OPD reflects on sacrifice of former chief
By Edna Ward
Another name has been added to Opelika’s list of police officers who have given their lives in serving and protecting the rest of us. No, you didn’t miss a recent tragedy. More than 130 years ago, on February 1, 1884, Opelika’s second chief of police, Henry Dilmus Hart, lost his life attempting to keep the peace in downtown Opelika.
Local authorities became aware of the circumstances of Chief Hart’s death within the last year and began research to document the circumstances of his death. Opelika Police Chief John McEachern and OPD Captain Shane Healey took the lead on this research.
Early Opelika was not a calm and peaceful area. Politics of the day often led to confrontation and violence and, by December, 1882, the local situation was so bad that Opelika lost its charter and Alabama Governor Edward A. O’Neal declared martial law, placing the city under the control of a Police Board of five members appointed by the governor.
With respect to Hart, Healey and McEachern found the following:
-March 3, 1883 Henry Hart was appointed as one of four “Special Policemen” for Opelika.
-April 9, 1883 H.D.Hart was elected Chief of Police by five-member Police Board. He had three police officers under his command. He was serving as chief when he was killed.
-February 1, 1884, sometime prior to 4 p.m., Chief Hart was killed at the train depot in downtown Opelika by James Abercrombie. Abercrombie was the son of Judge J.J. Abercrombie. According to newspaper accounts of the day Chief Hart had come to the depot in response to depot worker complaints. The workers said that Abercrombie was bothering them as they were trying to move luggage between a train and one of the local hotels. Hart approached Abercrombie and put a hand on his elbow, asking him to step aside and speak with him. Abercrombie pulled out a knife and stabbed Chief Hart in the neck near his shoulder. Hart moved away about 30-40 feet, where he fell and died. The workers immediately took Abercrombie to the ground, disarmed him and took him into custody. He was later found guilty of murder and declared insane. Abercrombie was incarcerated at Bryce State Mental Hospital in Tuscaloosa until his death on December 10, 1910.
Henry Dilmus Hart was the son of Thomas David and Sara Boyd Hart. Henry married Anna Webb (1855-1907) and they had two sons, Render Lee Hart (1876-1935) and Henry Edgar Hart (1878- 1932). Henry Eldred Hart (1903-1936) was the son of Henry Edgar and Carrie High Hart. Henry Eldred had a daughter, Virginia, who married G. E. “Sonny” Young. They had three sons and a daughter, Margaret. The sons are Barry E. Young, who still lives locally; Robert “Rusty” Young, a Florida veteranarian, and Cotton, who is deceased. Margaret (Margaret Young Brown) is an Auburn attorney.
Henry Dilmus and Anna Webb Hart are buried in the Old Loachapoka Cemetery on Lee Road 188.