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Historical well at Marshall South, Sand Mountain history
Zadie Wells Amberson (in green coat) inspects site of well dug by her great-grandfather in 1877.

Tue, May 8, 2018 at 02:55 PM

141-year-old well reflects community's homestead history at Marshall South location

The "Wells well" near TherapyPlus South was hand-dug in 1877, and it's now preserved thanks to efforts of local family member.

In 1877, Zachariah G. and Ellen Brown Wells settled in the Boaz area to homestead 160 acres. To provide water for his home, Wells began digging a well by hand on the property. After he tunneled down six feet, he hit solid rock. Not one to give up, Wells then chiseled through the rock to a depth of 29 feet where he reached water that would serve his family for generations.

Now, 141 years later, the hand-dug well has been found just steps from TherapyPlus South behind Marshall Medical Center South in Boaz. Wells’ great-granddaughter, Zadie Wells Amberson, is working to preserve the well as a historical site for the community.

“I want my family to see it,” said the 92-year-old matriarch of the Amberson family in Boaz. “It’s meaningful to me but I want people to know this city has a history.”

She spearheaded an effort to get brick pavers laid all around the opening of the well. Short brick walls serve as benches. An iron railing around the opening, which is covered by a half-inch thick circle of clear, strong polycarbonate, allows visitors to see down into the opening. A formal dedication was held earlier this spring following installation of a historical plaque to preserve the history of the spot for generations to come. 

“It needs to be a historical site,” Amberson said. “There are a lot of historical places in Boaz that have never been recognized. We have a lot of history here.”

The project was born out of Amberson’s desire to preserve the past and her enthusiasm for exercise. When TherapyPlus built a walking trail in 1997 that winds through the property, Amberson and her friend walked five days a week for years. Amberson collected litter as she walked. It was on one of those outings that she noticed a well. She was interested because she knew her grandfather had built a house nearby. 

“I thought I needed to do something about that well or nobody ever would,” she said.

She contacted David Nicholson of David’s Lawn Care, who takes care of Amberson’s lawn as well as the hospital grounds. He advised her to get permission from the hospital. When she asked Marshall Medical Centers’ CEO Gary Gore about preserving the site, he gave her the authority to go ahead with the project. 

When Nicholson took a look through the mound of rocks covering the well Amberson found, he determined it couldn’t be the well her great-grandfather had dug because it had been drilled. Nicholson knew of another well nearby with a concrete slab covering it that had been discovered when the walking trail was built. In that well, the hand-hewn rock and the water below could be seen. Nicholson set to work preparing it for preservation according to Amberson’s specifications.

Part of homesteading history

The 160 acres Amberson’s great-grandfather homesteaded stretched from Brown Street to McVille Road near where Gaines Florist sits today. Amberson’s grandfather, William Thomas “Tommy” Wells, built a house and gave 40 acres along McVille Road to each of his sons, one of which was Amberson’s father, James Zachariah “Jimroe” Wells. She was her parents’ ninth child, born just a block away from the house her grandfather built.
“I grew up there,’’ she recalled.
Her father was an ‘up-to-date’ farmer, she said. After Jimroe married Zadie Florence Ray, he built a two-story farm house on McVille Rd, for his future family of four daughters, followed by four sons and baby Zadie Nell. It had four bedrooms upstairs and two downstairs, with a large kitchen to feed the family and workhands that lived with them. He put in a dairy to provide a year-round income and delivered milk all over Boaz. He also built a grist mill and ground flour for the community.
Wells’ youngest daughter married Bill Amberson, a World War II veteran and son of a former mayor of the city. His father founded Amberson’s Clothing in downtown Boaz, which was operated by Bill Amberson for decades and is run today by Phillip, one of the Amberson’s three sons. Another son, Dana, lives in Hartselle with his family where he works in insurance. Son Ray, who works in real estate, lives in Boaz with his family. Zadie Amberson has five grandchildren and one great-grandchild named Zadie Ann.

Bill and Zadie Amberson were named Boaz Citizens of the Year in 2011. Bill died in February of 2017 after 67 years of marriage. Amberson stays active working in the yard of the house they built on Highway 205 in 1957. She bakes sourdough bread every day and delivers it in her truck to lucky recipients.
Zachariah G Wells has another direct descendent living in Boaz, Mary Wells Moore Malone. She is the granddaughter of James Zachariah Wells, daughter of his oldest child, Flossie Wells Moore. Mrs. Malone was born and raised in Boaz, where she taught in Boaz schools for many years before retirement.