In 2019, Alabama will celebrate quite the achievement. After all, it’s not every day the Heart of Dixie turns 200. In light of the upcoming bicentennial, residents of Hodges in Franklin County are getting Overton Farm, their own 200-year-old piece of history, into shape.
Armed with a load of tobacco and a dream, merchant Abner Overton journeyed to the Mississippi Territory in 1817, where the pioneer settled 160 acres of fertile farmland near Bear Creek.
The Overton family operated the farm until 1946. In 1968, the property was deeded to the Bear Creek Development Authority. It was restored in the 1970s and used as an educational center until 2013. In those 40-something years, area children visited Overton Farm to learn about Alabama heritage, pioneer life and the great outdoors.
After a three-year hiatus, historic Overton Farm is up and running again, now under the town’s operation.
“We’re a little town, but people are going to come,” said Overton family descendant Tricia Montgomery. “This is the history of every family that settled Alabama.”
The 211-acre farm is part of a growing tourism base in Hodges, a 400-resident town home to Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Park.
Park Director Mike Franklin said Overton Farm once hosted more than 500 students a year. He’s excited to revive living history at Franklin County’s only intact structure on the National Register of Historic Places.
“To some children, outdoors meant a city park until they came to Overton Farm,” said Franklin. “I want the farm to bring lasting enjoyment to everyone.”
A couple miles off U.S. Highway 172, through curving, rising and falling dirt roads, Overton Farm sits in a small clearing. Visitors see the original cabin, barn, well and smokehouse, and the surrounding forest is flush with wildlife. Overton Farm’s shaded location near Bear Creek cools the entire property. Montgomery said it’s easy to see how her ancestors were attracted to the tranquil place.
“I haven’t found the words to describe this place,” she said. “Maybe someday I will.”
Before Overton Farm closed in 2013, it was a booming educational center hosting 4-H camps, civic groups and anyone wanting to learn more about pioneer life. Activities included candle dipping, ghost stories, cave exploring, kayaking and sorghum syrup-making. Nature hikes, tree identification and Alabama history rounded out the farm’s curriculum, which Montgomery hopes to restore.
Reviving Overton Farm means more than teaching Alabama history. It means economic development, a renewed spirit for Hodges’ citizens and cultivating the reality of small-town survival.
“We’re seeing Hodges have economic development because of Overton Farm and Rock Bridge Canyon,” said State Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, who spearheaded the farm’s restoration. “People have fond memories of Overton Farm, and we want to help their children and grandchildren rediscover those times.”
Thanks to Overton Farm’s revival, Hodges’ first restaurant, The Farm Table, is now open on the property.
For Montgomery, Overton Farm is the whole package — a scenic property for weddings, reunions, seminars and more. She’s working on permanent farm exhibits and plans to reopen two dormitories for overnight guests.
Those outside the community are chipping in, too, with groups like Back Country Horsemen of Alabama investing time and energy in cleaning the property.
Montgomery, who was raised in Michigan but felt most at home visiting family in Franklin County, said she’s dedicated to Overton Farm not because of familial duty, but for the good of the community.
“I appreciate this land because I didn’t grow up here and can easily see the unique beauty of the people and the place,” she said. “If we save the farm, we save the town.”
For more information, visit hodgesal.com or find Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Park on Facebook.