Madison City Schools is home to two of the top high schools in the state, Bob Jones High School and James Clemens High School. Much thought goes into the name of a school, as it’s generally one of the highest honors a community can give to an impactful individual. So, who are Bob Jones and James Clemens? Here’s a quick run-down of these two men who made significant footprints in our area.
Who was Bob Jones?
Bob Jones HS opened in 1974 and is named after former Alabama Congressman Robert E. “Bob” Jones, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for three decades (1947-1977), the longest service record of anyone representing Alabama. Jones was an avid supporter of missile and space programs in the area and was instrumental in the movement of the Army rocket and guided missile mission to Redstone Arsenal.
Jones cared deeply about public works, especially those concerning our interstate system and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Jones is cited to have been instrumental in the creation of the Federal-aid highway program, which included the Interstate Highway System, hailed as the greatest single public works project in history.
Among his greatest legislative achievements include his principal sponsorship of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 and his pivotal work in passing the 1965 Appalachian Regional Development Act.
Many who witnessed Jones’ terms in Congress say that he is largely responsible for the way Huntsville blossomed during his 14-consecutive terms of service.
Who was James Clemens?
Clemens is commonly known as the founder of Madison, though a proper establishment wasn’t named after him until Madison’s second high school was opened in 2012, more than 150 years after his death.
Clemens owned a mercantile business and lived in Huntsville in the early to mid-1800s. He is a distant relative of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the legendary author known by his pen name as Mark Twain. He also had an estate in nearby Mooresville.
At the age of 76 in 1854, Clemens purchased land halfway between Decatur and Huntsville because he knew the railroad would need a depot in that location. His original desire was to found the town around this railroad depot and call it “Clemens Depot”. For unknown reasons though, the Memphis and Charleston Rail Road labeled it as “Madison Station”, denying Clemens his wish for the depot to carry his name.
Clemens later sold 15 lots along what is now known as Historic Downtown Madison. These lots were designed to be large enough for a home, a garden area, space for grazing cows and chickens, as well as some room to put a store on the front of the lots that faced the railroad (i.e. “storefronts”). Early landowners subdivided some of their property, creating more stores along Main Street.
Madison Historian John Rankin says that Clemens was a bit of a social reformer and really believed in the future of Madison, as evidenced by his final land purchase just weeks before he died in 1860. Clemens and his U.S. Senator son Jeremiah both freed some of their slaves in the 1850s, well before the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. Just months before Clemens died, he sold one of his most prominent lots (on the corner of Sullivan Street and Front Street) to a freed black man, Edmund Martin. He also sold a handful of lots to women, an opportunity given to very few women at that time in history.