PHENIX CITY, Ala. (WRBL)—Before it was Phenix City, the town across from Columbus was known as Brownville or Lively. The history of these dual names reveals contention between identically named towns going back to the late 1800s.
Before 1871, what later came to be Phenix City was known as Brownville, according to Mark Clark, who began his official career as a journalist for the Citizen of East Alabama in 1972. However, Clark explained 1871 marked an important year for Brownville, as it gained its second name, “Lively,” due to what he called a “conflict” with another town by the same name in Tuscaloosa County three hours away.
The Encyclopedia of Alabama explains this change was a result of confusion when the U.S. Post Office mixed up the two identically named towns that year.
“The reason for choosing this name is not known, but local lore indicates that the name referred to the lawless nature of the area,” the encyclopedia’s website states.
The sentiment of lawlessness in the area which became Phenix City is corroborated by other sources, including Phenix City’s website which offers a brief history of the town. The page states that what was once known as Brownville was largely regarded as a “wild and untamed place.”
Although Clark indicated that the 1880 census listed the town as both Brownville and Lively, the name did not stick and the town became incorporated through Alabama legislature in 1883.
That name only stuck for the next decade-and-a-half, as Brownville’s name officially changed to Phenix City on February 19, 1897. Before the city became what it is today by encompassing the area that was known as Girard in addition to Phenix City, unrest surrounding liquor emerged in the years leading up to the Prohibition Era.
“In addition to the illegal corn liquor, Girard had one legitimate distillery and two whiskey warehouses used for the storage of bonded liquor that was shipped all over the Southeast,” states the website for Historic Columbus about the issue.
The website goes on to describe how the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League joined forces to oppose whiskey production and consumption in the area during the early 1900s. According to the site, in 1915 a law passed locally to prohibit manufacturing and selling alcohol in the area.
While the Prohibition officially began in 1920 and lasted for the following 13 years, in the decade after 1915, local police seized and dumped liquor sums amounting to millions of dollars.
Toward the end of this period, however, Phenix City and Girard were consolidated into one. The 1923 legislation which combined them officially blurred the boundaries which Brownville once possessed, effectivity creating the area which is known as Phenix City today.