It is impossible to achieve a real understanding of a place if we ignore its history. Unfortunately, this history is lost to most of us. It is ignored, and put on the back burner.
It’s tempting to try to recount the local history of Troy, both the university as well as Pike County, but a detailed telling would take up far more page space than I’m allotted in the few weeks I have to write this column.
Instead, this week’s column will treat the local history in broad strokes, 200 years in a nutshell.
Traditionally, Troy has been defined by transit and by the presence of the university.
Before there was a town, there was an easy trail created by Native Americans. According to Margaret Pace Farmer’s “One Hundred Fifty Years in Pike County, Alabama,” this trail eventually became part of Three Notch Road, the military road between Fort Mitchell in Russell County and Fort Barracas in Pensacola, Florida. Some legends say Andrew Jackson traveled this road. In 1838, Troy was founded along the road as a new county seat.
In 1887, the cornerstone of the college was placed. From 1954 to 1978, U.S. Highway 231 was expanded to four lanes, according to an article on troytrojans.com by Bill Rice Sr.
These are facts, but this accounts for little more than the blur of lights and fast food chains travelers see along the highway.
The facts tell nothing of Ann Love, the local legend who helped settle the city and chased drunks to church with a bullwhip.
“Occasionally history produces a person whose life defies any logical explanation,” Farmer said in her book. “Such a person was Ann Love, whom all writers have labeled as the greatest character in Pike County history: not the business tycoon, or politician, or soldier, but an illiterate widow with six children to support under difficult frontier conditions.”
Those facts fail to get at the spirit of Troy. They fail to make it more than a stop on the way elsewhere.
They also fail to mention Troy’s first recorded mayor, Urban Louis Jones, who, according to Rice, sentenced himself to financial ruin in order to bring the railroad and its wealth to Troy.
Simple facts ignore the Henderson family, too. Charles Henderson became mayor, and then governor of the state. He brought electricity to Pike County and established an educational trust.
We also skipped the story of the college’s beginnings as Troy State Normal School. According to Farmer, Joseph Macon Dill, the first president of the school, earned $1,500 annually. That’s about $49,810.48 adjusted for inflation.
This still ignores Edwin Ruthven Eldridge and six other leaders of the university. It skips John M. Long and the Sound of the South. We’ve left out the Boy from Troy, civil rights legend John Lewis. This also leaves out Mayor Jimmy C. Lunsford, who served Troy from 1985 until his retirement in 2012.
There’s more that merits mention. This paper has, in previous issues, discussed the legacy of Dickey v. Alabama State Board of Education and how the Tropolitan, Gary Dickey and Troy State University President Ralph Adams became involved in a battle over the freedom of student press.
Troy, this place where nothing happens, has far more history than a few hundred words can contain. Finding this history and appreciating it are essential to the formation and growth of community.