Wilson Parks Howell (WPH) was born in Gwinnett County, GA in 1832. WPH came at age 3 with his parents and siblings to Benton County (now Calhoun and Cleburne Counties) in Northeastern Alabama in 1835. There were no electrical services, water systems, mail services, stagecoach services, railroad services, telephone services, or incorporated areas in Benton County when WPH came.
In 1832, Benton County was chartered as one of nine counties formed from Creek Indian Territory and Drayton was founded from 320 acres purchased from Chief Ladiga. Drayton’s town square was developed with crude cabins around it, and it was selected as the first county seat in 1833. Drayton was renamed Jacksonville in 1834, and it was incorporated in 1836.
In 1836, a road was built from Jacksonville to Rome, GA and another one built from Ladiga in Goshen Valley (five miles north of where Piedmont stands) to where White Plains, AL now stands. Mail service by horseback on two days per week was established in 1837 with stops at Ladiga and Hollow Stump (now Piedmont). Stagecoach service began in 1838 and Jacksonville got its first brick building on the square (The Old Tavern still stands). WPH’s father started the first school and church in the part of the county where they lived (Oak Level, AL) in 1838.
Alabama had 49 counties in 1840 and Benton County had a population of 14,260. The name of Hollow Stump was changed to Cross Plains in 1848. By 1850, Cross Plains had three families, a blacksmith shop, and a general store and Dr. James Francis built an office for his medical practice in Jacksonville. Oxford was incorporated in 1852. Benton County was renamed Calhoun County in 1858. By 1860, the population in Calhoun County had increased to 21,539. The first railroad tracks connecting Talladega to Oxford were completed in 1861 and a depot was built in Oxford.
WPH's father started the first school near their home in 1838 and WPH attended school one month each year after crops were laid by. WPH acquired his "formal education" by attending the Academy at Tallapoosa, GA for 3 months in 1849. WPH married Harrietta Virginia Parker in 1850 and they had 10 children.
At the onset of the Civil War, every able-bodied man within military age was forced into the army, hence many preferred to volunteer. WPH served in the Civil War (1861-1865) and became Captain of Company “I” of the 25th Alabama Infantry Regiment. WPH was in six battles with the Army of Tennessee and was wounded at the Battles of Chickamauga, Atlanta, King's Mountain, and Bentonville. At Bentonville, WPH’s leg was broken just above the ankle, and at the war’s end, he traveled back to Alabama on crutches, walking the last 60 miles to get home. WPH’s service to the Confederacy was a result of his desire to protect his way of life and his family and not to defend slavery.
WPH served as a representative and Clerk in the House and Senate of the General Assembly of Alabama during the reconstruction years after the Civil War (1870-1901); 4 years as Clerk for the State Treasurer of Alabama; and as elected Delegate to the Alabama Constitutional Convention of 1901. In 1878, WPH served as chairman of a legislative committee to charter Anniston, AL. WPH also served 7 years as the county as Tax Assessor and Surveyor and as a Methodist minister from 1866 until his death in 1912.
WPH was named in legislative Act 252 as a founding board member for the State Normal School (SNS) at Jacksonville, AL (now Jacksonville State University). He was elected as the first temporary president of this board and he organize its first meeting into a quorum for transacting official business. The board elected permanent officers who selected the first president and faculty members for the SNS. WPH continued to serve on the board for its first 15 years. In 1883, the SNS acquired the existing Calhoun College’s 12 acres of land and two-story brick building (Atkins Hall valued at $16,000) near the current Jacksonville square. In the 1883-84 school year, there were 25 students in the SNS. Revenue for the SNS was $4,751.25 and the expenses were $5,006.60. The 1894-95 school year at the SNS had a president and six teachers. At the end of 1894-95 year, a total of 81 had graduated since the inception of the SNS.