Dixon descendants left a magnificent legacy

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 3, 2003

Covington County has been greatly impacted by descendants of the Dixon family. The genealogy of this group down to the great grandchildren of Jeremiah Dixon, Sr. was presented in the past three columns. Many of that generation are well known and have contributed significantly to the county's development. Today's writing will focus on the children of Napoleon Bonepart Dixon who have been notable pubic figures.

The oldest son by Napoleon's second wife was Jesse Dixon who married Claudia Kendall. The couple reared the following two children: Julian, b. 1919, d. 1989, m. (1) Dorothy Dill (2) Peggy Joyce Howell; and Marie C., b. 1925, m. Henry P. Cole.

Jesse is probably best remembered for the designing and patenting of his helicopter. He got his start in life just as his father and brothers did in the forestry industry in Southern Alabama. He worked as they did in timber and specialized in the naval stores operations. His astute mechanical mind led him to various related projects, which resulted in his inventing the concept of the radial aircraft engine and his unique copter, often referred to as a "flying ginny." Making its appearance in 1941, it featured many promising features, but Jesse eventually sold the patent to commercial investors. The family recalls that he had great fun with his invention and all the experimentation.

Jesse's next oldest brother, Charles, was born in 1893 at "Dixie," the Dixon homeplace south of Andalusia near the Escambia County line. He was the son of a Veteran of the War Between the States and a great grandson of a Veteran of the Revolutionary War who was one of the earliest settlers in Covington County. He learned all about land, the timber industry, relating to people, and hard work from his father who was sometimes referred to as "Old Man Nap." He was one of the first men in the area to begin to sow seeds and plant seedlings to restore the natural stand of pine trees-a wise and novel concept for that time.

After serving his tour in the Army during World War I, Charles returned to his home area and became involved with his father and brother, Jesse, in the turpentine business. He also helped build the first Andalusia Airport and operate the Dixon Flying School along with his two brothers, Jesse and Solon. He and Solon founded the Dixon Lumber Company in Andalusia in 1939, and it was expanded into other affiliated mills in Brantley, Evergreen, and Lockhart.

Charles was a recognized community builder and leader. He was a founder and the first president of the Covington County Bank. He was involved in numerous business adventures in addition to his timber interests. These included a creamery, a radio station, the building of more than 100 homes in Mobile during the World War II population boom, and others.

Close to his heart was the growth and management of the area timber industry. He and his wife often borrowed money to purchase as many acres as possible when the value of land was cheap during the 1930's and 40s. He is remembered for not evicting his tenants when they owed money during the tough depression years. Some have recalled how he tried to prevent any family from going hungry during these times.

Charles personally oversaw the planting of more than 40 million trees in his lifetime. In 1970, at the age of 76, he saw a dream fulfilled when the first load of plywood rolled off the line at the new River Falls' Dixon Plywood Mill. For his many contributions to area natural resources, he was named Alabama's Conservationist of the Year in 1976, America's Bi-centennial Year.

Charles attributed much of his success to a decision in 1930 to marry Thelma Chapman, who became his wife and successful business partner. He and Thelma reared two daughters: Catherine, who married Henry Roland; and Marjorie, who married John Vick. Catherine and Henry reared one son, Charles Roland. Tragically, Marjorie was killed in a car wreck in 1967 and left John with their two daughters, Patricia and Claire.

Losing her daughter at such a young age, Thelma Dixon set about to memorialize her with a generous contribution to the Andalusia Public Library. The library remained a favorite philanthropic choice for the remainder of her life. She volunteered as a board member, and made possible the addition of the Charles Dixon Memorial Auditorium after his death. In 1978, she was the first Alabamian to receive the Grand Benefactor's Award from the American Library Trustee Association.

The legacy of this family lives on through the Charles Dixon & Co., LLC and the many memorials: scholarships to Auburn University forestry students, Charles Dixon Auditorium at the Solon Dixon Forestry Education Center, Charles and Thelma Dixon Building at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, and the Dixon Wing of the Huntingdon College Library.

Charles's younger brother, Solon, entered Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn University) after being graduated from Lyman Ward Military Academy. After earning a degree in engineering, he returned home to work in the timber business with Charles. They began acquiring land during the 1920s and continued until 1974 when their acreage totaled 90,000 acres. Solon was married to Ellie Gunter, but the couple did not have any children. After her death, he was married to Martha Whaley, who survives him since his death in 19.

In 1978, Solon and the other investors in the mills sold their stock interests in the corporations and some of the timberland to Tenneco, Inc. In 1980, he gifted 5,300 acres and the family home to his alma mater, Auburn University. This property is now the Solon Dixon Forestry Center and the site of the required summer camp practicum for all students entering the School of Forestry and Wildlife.

In 1981, as a memorial to his first wife, Solon was the incorporator of the Gunter-Dixon Foundation, Inc., which administers funds for educational, scientific and charitable purposes related specifically to health and medicine. Later that same year, 1981, he incorporated a second foundation, The Solon and Martha Dixon Foundation, which functions to support and promote educational activities. The purposes are to develop and implement systematic forest management programs to achieve maximum production of timber products while at the same time promoting conservation of such natural resources. In addition, it seeks to foster ecological development of coexistence between timber resources and distributions of human, social and cultural patterns. The Foundation's achievements are reflected in its support of Lyman Ward Military Academy, Auburn University, Lurleen Wallace Community College, and the public school systems of Covington County.

Truly, Covington County and the State of Alabama have benefited greatly from the dedicated efforts and contributions of the Dixon family. They have assured these

memorials and trusts will continue that course.

Sources for this writing include the following: The Dixon Legend, notes on Solon Dixon from Phillip Jones, and the personal family notes of Patricia Vick Moody, granddaughter of Charles and Thelma Dixon.

Anyone who might have additional information on this family is requested to contact Curtis Thomasson at 21361 Rabren Road, Andalusia, AL 36420 or Email: chthom@alaweb.com