Alexander B. Hanna, First Postmaster of Rising Fawn

 Many of us in Dade County have heard the legend about Rising Fawn getting its name from an Indian of the same name, but how many know that Rising Fawn was once called Hanna? In the early days, a post office was often named for the postmaster who served there. Alexander Blair Hanna was named postmaster in 1848, so the town was called Hanna.

 

According to a history of Rising Fawn written by Mrs. Kathleen Thomas, the post office was called Stewart during the Civil War and after the railroad was built about 1870, the station was named Staunton in honor of the men who built the railroad.

Then some years later, the station was moved and the town was renamed Rising Fawn because of the Cherokee legend.

 

And by the way, there really was an Indian named Rising Fawn. His English name was George Lowery.

 

This renaming story seems topsy-turvy to me. In the 1830s, the Indians in the area were rounded up and forced to go to Oklahoma by way of what became known as the Trail of Tears, but in the late 1800s, the name of the town was changed in honor of one of those same Indians. This seems a bit strange, but I have to say that I like living in a town with such a unique and beautiful name.

 

But the subject of this article is really the Alexander B. Hanna, the man who first gave our town its name. He was one of the earliest settlers in Rising Fawn, along with John Guinn, A.B. Perkins, James Stewart and James Hall.

 

Alexander Hanna was born in 1806 in Kentucky and was the son of John Hanna. John Hanna, purported to have been born in Ireland, applied for U.S. citizenship in 1796 in Pennsylvania. He married Rebecca Cunningham the same year, and they moved to Kentucky, where several of their 11 children were born. Then by 1820 they were in Hardin County, Tenn. We don’t know precisely when his son Alexander Blair Hanna came to Dade County, but as mentioned earlier, he was named postmaster in 1848.

 

Alexander B. Hanna was a pioneer settler of Rising Fawn. According to Mrs. Thomas, his was the oldest home in Rising Fawn, built of brick. He became postmaster, a successful businessman, and the owner of a hotel, a resort. He was highly respected, known as Colonel Hanna and Squire Hanna, but where is the Hanna family now?  The only thing bearing his name in community is the Hanna Cemetery near Rising Fawn.

 

Alexander Hanna’s story is one of success, but it is also one of tragedy.

Alexander Hanna married Matilda Guinn, the daughter of John Guinn, another pioneer settler of Dade County. In a time when people often had very large families, the Hannas were blessed with only three children: John Guinn Hanna, born 1835; Elizabeth Jane Hanna, born 1839; and Alexander Hanna, born 1844.

 

It wasn’t long before tragedy struck the Hanna family. I don’t have a detailed account, but according to multiple sources, the two youngest Hanna children both died in a drowning incident in Lookout Creek. According to one account, the young Alexander, only about three years old, was in danger of drowning and his sister, about eight years old, attempted to rescue him and they were both lost. Alexander Hanna buried his children near his home and set aside this plot of ground for a cemetery and dedicated it to the use of family and friends. This was the beginning of what we now know as the Hanna Cemetery.

 

This was not to be the last tragedy in the Hanna family. Hanna’s remaining son, John Guinn Hanna, was the only child to live to adulthood. He married Virginia Emily Smith Mooney in Warren Co., Tenn., on September 16, 1855. John and Virginia welcomed their first child, the Hannas’ first grandchild, William Alexander Hanna, on February 9, 1860.

 

It wasn’t long after that that John Guinn Hanna was commissioned a captain in Co. B (Lookout Dragoons) 6th Georgia Infantry Regiment, CSA, on May 20, 1861. John Guinn Hanna was the leader of one of several companies of volunteers mustered in Dade County. He was only 26 at the time of his commission.

 

Sadly, John Guinn Hanna, the last remaining child of Alexander and Matilda Hanna, was killed at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, in Sharpsburg, Maryland. His remains are also buried in the Hanna Cemetery. On December 2 of the same year, John’s son William Alexander died before reaching his third birthday. Alexander Hanna and his wife, Matilda, had lost all three of their children and their only grandchild.

 

By 1870, in spite of losing their children and grandchildren, the Hannas did not have an empty house. Matilda Guinn Hanna’s mother, Sarah Guinn, was living with them, as well as six Gatlin children ages 6 to 17. I don’t know why they took these children in or if they were relatives. If so, I haven’t discovered the connection. They also had three servants living in the house.

 

(Picture courtesy of www.landmarksdekalbal.org.)

 

Squire Hanna had some big plans. In 1871 he built the Alabama White Sulphur Springs Hotel, just over the Alabama line in DeKalb County. The main building had 80 rooms and there were six cottages. The three-story hotel had double verandas on three sides at each floor level. The dining room would accommodate over 100 guests.

 

Today, we might refer to a property like this as a spa or a resort. The springs were considered to be good for the health. Many people came here to drink this mineral water in the sulphur springs and to escape places where there was yellow fever. According to an article in The Dekalb Legend, Vol. 5, people enjoyed croquet, bowling, archery, fishing, picnics at Ellis Cave (Sequoyah Caverns), music and singing, balls and walks through the countryside. People came from all over the Southeast and farther.

 

Most people traveled by train, but the nearest depot was at Sulphur Springs, Ga., which was just down the road from where I live on what is now Cloverdale Road. Passengers were met there and driven the two miles to the hotel, crossing the state line, in a double-team, 10-passenger, horse-drawn hack, a traditional feature of the resort.

 

According to the same DeKalb Legend article, at the time, “Colonel Hanna, the hotel owner was also a prosperous cattle farmer and merchant. From his store, crossties which had been hauled down the mountain sides by ox cart, were shipped out on the Alabama Great Southern Railroad.” 

 

Many years later, in 1929, the Lupton family purchased the hotel and property and donated it to the YWCA of Chattanooga and it became a summer camp for girls, Camp Elizabeth Lupton. It closed in 1953. The building was torn down in the late 1950s.

 

1872 must have been a leap year, because on February 29, 1872, Alexander Hanna’s wife, Matilda, passed away. Her mother died about two years later.

 

On September 9, 1874, Alexander Hanna married for a second time to Margaret Annie Spring Davenport, widow of Robert Rudolphous Davenport. The Davenport family was a prominent family in Valley Head, Ala., and owned Oak Lawn Plantation and a general store there. The Davenports had 10 children. Some of these offspring or their children were the founders of the Davenport Hosiery Mills and the Krystal restaurants.

 

In the 1880 census, Alexander Hanna is living in DeKalb County with his wife Margaret and some of her children. He died January 30, 1894, and is buried with his first wife and their children in the cemetery that bears his name in Rising Fawn.

 

 

Alexander B. Hanna, a real mover and shaker in the early days of Rising Fawn and north Alabama. Gone, but not completely forgotten.

 

Note: The Dade County Historical Society will have its next meeting on Saturday, July 20. at 10:30 a.m. The meeting will be held in the Sue Forrester History Room at  the Dade County Public Library. 

 

--Linda Wilson

lanew@tvn.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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