As you drive down Highway 331 or 89 in southeastern Covington, you see a lot of pine forests. There are no landmarks to indicate the thriving families of pioneers who once dotted the landscape along the creeks in the area. Back then the communities were called Clear Creek and Hurricane Ridge. The communities of Green Bay, New Hope and Pine Level encompass these areas today.
This southeastern part of Covington County was populated by Creek Indians until General Andrew Jackson started his drive to remove them. The area was opened for white settlement after the Indian Wars of 1817 ended, but few white men took advantage of the opportunity. Other parts of the county were settled long before pioneers moved into this region in the 1850s. The principal reason for its late start was the type of land and bodies of water in the area.
The Federal Government rated the region around Clear Creek as unsuitable for farming when they first opened up Covington County. The land was fertile enough to grow pine trees, but many areas were either too sandy or too swampy for cash crops such as cotton and corn. The creek was aptly named because it was spring-fed, crystal clear and an excellent source of water for drinking and cooking. Normally these elements alone would attract pioneering families, but it was the other bodies of water that kept them away. There were many low, swampy areas that bred mosquitoes -- mosquitoes that carried the "pond fever" (malaria). The pioneers had seen the fever in Autauga County and points north as they migrated towards Covington County, and they wanted no part of it.
Ultimately, it was the low price of land that persuaded folks to move into southeastern Covington County. The Federal Government was asking $5 per acre when they first opened the area for public sale in 1850. When no one offered to buy at that price, the land agents lowered the asking price. On September 13, 1854 prices were reduced to $1.25 per acre for the best acreage with a sliding scale to a low price of 12.5 cents per acre for the poorest tracts. Farmers from surrounding areas and counties who could not afford to buy land where they lived were finally motivated to move into the mosquito-infested region. By 1858, most of the properties were purchased along Clear Creek and in adjacent areas.
Although most of the pioneers who purchased land in the Clear Creek area came from Covington and Coffee County, many of them started their migration 300 to 800 miles to the northeast 30 to 50 years earlier. Many of them came down the Federal Road or the Indian trails that preceded that road. Riley Barnes was one of the first men to buy land there in 1855; he was born in Georgia in 1825. Duncan McRae bought shortly after Riley; he was born in NC in 1788. Census records indicate that these families had children in several states as they migrated to their ultimate destination in Covington County. For example, Enoch Jordan started his family in North Carolina and had children in Heard County, Georgia before arriving in Alabama. George McLeod and Thomas Edgerton followed similar patterns.
One common element the pioneers brought with them to southeastern Covington County was a love of good Baptist preaching. By 1859, residents had met and formed the Clear Creek Missionary Baptist Church. Although the name was changed to New Hope Missionary Baptist Church after the Civil War, it is still attended by descendants of the original pioneers in the area. For a time the congregation met on a farm in Hurricane Ridge while a new church was under construction. When the church services moved back to New Hope, some of the congregation remained in Hurricane Ridge. The church they formed is now called Pine Level Baptist Church. It still has a small but dedicated following.
Another common element between the pioneers in southeastern Covington County was the type of homes they built. A typical house was a split-log structure with one 22 feet by 16 feet room, a porch on the north and south side and a "dirt-packing chimney." Apparently, the dirt was actually heat-baked clay bricks with dirt packed between them to seal the draft. Two of these log cabins are still standing in a cotton field just south of Pine Level Church. Except for a few rotting timbers and a hole where the chimney once stood, these structures have weathered the storms for almost 150 years. The only changes farmers have made over the years to preserve the buildings for feed storage were to replace wood-shingle roofs with tin and to replace leather door hinges with ones made of metal. The pioneers of southeastern Covington County may have been poor farmers, but they sure could build log cabins.
Log Cabin Near Pine Level Baptist Church
Sources of Information: Federal Census, New Hope Missionary Church records, land purchase agreements, published family histories, and book titled The Federal Road through Georgia, the Creek Nation and Alabama 1806-1836 by Henry DeLeon Southerland, Jr. And Jerry Elijah Brown, 1989.