Nolen: Former probate judge Longshore ‘popular’ in history

By BRAD GASKINS/Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – If all the local, state and national politicians Shelby County has produced since 1818 competed in a popularity contest, betting against A.P. Longshore would be ill-advised.

The state legislator and county probate judge from the late 1800s and early 1900s was “probably one of the most popular figures in our county’s history,” David Nolen said Thursday night, Jan. 20 at Columbiana Public Library during a presentation on Shelby County political history.

The presentation was a 45-minute condescend version of the full two-hour version Nolen initially prepared for Leadership Shelby County to use to familiarize people with county history.

“I’m not a historian, but I do love history,” said Nolen, vice-president of the county’s historical society and nephew of Gov. Robert Bentley.

And history, Nolen said, remembers Longshore as a “very successful, very popular politician.”

Longshore arrived in Columbiana in 1885 to practice law, Nolen said. He started the People’s Advocate Newspaper and in 1888 was elected to the first of two terms to the state legislature as a Democrat.

For some reason, Nolen said, Longshore got involved in a feud with party leaders, who derailed his reelection campaign in 1892. Longshore joined the Republican and Populist party and in 1898 was elected to the first of three consecutive terms as a county probate judge.

“During my lifetime, the two most powerful public positions in the county have been the probate judge and the sheriff,” Nolen said, noting that the probate judge also was chairman of the Shelby County Commission until late in the 20th century. “The probate judge and the county commission chairman were the same office. They pretty much controlled the purse strings of the county.”

Longshore was “one of the most powerful men in the county at that time” and that didn’t sit well with political opponents, Nolen said.

His opponents got a bill passed in the state legislature separating the two offices, Nolen said. Longshore responded by winning the next election for state legislature, passing a bill restoring the two offices together and, in the next election cycle, winning back the position of probate judge and, with it, the title of county commission chairman.

Longshore made an unsuccessful run for U.S. Congress in 1920, Nolen said.

Speaking of another politician, Nolen said Shelby County impacted the career of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black.

In the summer of 1903, Hugo was in Wilsonville assisting older brother Orlando Black, a physician at a Wilsonville clinic, Nolen said. Hugo’s parents had hoped he’d follow in his brother’s footsteps with a medical career.

“After that summer helping his brother he decided he wanted nothing to do with medicine,” Nolen said. “I think it’s safe to say that Shelby County had an influence on the career of Hugo Black.”

Shelby County has produced two governors – county resident Rufus Cobb from 1878 to 1882 and county native Bentley, who was sworn-in last week.

Shelby County may be able to claim itself as the birthplace of a second governor, Nolen said.

According to the official Alabama archives, William W. Brandon, governor from 1923-27, was born in Talladega County. However, Nolen noted, a history of Wilsonville written in the 1950s said Brandon was born in Shelby County while his father was pastor of Wilsonville Methodist Church.

“At one time we thought this was a fact,” Nolen said of Brandon’s birthplace, “but now it requires some more investigation.”