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Charles Henderson, 1915–1919 Lee N. Allen If anyone deserved the title of “business governor”of Ala­bama,it was Charles Henderson. His experience as the leading businessman of Troy,Ala­ bama, affected his actions as governor. During his administration the principles of economy and efficiency were his faithful guides. Henderson was born to Jeremiah Augustus Henderson and Mildred Eliza­ beth Hill Henderson on April 28,1860,at the family farm at Gainer’s Store, an area now known as Henderson, twelve miles south of Troy.Jeremiah Henderson represented Pike County at the Ala­bama secession convention and served in the Fifty-­ seventh Ala­ bama Regiment during the CivilWar.He then moved toTroy and became one of the wealthiest men in southeast Ala­bama. Young Charles was educated in the pri­ vate schools of Pike County, where one of his teachers was a former South­ ern Bap­ tist missionary, R. W. Priest, who had a great influence on the young man. Henderson enrolled at the Baptist-­ affiliated Howard College (now Samford University ),then located at Marion,but remained only two years because his father’s death compelled him to return home to manage the family business.Because he was only seventeen, an act of the state legislature was required to relieve him of the disability (as a business proprietor) of being underage.With two brothers, he entered the mercantile business known as Henderson Brothers, a phenomenally successful concern that spelled prosperity for the Henderson Charles Henderson 1915–1919 / 189 family and for Troy. At the time of his death during the depths of the Great Depression, Henderson’s estate was estimated to be worth $3 million. Henderson and his brothers sold this business to an uncle in 1890, and the future governor established the Charles Henderson Wholesale Grocery Company.In addition to that venture,he was majority stockholder and president of both the Pea River Power Company and the Standard Telephone and Telegraph Company. In addition, Henderson was a director and stockholder in the Farmers and Merchants Bank of Troy, the Standard Chemical and Oil Company, the Troy Compress Company, and the Ala­ bama Warehouse Company. When he became governor, he owned an estimated three thousand acres in Pike County. Henderson entered local politics at the urging of some of the younger men of Troy who asked him to run for mayor of that city. He served three terms before withdrawing from pub­ lic life to devote himself to his flourishing business empire. After a brief respite, he agreed to run again and served a total of thirteen years as mayor. During his tenure the town established a pub­ lic school system, and he helped to establish Troy State Normal College, now Troy State University, where he served as a trustee. One of the teachers who was employed in the new city school sys­ tem was Laura Montgomery of Raleigh, North Carolina, a graduate of the prestigious St. Mary’s Seminary. She caught the eye of the twenty-­ seven-­ year-­ old bachelor mayor, and they were married on No­ vem­ ber 7, 1887.The Hendersons had no children, and Laura joined her husband in numerous civic and cultural affairs. Henderson’s career took another direction in 1906 when he was elected to his first statewide office on the Ala­ bama Railroad Commission. He was appointed president of the commission and served two terms from 1907 to 1915.Using his membership on the commission as a stepping stone to higher office, Henderson ran for governor in 1914, defeating former governor B. B. Comer in a Democratic Party runoff. He easily defeated Republican, Progressive , and Socialist Party candidates in the No­ vem­ ber general election. When Henderson took office in Janu­ ary 1915, the state was deeply in debt, with dim prospects for balancing the budget.With the outbreak of war in Europe in July 1914, the price of cotton plummeted, and the economy of the state was devastated. Within two years, however, the economic picture turned, and the state began to share in the nation’s wartime prosperity. Wages for Ala­ bama workers increased and neared the national average; federal monies flowed into the state for the Muscle Shoals munitions development and training camps. Henderson paid off the outstanding debts of the 190 / Charles Henderson 1915–1919 state and left a small surplus in the treasury for his successor. Having seen the result of an economy based on one crop, Henderson devoted much of his remaining life to encouraging agricultural diversification...


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