Prestwood ancestor became builder of Andalusia

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 10, 2002

The first members of the Prestwood family to arrive in Covington County came from Coffee County in 1874. A young man in his late teens whose father had been killed during the War Between the States, James Austin "Aus" Prestwood, walked to Andalusia seeking a place for his family to make a new beginning.

In various written records, Aus described the place as a small village with only wooden buildings. He recalled there were several chinaberry trees growing around the edge of the square, which provided good shade and a place to park mules and wagons. He particularly noted a good deer stand being located about where the old Sessoms Grocery Company building was later built on Central Street.

A descendant of Aus, James M. Prestwood who was a local attorney, wrote a book entitled "The Legend of Andalusia" in which he shared his memories of his ancestors coming to the area. He described Aus meeting up with a Mr. John McIntosh and how he learned much history about the town. He was fascinated with how the town was named and liked the community so well he chose to have his family settle here.

A few years later in 1886, Aus purchased numerous tracts of land in Covington County made available by the Tax Assessor. It seems the Central Railroad and Banking Company of Georgia had failed to pay taxes on the property, so it was sold for taxes at $5 per section. During the next year when the remainder of the railroad land was sold, Aus and J.E. Steele paid $270 for one tract containing approximately 45,000 acres.

Obviously, Aus was a good manager and became a builder and leader in the growing town. He is credited with leading the effort to bring the railroads to Andalusia around the turn of the century. He offered a bonus of $5,000 to the railroad who would complete its track first. The Central of Georgia won by arriving just days ahead of the L & N. Aus also donated five acres of land for the erection of a depot. He is also remembered for donating land to the Henderson family for construction of the Henderson Building on Court Square.

Aus was very involved in the growth of the town in many respects. He was one of the first businessmen to own a cotton gin. When cotton was a major crop in the area, he had the gin and cotton warehouse built. He also owned the Prestwood Hotel, which stood on the site where the current Pepperoni Jack's Pizza is located on the north side of East Three Notch Street. He served as postmaster of the Andalusia Post Office from 1883 to 1889 and completed a number of years as a Covington County Commissioner. One of his lasting achievements was the erection of the famous Prestwood Bridge across the Conecuh River.

One of Aus's proudest accomplishments was the Prestwood Building on West Court Square. During his prosperous years he made a business trip to Savannah, Ga. While there he visited the Owens-Thomas House, which was regarded as the finest example of English Regency architecture in the United States. He was so impressed that he obtained a photo of it, which he presented to an architect in Montgomery. He explained that he wanted to construct a two-story building in Andalusia on the Court Square that would be modeled after the Owens-Thomas Mansion. His dream was achieved sometime before 1910, and many businesses and professionals have had homes in it through the years. Today, the building sits vacant, but it is being restored by current owner John Tisdale who hopes to have tenants in it sometime in the not to distant future.

Aus was the grandson of Terry Prestwood and his first wife, Nancy Benning. Terry, a native of Georgia, had moved to Northeast Coffee County in the 1850s. He was born in 1800 as the son of Thomas T. and Mary Elizabeth "Polly" (Swilla) Prestwood who had moved to Wilkerson County, Ga., before 1797. Nancy was the daughter of John Benning.

Terry had five children by his first wife, Nancy. They were Martha, b. 1823, m. Dan M. Clowers; Austin, b. 1824, d. 1899, m. Sarah D.; Sarah Ann, b. ca 1827, d. 1896, m. Samuel J. A. Shiver; Joseph, b. 1828, d. 1863, m. Mary A.M.; and Thomas Francis, b. 1832, d. 1864, m. Margaret McIntosh.

Terry and his second wife, Gilley, the daughter of Jacob Shiver II and Sarah, had the following 11 children: Amanda Caroline, b. 1839, d. 1906, m. Calvin Cassady; Mary, b. 1841, m. Joseph Ethington; Catherine, b. 1843, m. (1) Charles Meredith (2) Joseph Tarpley Peacock; Francis Marion, b. 1845, d. 1923, m. Georgia Alabama Black; Harmon T., b. 1847, d. 1986, single; Daughter, d. 1863, single; Lucinda, b. 1849, d. 1864, single; John, b. 1851, m. (1) Missouri Hayes (2) Dora Kyser; Harriet, b. 1854, d. 1946, m. Mack Green; James Austin, b. 1858, d. 1943, m. Saphronia Abigail Franklin; and Elizabeth Nellie, b. 1859, d. 1912, m. John Lafayette Chesser.

At least four of Terry's sons joined the Confederate Army. All enlisted at Rocky Head, Alabama, into Company A, 60th Alabama Infantry Regiment. Thomas Francis, father of the above Aus, died in Atlanta during the battles there in 1864. Francis Marion and Harmon T. survived the war, but Harmon died two years later. Joseph became ill while serving in the war and was sent home to recuperate. Tragically, he had the dreaded small pox and infected his family.

Living in the household at the time were the parents, Terry and Gilley, along with the following children: John, Lucinda, Harriet, another daughter, and Joseph. During this time, it was necessary that the married children and neighbors prepare food for them. They would leave it and other supplies on the stump of a large oak tree. John was the only one able to work, so he did the farming and stayed with a married sister. It appears that the youngest two children, James Austin and Elizabeth Nellie, were being cared for by older siblings in their homes. During the year of 1863 only Lucinda and Harriet of those residing with the parents managed to survive the disease,. Terry, Gilly, the other daughter, and Joseph all died and were buried in the Prestwood Cemetery. During the next year Lucinda also died at the age of 15 years. This family, as so many during this period, suffered a great loss of several close family members.

Sources for today's sketch include James Prestwood's "The Legend of Andalusia," Wyley Ward's "Early History of Covington County, Alabama, 1821-1871," Gus and Ruby Bryan's "Covington County History-1821-1976," and other local history and family records of several Prestwood descendants.

Anyone who might have corrections to the above or additional data on the Prestwood family is requested to contact the writer, Curtis Thomasson, at Rt. 9, Box 97, Andalusia, AL 36420 or Email: