The Town of Saint Florian is located on land that was part of the plantations of John and Matthew Wilson. The Wilson brothers purchased the land from the United States government in 1818 and operated their plantations from that time on into the Civil War. John Wilson and his nephew Matthew Wilson, Jr. were killed by members of the Thrasher party on April 30, 1865. Christopher Brewer, his black servant, and the grandfather of W.C. Handy was also shot that night. The executor of John Wilson’s estate could not carry out his will to operate the plantation with slaves until his successors reached the age of twenty-one years, due to the emancipation of slaves during the Civil War. Therefore, the court ordered the property to be sold.
Saint Florian was established in the early 1870’s when the Homestead Society of Cincinnati, Ohio strived to develop a Catholic presence in northwest Alabama. Fr. J.H. Hueser, director of the Homestead Society, purchased 2,436 acres from teh estate of John Wilson which he in turn sold to settlers, mostly German Catholics, at a price of $8 to $15 per acre. Thus this new settlement was founded. It is said to have been named St. Florian remembering Florian Rasch, the settler who donated the bell for the church. Along with the Rash family, early settlers included Kasmeiers, Breidangers, Zulaufs, Wolterings, Grossheims, Lockers, Schauts, Stumpes, Bufflers, Speckers, Eckls, Schmidlkofers, Peters, Grossheims, Fosters, Haegers, and others. Between 1872 and 1876, forty parcels of land were sold to forty families.
A small frame church was built in 1872. It also served as the first schoolhouse. The first priest was Fr. Michael Merz and his neice Annie Merz was the first school teacher. Following the death of Fr. Merz in a smallpox epidemic in February, 1876, the Benedictine Order of priests was urged to take over the community and a mortgage that remained on the property. After urgent communication from settlers in the community and from Fr. Hueser, the Benedictines accepted the proposal. Saint Michael’s Catholic Parish in St. Florian has been led by Benedictine monks ever since.
Saint Florian was primarily a farming community in its early years. Although the community was too close to Florence to become a thriving town as Father Hueser had planned, there was a blacksmith, a boarding house, a post office, a shoe shop, carpenters, a brick yard, cotton gin, an undertaker, and other businesses. In later years, the primary employment of the area shifted away from farming and turned toward industry and business.
A big change came to Saint Florian when the Town voted to incorporate on August 18, 1970. The community became a municipality of 400 acres by a vote of 49 to 13. The mayor ran the town at the beginning with the help of five aldermen. Also chosen were a judge, a town clerk, and a chief of police. At first, town meetings and court were held in upstairs of Heupel’s Grocery, a local store, but a town hall was constructed in 1975. Mid-Lauderdale Volunteer Fire Department was formed in 1970 and a fire station was build in 1984. Now in 2006, St. Florian has its Mayor and five Council Members, as well as three police officers, a full-time town clerk a planning commission, a zoning board, a community activity board, and other boards and committees.
Saint Florian today hosts the annual Saint Florian Oktoberfest. The celebration began being celebrated on the grounds of St. Michael’s Catholic Church, the site of its humble beginning, but has spread to the adjacent Saint Florian Community Park and to the site of the future Senior Center. The Oktoberfest not only recognizes and celebrates the German heritage of the early settlers of Saint Florian, it also celebrates the heritage and the lives of all those who came later who were, and are, so important to the Town of Saint Florian. The Oktoberfest celebrates the coming together of all the citizens to make the town all it can be now and can become later.