his beloved daughter.

In November 1819, Ash succeeded James Thomason as county judge and remained in that position until the next election in 1821. Ash was the first man elected to that position, as Judge Thomason had been appointed by Gov. William Wyatt Bibb.

In 1820, Ash, Joel Chandler, John Cunningham, John Massey and George Shotwell were selected by Bibb to secure a Seat of Justice for the county.

The first courts had taken place at the home of Alexander Brown near present day Ashville in Old Town, or “Cataula” in the Creek Language.

On Nov. 28, 1822, St. Clairsville, which covered 30 acres and was in the center of St. Clair County, was incorporated. In less than a month, on Dec. 12, the town was chosen by the five commissioners as the county seat.

St. Clairsville was owned by Philip Coleman, a man who possessed great business skills. He and the commissioners had a model of the town built and began dividing it into lots and selecting locations for the county courthouse and jail.

After this process, Coleman and the commissioners agreed to rename the town Ashville, to honor their friend Judge John Ash.

The courts were moved to Ashville well in advance of the construction of the courthouse, a wooden structure that would be built in 1824 and stand for 20 years on the site where Ashville Rexall Drug was located and is now home to Ashville Dental Care.

The new courthouse was built in 1844 by Littleton Yarbrough, and, although renovated several times, part of the original 1844 structure still stands, encased in the modern building. It makes the courthouse one of the oldest working houses of justice in Alabama.

On Oct. 8, 1823, Ashville was purchased by the commissioners for $10,000. With the title in hand, the commissioners began selling the lots, and one of the first purchasers was Archibald Sloan.

He paid $500 for Lot Number 22 and became the first merchant in the town after his mercantile was built.

Ash would continue to serve his community and county as state senator from 1825-1826, then 1832-1833 and 1844-1845.

Ash and his wife, Margaret, had 13 children.

Margaret died in 1855 at age 63. On April 1, 1872, Ash died at age 89. They are both buried at Liberty Cemetery in Odenville.

The celebration of John Ash Day will begin at 9 a.m. at Ashville City Hall, with a dedication ceremony of John and Margaret’s original grave markers that were gifted by their descendants, George, James and John Scoggins, to the city of Ashville.

After the ceremony, the festivities will move to the Inzer Museum. On the museum grounds, there will be living histories, a Blacksmith & Forge, door prizes and lunch provided by Chef T’s of Ragland.

Also being featured is the newly renovated historic old Ashville Masonic Lodge and never before released commemorative coins and Ashville History Coloring Book.

At 1:30 p.m., the day will conclude, with the final event taking place at the Sgt. Frank Harrison Marker on U.S. 231 in Ashville, where the refurbished marker will be dedicated.

For prices and other information, call Robert Debter at 205-594-2128.