O’Bannon succeeded W.S. Neal

Published 3:53 pm Wednesday, January 13, 2010

By Staff
Lydia Grimes
Forgotten Trails
Ethel Holmes’ history of Escambia County continues:
Mr. W.S. Neal was succeeded by Mr. John B. O’Bannon, who served as county superintendent for nine years. He was born in Monroe County on Oct. 21, 1858 and died in Brewton in 1932. He received his education in the public schools of Brewton and the high school at Greenville, Ala., which was then the only high school between Montgomery and Mobile. He was first employed by J.S. Stallworth Company of Brewton as “log man” but soon after he finished high school he established a mercantile business in Brewton and did a traveling business, with all kinds of merchandise in Escambia, Covington and Conecuh Counties and parts of Florida.
In 1883 Mr. O’Bannon established a school where the home of Mrs. Emma McGowin is now located, with Mrs. McGowin, who was Miss Emma Rankin, and Miss Hattie Saltoman, who later became Mrs. James L. Sowell, as assistant teachers. He purchased the bell which still hangs in the grammar school building and which was used until recently when the electric signal system was installed. In 1903 Mr. O’Bannon was elected County Superintendent of Education, after which he was appointed to fill the unexpired term of T.S. Sowell as county treasurer. He later moved to Appleton, eight miles north of Brewton, where he was engaged in farming and merchandising until 1920 when he was elected tax collector. He was a member of the Universalist Church, Knights of Pythias, Odd Fellows and was Master of Masons for 29 years.
At the time of his death, he was tax collector of the county. Escambia County was one of the first to levy a county tax for schools, having levied a two-mill tax under a Special Act of the Legislature of 1896, five years before the Constitution of 1901 authorized a one-mill county tax, and 19 years before the Legislature of 1915 submitted an amendment under which all counties have since voted three mills for schools.
In 1898 the Legislature passed a local act for Escambia County while Mr. Neal was Superintendent of Education to visit all the schools of the country at least once a month, for which services he was not to be paid more than $300 nor less than $200 annually. Other provisions of the local law were the sections authorizing the County Superintendent to adopt uniform textbooks for the county, and doing away with the astronomical township as a unit of school control, and submitting a district system according to centers of population, in which schools were to be at least two and one-half miles apart.