We are blessed in Lawrence County to be able to follow the footprints of history along almost every back road. Our Sixth District, bordering Wayne County, Tennessee and Lauderdale County, Alabama, is especially well-traveled.
Commissioner Bobby Clifton represents the largest district in our county, 19 by 12 miles at its longest and widest points, respectively. The area includes the communities of West Point, Wayland Springs, and Iron City, and many more that were thriving in the early years of the county.
“We were home to the first woolen mill on Shoal Creek; Wayland Springs, the first resort; and mining operations at West Point and Pinckney,” Clifton says. Iron City got its name from an iron foundry that was in operation there.
The number of creeks in the area provided power to early industry. Shoal Creek and tributaries including Knob, Chisholm and Factory Creeks create a network of waterways, large and small, through District 6.
You can save time and money by touring Lawrence County as the leaves change, Clifton said. “You don’t have to go to the Smokies.” West Point, Tidwell Hollow and Wayland Springs offer views and colors that equal East Tennessee’s.
Clifton was born in the Centerpoint community to Lawrence County natives. His mother grew up on Wildcat Ridge; his dad’s family lived “all over the southeastern part of the county.” Like many others, the Cliftons moved here from Winston County, Alabama, but arrived before the largest migration from that area occurred between 1908 and 1920. The Commissioner’s ancestors settled around Sugar Creek in 1890.
His dad was one of 14 children, but was the only one who stayed in Lawrence County following World War II. The rest settled in Michigan, Ohio, Alabama and other places, but some of Clifton’s cousins have returned to this area in recent years.
Clifton attended elementary school at Glendale, and graduated from Loretto High School in 1956. His future wife Eva Nell grew up in Lexington, Alabama, and they met through mutual friends. They have two daughters who live in Florence, Alabama and Daytona, Florida; three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
They’ve come a long way together over the past 60 years. When they married, they moved into the house he built while they were dating.
“That house was trial and error,” he said. “The thing was I wasn’t afraid to try anything.” He built their present home in 1978, and spends a lot of his spare time in his workshop. “I just like to build things.” He recently built five identical pie safes for his children and grandchildren, hall trees for his friends (two are in the County Executive’s office), and has even built his own casket. “I cut the cherry tree and dried the wood in my wife’s oven.”
He lives on the farm where his dad grew cotton. He raises a big garden, but bush hogs the rest of the acreage. “I worked two or three jobs at a time, anything I could make money at.” Clifton worked at Murray “off and on” for 37 years, worked at a body shop and car lot, taught auto body at the Lawrence County vocational school for four years and was in the National Guard for four years.
Clifton has served four prior terms on the Commission, the first under County Executive Marty Dunkin. His reason for serving is simple: “I want to help the people, and I am proud to serve them.” Commissioners can make a real difference, he said. “I have more power than T.R. because T.R. can’t vote and I can,” he added, laughing.