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City of Valley celebrates 40-year anniversary

VALLEY — The City of Valley reached a new milestone this week. Wednesday was the 40th anniversary of the city being chartered by the state of Alabama.

The city’s official seal lists May 20, 1980, as its origin.

When asked what he remembers about that time, Mayor Leonard Riley told The Valley Times-News that it was the first year he was the principal at Valley High.

“It was my first graduating class, and it was a good class, too,” he said. “There was some really good future leadership in that group.”

Riley said the city had come a long way over the past 40 years. He’s the city’s fourth mayor in that period. Hugh Hood was the first one, and he was succeeded by Bobby Crowder, and the city was then led by Arnold Leak before Riley was elected in 2012.

“We started from scratch,” he said of that 1980 beginning.

The first city hall was located in a strip shopping area on 59th Street in Langdale. Within the first year, there was a senior center in Fairfax and a new police department. Arthur Carmack was the first police chief and one of the first officers hired was a guy named Sid Lockhart. He would go on to have a pretty good career as the Chambers County sheriff.

For years, West Point Manufacturing Company and later WestPoint Pepperell provided recreational opportunities and many other services for the mill village communities. With the creation of the new city of Valley, it was clear that those responsibilities would be shifted over to local governments.

“We had to take it over,” Riley said.

The mill company would continue this for a few years, but eventually Valley Parks & Recreation was organized.  The city acquired some WestPoint Pepperell property off Fairfax Bypass at a bargain price. That would be the future home of Valley Sportsplex (1996) and Valley Community Center (2002). The Chambers County Board of Education later added Ram Stadium to make for a first-class recreational complex.

“My wife, Debra, and I were parents on the city’s first swim team,” Riley said. “Our kids were members of the team. The meets were held at Langdale pool. The first swim tournament the city hosted took place there.”

Riley credits the leaders of the incorporation effort for getting a good thing started. Valley today has a population of approximately 10,000 people. The city has a 411-acre industrial park, a commercial and residential zone over 660 acres in size and has been designated an Alabama Opportunity Zone.

One of those leaders of the incorporation effort, Richard Perryman, celebrated his 90th birthday in January. He was chairman of the canvassing committee. At the time, he was an industrial engineer working in the WestPoint Pepperell corporate office.

“This city has made much progress over the years,” he said. “I am really proud of what we did to create a new city.”

He and wife, Beverly, have been married for 64 years. Back in 1979-80, they were going door-to-door gathering signatures on a petition to incorporate a new city.

A number of people who took part in the effort have passed on. People like Bruce Gray, Doss Leak and Allen Hendrix played key roles in getting it done. Another person was Arnold Leak, who went on to serve the city as a councilman and mayor.

Doss Leak was Valley Incorporation Committee (VIC) chairman. Nephew Arnold Leak was the chairman for the area south of the Osanippa Creek bridge on Highway 29, and Bruce Gray the Langdale chairman. Other members of the committee included Arlette Newton, Dewey Robinson, Beverly Perryman, Eloise Gray, Thomas Moore, Brooks Campbell and Katie Walton. Bill Hayes was the finance chairman.

A name for the new city was chosen on Oct. 9, 1979. A crowd of approximately 300 Valley homeowners gathered in Fairfax Gym to decide it. The name “Valley” was chosen by a two-thirds margin over alternative names such as River Valley, Oak Valley, Willow Valley and New Valley.

A vote to incorporate took place on April 22, 1980. Voters in Shawmut, Langdale, Fairfax and River View approved it by a margin of approximately 80 percent. There were 2,053 votes in favor and 522 against. Chambers County Probate Judge O.D. Alsobrook certified the results a few days later. A census had to be conducted to have a population count. The state chartered the city on May 20, 1980.

The city’s first election took place on July 8, 1980. The first council consisted of Mayor Hugh Hood and council members Jim Laney, Allen Hendrix, Richard Perryman, Bill Hayes and Dorothy Morris. They were sworn into office in a ceremony at Fairfax Gym.

Arnold Leak remembers the incorporation drive as a very exciting time for a lot of people. Ironically, he didn’t have the opportunity to run for office in that first election. He lived in an area south of the corporate limits. In the early 1990s, that area would be annexed into the city in a drive to create a city school system for Valley, which enabled him to run for office. He was elected to the council in 1992 and served as a council member until 2000, when he ran for mayor. Bobby Crowder was retiring that year, creating an open seat.

Leak won the race and served until retiring from office in 2012.

Leak said that the effort to create a new city started in 1978 or 1979 when seven people got together to discuss what could be done to make their community better. They included Arnold and his uncle, Doss Leak, Bucky Etherton, Lanny Bledsoe, Larry Newton, John Emfinger and Dr. Charles Otto.

“There was a lot going on at the time,” Leak said. “WestPoint Pepperell wasn’t as strong as it once was, and they were signaling they wanted to get out of many of the community services they had been providing for years. There was a lot of concern about our schools. The primary driving force, I believe, was that we wanted to have our own school system.”

Also, a lot of residents of Shawmut, Langdale, Fairfax and River View were loyal to Valley High and didn’t like it that there was a Lanett police jurisdiction sign in front of the school. It created a thought process of “Why can’t we have our own police?”

Seven people sitting down talking about the community led to a large community meeting at Fairfax Gym where the idea of having a new city was discussed. It was obvious from the sentiment expressed that it was a very real thing.

“Early on, it was a door-to-door effort followed by a lot of studying,” Leak said. “Some of us went to Montgomery County and talked to people in a town that had just been incorporated. We then formed committees for the four mill villages and took on the meticulous work involved in incorporation.”

Under state law, at least 60 percent of the people who lived in a quarter-quarter section had to sign petitions in favor of incorporation, and there had to be a certain number of people who lived in that section. Everything had to be contiguous. In other words, the property had to be touching. That’s what kept Arnold Leak’s neighborhood out of the new city. These rules also resulted in the formation of some “islands” in the city, or areas out of the city that are completely surrounded by the city.

The first council was elected by at-large voting. That changed in the move toward a city school system. Instead of five districts, the city went to seven districts, two of them with minorities as the largest population.

“This was an issue when we went after a city school system,” Leak said.

The U.S. Justice Department wouldn’t allow Valley to have a city system, but the city has had African-American representation on the council for close to 30 years now.

Leak is proud of the fact Valley was one of the fastest incorporation efforts in state history. The 80 percent-plus vote in favor was one of the highest in state history as well.

Leak said that it was a privilege to work in the incorporation effort alongside his Uncle Doss, Bruce Gray, Bill Hayes, Allen Hendrix, Richard Perryman and many others.

It took the combined efforts of some dedicated people with different kinds of skill sets. Allen Hendrix, for example, was a skilled draftsman and mapping expert. He was invaluable to the process. He later served on the council and later on was an asset on the city hall staff as a Public Works Director and Planning and Development director.

“He had so much knowledge about a lot of things,” Leak said.