Madison’s past with John P. Rankin: Farley-Crutcher Cemetery and the Little Log Cabin
By Madison historian John P. Rankin
MADISON – The Farley – Crutcher Cemetery is on farm and timber land that runs from Horizon Elementary School westward to Shelton Road. It sits on a ridge between the farm fields about a quarter mile southwest of the elementary School. It is immediately east of the southernmost house on Alderwood Drive off Shelton Road. Some people who drive along Shelton Road had never known that there was a log cabin between Shelton Road and the cemetery until the trees were recently taken out. In fact, most citizens of Madison did not know that the cemetery existed in the wooded area either.
This land was first owned by Michael Farley, who purchased it from the Federal government on the first day of legal purchase, February 2, 1818. Michael died by 1833, when his estate was settled in the Probate Court. His grave is covered by a rock cairn in the center of the eastern portion of the cemetery that became not only the family burial grounds, but was also used as a community cemetery. Many of the graves are for pioneer members of the church that initially sat on an acre of land at the northeast corner of the junction of Old Madison Pike and today’s Hughes Road. That church was given the acre by Roland Gooch in 1837. Its location was known as “Gooch’s Corner” and the church was named “Gooch’s Meeting House” in old court records and deeds.
Through the years the land has passed through many generations of Farley descendants, and one such descendant built the little log cabin in the 1970 – 1980 period as a family retreat for their children. The area around the log cabin was kept clear of undergrowth by keeping goats on the property. The cabin itself was in later years rented to an unrelated family in order to keep it occupied and maintained. Some local residents have mistakenly believed that the cabin was constructed over 100 years ago, but that is definitely not the case, as can easily be seen from the smoothness and uniformity of the logs, as well as by the correspondence received from the builder-owner that told of having it erected for their family. It will be missed, but it is not historical.
Regarding the mostly-hidden historical burial ground now named the Farley-Crutcher Cemetery, there is a monument (now broken into four pieces) that marks the grave of Dr. John Benton Farley, 1860 – 1910. The cemetery has impressive walled family plots, but most of the Farleys are not buried within the walls. Related families of Gillespie, McGaha, Crutcher, Trotman, Williams, McCrary, Bishop, Canterbury, and Aday plus a few others are represented on the tombstones. It has been said that some slaves were also interred with the Farley family members in this cemetery, and numerous unmarked graves support that assertion.
John B. Farley was a better-known brother of Joseph Bruce Farley, who in 1892 married “Miss Hessie” (Nancy Hesseltine) Gillespie, Madison’s beloved 1st grade teacher of many years. John B. Farley was born near Whitesburg in 1860, as was his wife Mattie Elizabeth McGaha, whom he married in 1882. John became a merchant, farmer, and physician, practicing his profession in a free-standing office behind his home, which was located along today’s Green Cove Road, but earlier that road was known as “Dr. Farley’s Road”. His house stood between the railroad and the mountain just north of Whitesburg, in a community that came to be called “Farley” in recognition of the doctor. In the early 1900s the Farley community included a school (Farley Elementary) and a station of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway.
Dr. Farley was a short man, requiring a pile of stones to enable him to mount his horse. According to the story told in a little book about Farley, Alabama, published by Ruth E. Ross in 1999, Dr. Farley was on July 10, 1910, shot in the breezeway attached to the entrance of his home. His body was dumped in Aldridge Creek, but buried in Madison. Yet, the story in Huntsville’s Mercury – Banner newspaper dated July 10, 1910, reported that Dr. J. B. Farley “…died last night (July 9) at his home at Farley Station at 7 o’clock after an illness of five weeks with fever. His death had been regarded as inevitable for ten days….” The newspaper further stated that “He had a curious premonition that he was going to die in July before he was taken ill, and he was resigned to his fate.”
Whatever the cause of his death, he was indeed buried in Madison’s Farley – Crutcher Cemetery, where many of his close relatives also rest. Dr. Farley was a son of James Wesley Farley, who lived on his father Michael’s land around the area of the cemetery. Michael married Sarah Trotman in 1826, just 6 years before he died. She was at least a 2nd wife to him, as he left many heirs, named in his estate papers as Delia Ann (wife of William Lyles), Edward, Michael F., Henry R., James W., Albert, Sarah K., William P., and Sarah (his widow). The probate case files include detailed doctor’s invoices for 1831 and up to January of 1832. In 1833 there is a surveyor’s record of laying out Sarah’s widow’s dower from the property.
Of the children, the line of James Wesley Farley is most prominent in the cemetery. James married Frances Ann Crutcher in 1853, and according to 1860-1880 census records their children included Mary Olive, Pryor Bailey, Reuben Michael, John Benton, Sarah Frances, Joseph Bruce, William Albert, and Robert Edward. Additionally, the 1860 census shows that famed Primitive Baptist minister Reuben W. Crutcher at age 48 was living in the James Wesley Farley household. Apparently, Reuben Farley was named after the beloved preacher. The preacher had in 1833 married Mary Bailey, daughter of James Bailey who lived along Mill Road near County Line Road, but she died in 1848 and is buried in her parents’ cemetery — as is the minister, who died in 1867.
Farley descendants continue to farm land around Madison, and in the 1900s some of the Main Street stores were owned and operated by members of the family. The Farleys and those of other closely-connected families with such surnames of Crutcher, Clift, Wann, and Gillespie have left an indelible imprint on the area, having lived and shaped a significant part of the history of Madison.