Recently, I embarked on the journey of a lifetime. I went searching for a lost town called Ur and I believe I have rediscovered that ancient place.
Now, I’m not talking about the ancient city of Ur that you are probably thinking of--the birthplace of the Biblical character Abraham, revered as the progenitor of the world’s three greatest religions--Christianity, Judaism and Islam. That city of Ur, located in modern-day southern Iraq, is approximately 5,800 years old and was the center of a moon-worshiping religion.
I’m talking about the city of Ur that was located somewhere in Marion County in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Ur was located at the crossing of two well-worn roads in Marion County and evidence of moon worship still exists there.
I became interested in Ur while perusing digitized maps of Alabama on the University of Alabama cartographic lab’s website--Alabamamaps.ua.edu. Interested viewers can find maps of Alabama dating from pre-statehood to the modern day.
While scrolling through the chronologically sequenced maps, I noticed that a dot indicated with the name Ur began appearing in Marion County in the late 19th Century. The first map in the collection on which Ur appears is dated 1882 and the last map on which the name appears is dated 1923. However, the dot never appeared in the same place on any two maps. Through the years, the dot ranged from the middle of the county to lower south on the Fayette County line. This intrigued me. Where was the lost city of Ur in Marion County located? I had to know, so I embarked on my journey.
But before I went looking for the Lost City of Ur in Marion County, I felt I needed to know a little about the original city of Ur mentioned in the Bible, the namesake, no doubt, of our local Ur.
Ur dates back to the 24th Century BCE and is located in the Mesopotamian region between the Tigris and Euphrates River in Iraq. Mesopotamia is the traditional location for the biblical “Garden of Eden.” Mesopotamia is where the first organized human societies developed written language after the advent of organized farming. The first social codes and laws were developed there. Ur existed 3,300 years before the pyramids of Egypt were built and became one of the most powerful city/states to develop over the millennia.
Ur became the center of a religion that worshipped the moon god, Nanna, the supreme deity of the Sumerian culture. In the 21st Century BCE, a temple complex dedicated to Nanna was built at Ur. The temple was called E-gish-shir-gal--“House of Great Light.” Reverence was given to Nanna, known as the illuminator for his ability to illuminate the darkness, and for his reliability as a keeper of time. The ancients marked time by the 29.5 day cycle of the moon phase.
Other temples of moon worship sprang up in the Mesopotamian valley. A temple to Nanna was built at Harran, incidentally where Abraham, after leaving Ur, stopped over on his way to the “promised land” of Canaan.
In Marion County, my search for Ur garnered little in the way of exactly where the town was located.
However, in my search for Ur, I did find some old newspaper references to the old town.
On June 24, 1897, the Marion County News announced that the mail from Pikeville to Ur will change and go from Twin to Ur. That issue also announced that the postmaster at Ur, Riley Wilson, will be succeeded by J.J. Weeks.
On Nov. 25, 1897, the Marion County News announced that news from Ur was scarce but the health of its citizens was very good. The paper also announced that “Prof. N.L. Lawhon opened his school at the Ur School House last Monday with a good attendance.”
I was happy to have those references, but still I couldn’t place where Ur was located.
But I hit paydirt when I referenced the “Holy Grail” of Marion County history, a book called “The Heritage of Marion County” compiled by a group of Marion County historians. The book was published at the end of the 20th Century in 2000 A.D.
The book offers a history of Marion County’s beginnings and short histories of the churches, schools and families that have called Marion County home. In the section for schools, Maxine Hill provides a description of the “Ur-Gap School.”
“During the early 1900’s,” Hill writes, “in what is now Gu-Win, Ala., there was a one-room school house beside the Bankhead Highway.”
Ur, according to Hill, was located at present-day Gu-Win.
Now that I had a specific location for Ur, I went searching for some people who could pin-point where the school was located and maybe explain what “gap” meant in Ur-Gap.
Guin City Councilman Troy Hightower, 92, said he remembers seeing the old school building as a young man. Hightower said the school stood near where Marion County Highway 27 crosses State Highway 43 in Gu-Win. Hightower said the school was a two-story building that stood on the south side of Highway 43. The building was serving as a residence when he saw it. Hightower said another school, known as Mountain School, was located further south on county road 27.
Jack Weeks, 94, who lives on the site where the Mountain School was located, said the Ur-Gap school was located about 100 yards south of Highway 43 on the southwest corner where County Road 27 intersects the highway. Weeks said he remembers the last teacher that taught at Ur-Gap.
“The last teacher that I remember was a Mrs. LeDuke,” Weeks said in a phone interview. Weeks said he thinks the Ur-Gap school closed sometime around 1936 or ‘37.
I asked Weeks if he knew about how Ur became known as Ur-Gap.
“I have no idea,” he said. “Usually a gap is associated with the cut they would make through a hill to run the railroad, and if it wasn’t associated with that, then I don’t know what it was,” Weeks said.
Today, the site of the old Ur-Gap School is located one-half mile north of what is now the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. That railroad was graded in 1886 by the Memphis and Birmingham Railroad Company.