The rich history of Gardiner Island

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 27, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal

Mulberry Creek flows south from

Chilton County marking the border between Dallas

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and Autauga counties.

Where it empties into the Alabama River across from Durant’s Bend it forms a delta, which eventually has become Gardiner Island.

Currently, Gardiner Island is not actually an island because of the low water level and probably is not an island most years during the dry season.

It is approximately one half of a mile long and a quarter of a mile across. Because of its proximity to International Paper, the air around the island has the foul smell of a paper mill.

On its eastern side, the island is a vast

gravel beach made up of smooth, round stones that gradually slopes uphill to a densely wooded thicket.

North of the island is a low, dry riverbed.

Originally the island was hunted

and fished by indians. Across the river in Durant’s Bend, Native American urn burial sites have been discovered.

This is a ritual

where the bodies of the deceased are buried in earthen-ware vessels.

After the Creek Wars

in 1816, a second wave of


from Georgia afflicted with “Alabama fever” began

settling the river region.

The island

is part of Creek Indian lands purchased from the U.S. government

in 1819 by a wealthy Georgian planter named James Gardner.

His slaves cleared the vast plantation bounded by Mulberry Creek and the Alabama River.

The Black Belt land was “fair and fruitful, enriching the master,” according to a Selma Times article.

James Gardner’s son, Col. Virgil H. Gardner, was born in Johns County, Ga., in 1808 and came to Alabama with his father.

Virgil went to school in Vermont at age 14 but

took over the plantation when his father died in 1826.

With the advent of the steamboat on the Alabama River, the Gardners grew increasingly wealthy.

On a map made by John Latourette in 1837, Gardner’s landing is marked at a location on the bank North

of the western tip of the island. This was one of hundreds of steam boat landings along the Alabama where cotton could be loaded onto boats headed for Mobile.

Virgil Gardner constructed

his home, Riverdale, a lavish Antebellum mansion on his plantation.

It was,

and still is, one of the finest homes in the county.

It was the site of many galas “when the old house flung wide her arms to squeeze in every guest,” according to a Selma Times article.

He and his wife died at Riverdale. Col. Gardner was a member of the Whig political party and the explanation made in his obituary published Sept. 16, 1881, in the Selma Times that he remained one “as long as there was a Whig party in the state.”

He had no political aspirations, and while he aided in building a county which was founded on industry and elevated by culture he kept himself in the back ground. According to a Selma Times article, more than 100 slaves who had scattered after the war assembled at his funeral.

During the 1980s, Riverdale was disassembled and moved to a site off Highway 22 and the old plantation became the site of International Paper.

In 1995, The Old Depot Museum had in its possession a seven-foot long panel painting from the late 1800s showing a hunting scene on the banks of Gardiner Island with William A. Gardner, son of Virgil Gardner,

as the central figure.

The family reclaimed the painting and its current whereabouts are unknown.