Rainbow Mountain is a hot spot for Madison residents and visitors alike, though few actually know how it obtained its name.
Though some may assume the name is a nod to its fantastic views (especially in the winter amidst bare trees) and the opportunity for sightings of beautiful rainbows, there is actually a piece of history that takes credit for the name.
What is Rainbow Mountain?
Rainbow Mountain is in the northeast corner of Madison and consists of numerous hiking trails of various levels of ease and difficulty, though most are fairly short (less than three miles) with little elevation change. Many people may not know that the trail is there because the drive up to the trailhead winds through a quiet residential, uphill area.
At the top of the mountain though are a couple of parking areas and a covered pavilion. Visitors describe Rainbow Mountain as well marked, great for families, and a worthwhile outing.
Where did Rainbow Mountain get its name?
Historian and author John Rankin says that history points back to an early pioneer in the area named Elisha Rainbolt.
Rainbolt was born in North Carolina in 1774 and moved to the Madison area around 1807 with his wife and seven children. He went on to have three more children in the area. He died in 1821.
He was considered a man of prominence in the Madison area and was a resident of the “Sims Settlement”, which included more than 450 pioneer squatters living in western Madison County and Limestone County. He also served in Lt. Col. Peter Perkins’ 7th Regiment of the Madison Militia during the War of 1812.
In 1810, the pioneers of the Sims Settlement signed a petition to President James Madison requesting that the lands be legally recorded as their own since many had lived there since 1806.
February 3rd, 1818 was the first day that these pioneers could legally purchase land in the area, so on that day, Rainbolt patented 72 acres of land from the north face of Rainbow Mountain that extended across Highway 72 over to the east side of Nance Road (that slopes up into Monrovia).
Rankin believes that as other pioneers came to the area, they’d point at Rainbolt’s land (Rainbow Mountain) and ask who owned that land.
“Old man Rainbolt,” they’d say. “It’s Rainbolt Mountain.”
Rankin says that in the History of Madison County publication, it is written that early surveyor Judge Thomas Taylor confirmed in the 1880s that Rainbolt was an early settler of the area “…from which we have Rainbolt Mountain” in the west part of the county. This confirmed Rankin’s theory.
He believes that over time, Rainbolt’s name was distorted and pronounced “Rainbowl”, with the “t” dropping from pronunciation.
Generations later, the “l” was eventually dropped as well, with Rainbow Mountain being the name that stuck over time.
As for the Rainbolt family name, Rankin says that records show that the surname was gone from this area by the 1850s as family members married and mostly moved to Texas.
Elisha Rainbolt was buried just south of Highway 72 and west of Rainbow Drive with a tall obelisk to mark his grave. All traces of his cemetery were destroyed around 1960.
More Madison, Alabama History
All Things Madison is excited to partner with Mr. Rankin in telling more stories about our community’s founding and history. Thank you Mr. Rankin for your decades-long dedication to our community and the work you have poured into preserving our historical roots.