Settled during the 1840s by people moving across the Chattahoochee River from nearby West Point, Georgia, the town of Bluffton, Alabama (which would later become Lanett) was incorporated in December 1865.
The name “Bluffton” derived from the fact that the north side of town was on heights above the river and out of the flood zone. People started moving there from West Point in the days before the Civil War to get away from the misery of the frequent river flooding.
Bluffton was changed to Lanett in February 1895 to capitalize on the widespread familiarity with Lanett Mill, which went into production the previous year. The first three letters of the new name were for West Point Manufacturing Company President and Lanett Mill founder LaFayette Lanier and the last three letters are for Theodore Bennett of the Boston-based Wellington Sears sales agency, which helped market WPMC products to widespread locations.
Within one year of the July 1894 opening of the Lanett Mill, an estimated 750 people had been employed. To house them and their families, WPMC began building a nearby mill village. More employment, and more housing, came in 1895 when the nearby Lanett Bleachery and Dye Works went into production.
During the town’s earliest days, the children of mill family workers were educated in a one-room school house owned by the company. By 1897, the mill company built the city’s first school building on the site where the Charter Communications building is located today.
By the early 1900s, Lanett had electricity for both the mill and nearby mill village. In 1906, WPMC built the Fraternal Hall and Stores building in the downtown area. It’s the familiar two-story landmark that still stands today. By 1909, Lanett had a two-story brick building serving as its school. It was on the site where the W.O. Lance Elementary School playground is located today.
Sewer service was begun in 1917 and by 1923 the town had its own depot, serving both the Chattahoochee Valley (CV) Railway Company and the Western Railway of Alabama.
The city’s population has decreased in recent years from a high of 8,985 residents to 6,469 in 2010. Lanett is bordered on the east by the city of West Point, Georgia and the Chattahoochee River and to the south by the city of Valley, Alabama. At one location on the east side of town, two states, two cities and three counties come together.
The city owns its own utility system and purchases its electricity from the Alabama Municipal Electric Authority (AMEA). In addition to providing electricity to its resident, Lanett also provides water and natural gas. The utility department is a major source of revenue for the city.
A number of notable individuals have called Lanett home, including the late Millard Fuller, who graduated from Lanett High School in 1953. Fuller and his wife Linda founded both Habitat for Humanity International and the Fuller Center for Housing. The Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project (CFCP) is a covenant partner with the Fuller Center. It has a local office in Lanett and has built 30 new homes in the local area for low to moderate income families. More than 20 of those homes are in Lanett. The CFCP has also rehabbed a number of existing homes.
Lanett is also the birthplace of former two-time Alabama Governor Fob James. Nationally syndicated cartoonist, Jimmy Johnson, whose popular “Arlo and Janis” comic strip appears in many newspapers is a 1970 graduate of Lanett High School.
A number of well know sports figures have roots in Lanett. Among those are former NFL players Dick Wood, Josh Evans, John Copeland, Bobby Hunt, David Hill, Hal Herring, Jimmy Jones, Mailon Kent, Walt Landers, Perry Griggs, and former MLB player Fred “Scrap Iron” Hatfield.
Other notable Lanett natives are Jesse Francis McClendon, a chemist, zoologist and physiologist, who made the first pH measurements of the human stomach in situ, and John Levi Sheppard, a U.S. Representative from the Fourth Congressional District of Texas from 1899 to 1902.
By Wayne Clark, News Editor, Valley Times-News News