Dr. Laban B. Underwood was a popular Andalusia physician

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Dr. Laban Benjamin Underwood, a native of Montgomery County, came to Andalusia and Covington County in 1918. He established a medical practice and soon became a very prominent physician. It is not known if he had any relationship to the Underwood family who settled in the area at an early date.

Sometime between 1830 and 1840, descendants of the Underwood family who were natives of Georgia settled in Covington County. Wiley Underwood was among the early settlers who purchased land along the Conecuh River in the northeastern part of the county. At least two households were enumerated in the 1840 census taking. Thomas Underwood, between 50 and 60 years of age, had one female living with him who was between 15 and 20 years old. Wiley Underwood and his wife were between 20 and 25 years of age and had two males under 5 years residing with them.

By the enumeration of the 1850 Census of Covington County, Wiley's family had grown to include the following: Wiley, 38; Elvy, 38; Thomas, 15; Clark, 12; Caroline, 8; Laburn, 6; John, 3; and Mary, 1. Also, residing five houses away in the home of Rebecca Tisdale, 71 years of age, was Green Underwood at 14 years of age. There is no record of Thomas Underwood.

In 1856, Vincent A.J. Underwood purchased 120 acres in the Leon Township. In the 1860 census, his family is recorded as follows: V.A.T. Underwood, 48 years; Elizabeth T., 36; James A.F., 16; Nancy J., 14; Thomas J, 12; John B., 10; Martha H., 9; Green B., 5; Elizabeth J., 2; and Tabitha, 1. During that year he was a farmer and owned three slaves. In 1864, at age 53 years, he joined the Company C, Covington County Reserves, organized from Beats 4, 5, and 11. That same year his son, Thomas J. at 16 years of age, became a private in the Company of Covington County Militia (Second Class). An older son, James A.(F. or H.), had become a private in Co. F, 33rd Alabama Infantry Regiment in1862. During that same year, an A.H. Underwood, probably a son as well, enlisted in Co. I, 40th Alabama Infantry Regiment.

In 1867, B.F. Underwood was a registered voter in the county. He is most likely the Benjamin F. who homesteaded 80 acres of land in the Leon Township in 1888. After the formation of Crenshaw County in 1866, a number of the Underwoods would have residences falling in that area. In 1870, there was an A. Underwood (Vincent A.T. maybe) residing in Covington County at 58 years of Age. With him were the following: Nancy, 31; Mathis Mary, 56; and Martha, 17.

The above is what is readily available on the pioneer Underwood family to live in Covington County. Primary sources were census records and Wyley Ward's Early History of Covington County Alabama, 1821-1871. The writer would like to receive additional information and genealogy of this family from anyone who might have any to share.

A few years later, during the early part of the 1900s, Laban Benjamin Underwood arrived in the county. He was born on February 17, 1894, at LeGrand, Montgomery County, Alabama. He was the sixth child and only son of Laban Edward and Lula (Montague) Underwood who had five older daughters and one younger.

"L.B.," as he came to be known, attended whatever public schools were available in LeGrand and the Barnes School for boys in Montgomery. Making a grade average of 96%, he led his class during the three years he attended this school.

Following graduation from the Barnes School, L.B. attended the University of Alabama and later the University of Alabama Medical College in Mobile. At both institutions, he continued his outstanding academic performance. He then completed his internship at the old St. Margaret's Hospital in Montgomery.

Dr. Underwood chose to open his first medical practice in Andalusia, county seat of Covington County. He did well enough during his first year of work that he was able to return to Montgomery in September 1920 to marry his sweetheart, Miss Kenneth Ingram. Within one year of the marriage, their first child, a daughter, was born, and her birth was followed by that of another daughter during the second year.

Dr. Underwood soon became one of the most popular doctors and surgeons in the county. Although he led a busy professional life, he also took time for leisure activities. He enjoyed the outdoors through hunting, fishing, and playing golf. He and his wife entertained many friends and were honored with the same. He became a leader in the Presbyterian Church where he served as a deacon.

At the time of his untimely death in 1934, Dr. Underwood, was the best-liked and most sought after doctor in the area. Fifty years later, people still remembered him as "the best doctor we ever had."

Dr. Underwood's tragic death resulted from a one-car accident on the Conecuh River Bridge at River Falls. His funeral was held two days later at the Presbyterian Church with all the other doctors present as pall bearers. Among those in attendance were all the nurses dressed in their starched, white uniforms. Out of respect, every store in town closed its doors during the service. Left behind were a grieving widow and two teen-aged daughters.

Since he was an only son and had no sons, Dr. Underwood's passing brought an end to the Underwood name for his family line. Of course, the loss kept family close and encouraged a deeper appreciation for their heritage.

Dr. Underwood's first daughter, Jane, was born in 1921 and currently resides in Andalusia. She was married to John Claris Yeuell (1919-1943) and they had one daughter, Jane Claris Yeuell, who married Wilbur Eugene Meneray, Jr.. The Menerays had one son, Gene. Jane was married second to Charles Borden Wiggins (1918-1976) with whom she had the following children: Charles Kenneth, Helen, and Elizabeth Ann.

Dr. Underwood's second daughter, Flora (1922-1978), was married to Hollis Webster Howell. They reared two children, Laura Helen and William Scott.

L.B.'s memory and influence continues to be felt through his descendants and the many friends and patients. Appreciation is expressed to his daughter, Jane (Underwood) Wiggins, who shared her family records as a source for this writing. Jane has contributed greatly to the preservation of genealogy and local history through membership and leadership in such organizations as The Daughters of the American Revolution and The Covington Historical Society.