Decatur is a city in
Limestone and Morgan Counties in the U.S.
state of Alabama.
known as "The River City", is located in Northern Alabama on the banks of Wheeler Lake, along the Tennessee
It is the largest city and county seat of Morgan
County. The estimated population in 2006 was 55,778.
also the core city of the two-county large Decatur
Metropolitan Area which had 150,125 in 2006. Combined with the
Huntsville Metropolitan Area, the two create the Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical
Area, of which, Decatur is the second largest
Like many southern cities in the early 1800s, Decatur's early
success was based upon its location along a river. Railroad routes
and boating traffic pushed the city to the front of North Alabama
's economic atmosphere.
rapidly grew into a large economic center within the Tennessee Valley and was a hub for
travelers and cargo between Nashville/Chattanooga and Mobile/New
Throughout the 20th century, the city
experienced steady growth, but was eclipsed as the regional
economic center by a fast growing Huntsville during the space race.
The city now finds its economy heavily based on manufacturing
industries, cargo transit, and hi-tech industries such as General Electric
, and the United Launch Alliance
Initially the area was known as "Rhodes Ferry Landing", named for
Dr. Henry W. Rhodes, an early landowner who operated a ferry that
crossed the Tennessee River
1810s at the present-day location of Rhodes Ferry Park. The city
was incorporated as Decatur in the year 1821. It was named in honor
of Stephen Decatur
; after he was
killed in a duel in 1820, President Monroe directed that the
Alabama town be named for him (citation needed).
Decatur was a very important point in North Alabama
during its earliest days.
Decatur was the eastern terminus of the Decatur-Courtland-Tuscumbia
(in the late 1820s and early 1830s), the first railway
built west of the Appalachian Mountains.
Because of its location on the strategic Memphis & Charleston
, Decatur was the site of several encounters during the
American Civil War
. All but three
buildings were burned down during the 1864 Battle of
Decatur, when Decatur was referred to as A Tough Nut To
Crack. The three that remained are the Old State Bank, Dancy-Polk House, and the Burleson-Hinds-McEntire
city was under Confederate control, plans for the Battle of
Shiloh were mapped out within the Burleson-Hinds-McEntire
These activities made the house one of the most
historic buildings in Decatur.
Alabama was a city that rose out of the ashes of former
Decatur west of the railroad tracks.
New Decatur was founded
in 1887 and incorporated in 1889. But residents of the older
Decatur resented the new town, founded and occupied by people who
moved from the northern states. Animosity built until New Decatur
renamed their town Albany, after Albany, N.Y., in September 1916.
The impetus to meld the two towns came from the need for a bridge,
instead of a ferry, across the Tennessee River. The Decatur Kiwanis
Club was formed with an equal number of members from each town to
organize efforts to get the state to build the bridge. In 1925, the
two cities merged to form one City of Decatur. There is a
noticeable difference between the two sides of town. The cities
developed differently at different times, and still to this day
have somewhat different cultures. Eastern portions of Decatur tend
to act more suburban and traditional, while western portions tend
to look more metropolitan and contemporary.
Old State Bank, on the edge of downtown, is the oldest bank
building in the State of Alabama, at 173
years old. The first wave pool in the United States was built in Decatur and is still in operation at
Mallard Aquatic Center.
The city has the largest Victorian era
home district in the state of
Alabama. Decatur is also home to Alabama's oldest
opera house, the (Cotaco Opera House), which still stands on Johnston
In the past its industries included repair shops of the Louisville and Nashville
, car works, engine works, tannery, bottling plants,
and manufacturers of lumber, sashes and blinds, fertilizers,
cigars, flour, cottonseed oil, and various other products.
Early Historical Timeline
- Area founded as Rhodes Ferry in 1810s.
- Rhodes Ferry incorporated as Albany in 1821.
- Dancy-Polk House erected in 1829.
- Also in 1829-1830, Decatur became the home to the first
railroad ever built west of the Appalachian Mountains Tuscumbia-Courtland-Decatur
- Old State Bank erected on July 29, 1833.
- Rhea-McEntire House built in 1836.
- Battle of Decatur takes place during the American Civil War in November,
- Decatur's Victorian Era Home
District built between 1870 and 1910
- New Decatur founded in 1887, incorporated in 1889.
- New Decatur renames itself Albany (although the post office
designation is New Albany), 1916
- Princess Theatre built in 1919.
- Albany and New Decatur merge in 1925.
- President Franklin Delano
Roosevelt dedicates Delano
Park in 1930s.
- TVA brings new
business to Decatur through the military, and energy management in
The Tennessee River
traditionally been the northern border of the city and Morgan
County, while Flint Creek and the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge on the
east side of the city. The city does extend to the other side of
Flint Creek and the Refuge in the Indian Hills and Burningtree
subdivision areas. There is also an inlet that extends one mile
(1.6 km) into the city limits from Wheeler Lake called Dry Branch.
There is also a small
portion of Decatur that extends into Limestone County north along
the Highway 31 corridor to the Calhoun College area and along Hwy
20 Corridor until it reaches I-65.
The northern portion of Decatur sits on top of a short hill that
overlooks the Tennessee River, this creates a very steep dropoff to
the river shore at Rhodes Ferry Park. This hill allows the "Steamboat Bill" Memorial Bridge
to leave the mainland at grade without any major sloping required
more height to cross the river while not interfering with Decatur's
heavy barge traffic. This hill extends from the banks of the river
about south to the 14th St./Magnolia St. intersection with 6th
Avenue (US 31
South past the 14th St. and 6th Ave. intersection, land continues
to remain flat. South, and also west, past Alabama 67
there are a few minor
mountains that sit within the city limits.
Decatur is located at (34.580992, -86.983392) .
According to the U.S. Census Bureau
, the city has a total area
of 59.9 square miles (155.1 km¬≤), of which,
53.4 square miles (138.3 km¬≤) of it is land and
6.5 square miles (16.8 km¬≤) of it (10.83%) is
Decatur experiences a humid
, with hot, humid summers and a generally
mild winter. Temperatures range from 89 ¬įF (31.6 C) in the summer
to 49.0 ¬įF (9.4 C) during winter. The city rarely experiences
during the spring and fall. But,
significant severe weather does occur from time to time in the
active seasons. The most significant tornado event included the
in 1974, while the
city was largely unaffected by the more recent Huntsville, Alabama Tornado
1989 that killed 21 and injured almost 500. Decatur is usually
immune to tornadoes because it is said that the Tennessee River
protects it. Hurricanes are
rare since Decatur sits nearly inland from the Gulf of
Though a few tropical systems do track
through the central Tennessee
, they rarely inflict much damage on the city. Winters
usually do not produce much snow; a large amount of snow is rare
within the city limits. A small, measurable amount of snow can be
experienced a few times each year.
Bodies of water
is, unofficially, divided into four
different regions of town (Northeast
). The reason for the
existence of these four regions is because of The Beltline
Decatur already existed as parts of town, but
were simply thought of as one, as there was a much lower population
at that time in the West
mostly of the area bordered by 6th Avenue (US
), 8th Street W, and Moulton Street. Northwest
bordered by Moulton Street, Central Parkway, and 14th Street
Two halves of town were successfully created in the years following
the completion of The Beltline
as a bypass. While there
are few major cultural differences between the East
, minute differences such as street grid patterns,
zoning patterns, and architectural styles are noticeable.
- Albany (Old Decatur)
- Downtown Decatur
- East Acres
- New Decatur
- Bank Street (Downtown Shopping District)
- Harborview (Riverfront)
- Burleson Mountain
- Burningtree Mountain
- Cedar Lake
- Hickory Hills
- Indian Hills
- Point Mallard Estates
- Cedar Ridge
- Chapel Hill
- Chula Vista
- Deerfoot Estates
- Dogwood Estates
- Griffin Addition
- Longleaf Estates
- Oak Lea
- Russell Village
The current mayor of Decatur is Don Stanford,
who was elected in 2008. The city has a five-member/district City
Council. The current members are:
- District 1 Billy Jackson
- District 2 Roger Anders
- District 3 Gary Hammon
- District 4 Ronny Russell
- District 5 Greg Reeves (Council President)
There are also many boards and commissions run by the city,
supervising schools, planning, downtown development, and so
Past Decatur, AL Mayors include:
- Don Kyle (2004-2008)
- Lynn Fowler (2000-2004)
- Julian Price (1994-2000)
- Bill Dukes (1976-1994)
- J. Gilmer Blackburn (1962-1968)
- Russell Bolding
- H.R. Summer (1952-1954)
The Public Safety Department consists of the Decatur Police
Department and Decatur Fire & Rescue. The Public Safety annex
is located at 4119 Old Highway 31 in the Flint Community at the
south end of the city, and houses the fire department's
administrative offices and the police department's special
operations division. This is also the site of the fire and police
training facility. The Police and Fire Departments currently cover
approx. 130 square miles in and around the city.
The current Chief of Police is Colonel Kenneth
D. Collier. The Deputy Chief of Police is Major Edward Taylor. The
department currently consists of approx. 160 officers, which
includes Command Staff and Investigators, and is headquartered at
402 Lee Street N.E. on the first floor of City Hall.
The current Fire Chief is Charles Johnson. The
Deputy Fire Chief/Fire Marshal is Darwin Clark.
All of the department's approx. 120 firefighters are licensed EMTs
and approx. 30 of these are licensed Paramedics. These firefighters
are assigned to three shifts or battalions, each shift is led by a
The department currently runs 8 Engine Companies, 2 Ladder
Companies, 2 Rescue Units, 1 Brush Rig, 1 HazMat Rig, 1 Command
Unit (Battalion Chief's vehicle), and several other staff and
support vehicles out of 8 Fire Stations.
All Engine/Ladder Companies and one of Rescue Units are equipped
for vehicle extraction. These units, as well as the Battalion
Chief's vehicle are also equipped for Basic and/or Advanced Life
Support medical response.
As of the census
of 2000, there were 53,929
people, 21,824 households, and 14,753 families residing in the
city. The population density
1,009.7 people per square mile (389.9/km¬≤). There were 23,950
housing units at an average density of 448.4/sq mi
(173.1/km¬≤). The racial makeup of the city was 75.50% White
, 19.56% Black
or African American
, 0.58% Native American
, 0.70% Asian
, 0.13% Pacific Islander
, 2.22% from
, and 1.33%
from two or more races. 5.64% of the population were Hispanic
of any race.
There were 21,824 households out of which 31.8% had children under
the age of 18 living with them, 50.7% were married couples
living together, 13.4% had a female
householder with no husband present, and 32.4% were non-families.
28.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.7% had
someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average
household size was 2.43 and the average family size was 2.99.
In the city the population was spread out with 25.4% under the age
of 18, 8.8% from 18 to 24, 29.6% from 25 to 44, 23.1% from 45 to
64, and 13.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was
36 years. For every 100 females there were 92.4 males. For every
100 females age 18 and over, there were 89.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $37,192, and the
median income for a family was $47,574. Males had a median income
of $37,108 versus $22,471 for females. The per capita income
for the city was
$20,431. About 11.9% of families and 14.9% of the population were
below the poverty line
, including 21.2%
of those under age 18 and 11.1% of those age 65 or over.
Decatur has grown to be the busiest river port on the Tennessee
River. The Port of Decatur
large amounts of barge traffic from up and down the Tennessee
River, which has led to twenty Fortune
companies opening plants in the city.
Decatur is also known as the "Home of Meow
", after the company bought a facility in town, and now
utilizes its riverfront property to ship the finished product up
and down the Tennessee River.
part of the Huntsville-Decatur CSA, the city lies within the region having the most
engineers per person in the nation.
BRAC Base realignment will bring a population, conservatively
estimated at 5,000‚Äď10,000 people (not including their families), to
the area surrounding Redstone Arsenal.
Delta IV Medium launch carrying DSCS
Approval of the United Launch
's rocket manufacturing contracts to a central
location at the plant in Decatur. All satellite launching rockets
used by the U.S. government will be built in Decatur. This approval
brought over 230 new jobs to the Decatur area. The ULA plant
utilizes the Tennessee River to ship the rockets to Cape
In March 2008, a $1.3 billion development, including a Bass Pro Shops
was announced for the Interstate 65
interchange inside the city
limits. The development, named Sweetwater, would have included more
than of retail space, of medical and office space, 2,700
residences, and an entertainment venue with seating for up to 8,000
people. A school, fire department, parks and lakes were expected to
support the future development. However, due to the
seemingly-permanent downturn in the economy and doubts about the
wisdom of the ongoing cost to Decatur taxpayers, this development
is dead in the water.
Tourism is a major part of Decatur's economy. Hundreds of thousands
of people from in and out of town, and from many other countries
and territories, attend some of the premier festivals in the
, begun in 1977, is the oldest hot air balloon race
south of the Kentucky Derby
Great Balloon Race
1973). With visiting populations rising into 75,000, people crowd
around numerous seven-story tall inflating balloons. Because of the
Alabama Jubilee, Decatur has been named "The Ballooning Capital of
Alabama" by the
Alabama State Legislature.
The Spirit of America
is one of the largest free 4 July
festivals in the
south. More than 65,000 people arrive in Decatur to watch annual
celebrations and the Miss Point Mallard Beauty Pageant.
is a celebration sponsored by
the Decatur Jaycees
. Set at Ingalls Harbor
, along the beautiful Tennessee River
, barbecuers come from all
over the country to try their luck at beating Big Bob Gibson's
Barbecue, the seven-time
world champion winner.
Another big celebration in Decatur and North Alabama
, the Racking Horse World
, attracts numerous horses from around the world to
compete in the largest racking horse competition. Set in the
Racking Horse World Celebration Arena, the celebration draws up to
75,000 fans and competitors each year.
Parks and celebrations
Also see Decatur Parks
- Jack Allen Soccer Complex
Decatur Daily has been the
only major newspaper based in the Decatur
Metropolitan Area since 1912, and the one of the only family owned
newspapers in Alabama.
has an average daily circulation of 20,824 and a Sunday circulation
of 23,840. The paper circulates in the morning to an
area that includes Morgan County, Lawrence County, and Limestone County, and parts of Cullman County, and Winston County
Huntsville Times is the only other newspaper with a larger
circulation in the Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical
Area, and has been in circulation since 1996 to most
area counties, when the Huntsville News closed.
Before then, the News
was the morning paper, and the
was the afternoon paper. After the News
closed, the Times
remained an afternoon paper until
Charter and PCL offer cable to Decatur. AT&T,Charter and PCL
offer phone service to Decatur. With AT&T Huntsville and
Madison are local calls (Madison County only) but Athens is long
distance. Decatur comes within 3 miles of Athens and touches
Huntsville. AT&T has not kept pace with growth in the region as
reported in the Huntsville Times/Decatur
Decatur is served by two major airports. The Huntsville
International Airport, in suburban Huntsville is the second busiest airport in Alabama, behind
Airport. The city is also served by the busiest
regional airport in Alabama, the Pryor Field
Decatur, being only a mid-sized city, has not yet seen the
conveniences of a major controlled access highway passing through
the city limits.
Decatur's main thoroughfares are 6th Avenue (US
) and The Beltline
(State Route 67
Avenue begins as both Alabama 20, Alternate U.S. 72
, and US 31 split after being carried by
the twin-span "Steamboat Bill" Hudson
that crosses Tennessee River
at the north central part of
town. Alabama 20/Alternate U.S. 72 continues west towards The Shoals, after the Beltline begins in the vicinity of the
6th Avenue continues
southward where it eventually intersects with Beltline Road. After
that intersection, 6th Avenue continues southward to Birmingham as
was built as a
western bypass to relieve congestion on 6th Avenue. In doing so,
however, this created another problem as sprawl quickly developed
along the new arterial. Construction is currently under way to
widen the road from four to six lanes with the project expected to
be completed by 2010.
Plans are also under way to construct a controlled access beltway
from Interstate 65
south of the city
to Alternate U.S. 72 in Lawrence County, known as Veteran's Parkway.
In addition, there are plans to transform Alabama Highway
20/Alternate US 72 into an extension of Interstate 565
into the city. Governor
has said he will make
sure that plans for the road will be put on the fast track, since
more than 85 vehicle accidents occur on Highway 20's final approach
into Decatur each year.
Also see Decatur City
Austin High and Decatur High are the two main high schools of the
city. With the addition of the International Baccalaureate
Program to Austin and Decatur High Schools, Decatur has become the
first Alabama school system north of Birmingham and one of five in
the state to offer the honors program for juniors and seniors (as
of July 2006).
school football and soccer teams compete in the 10,000 seat
However, both Austin and Decatur failed to make adequate yearly
progress in 2006 as mandated in the No Child Left Behind Act. The
state said Austin's 86 percent graduation rate was four points too
Decatur High missed in two categories: percent of special education
students the system tested in reading and percent tested in math.
The graduate rate was 76 percent. However, the graduation rate is
unreliable since students who move to different schools are
considered "dropouts" and this drastically distorts the figures of
how many students actually graduate.
The only institution of higher education located within the Decatur
city limits is Calhoun Community College
. It has three campuses; the
main campus is located just north of the city on Highway 31.
Local Public Schools
Local Private Schools
Area Higher Education
- "A Grand City on a Charming Scale" - The
official Decatur City tag line adopted in 2005.
- The River City - So named because of the
Tennessee River that flows on the northern edge of town and that
inspires festivals and culture in the city.
- The Chicago of the South - Given to Decatur in
the 1880s by a company formed to create a planned community, "New
Decatur," just south of the original Decatur. At that time the city
was home to several industries, including a boxcar plant, and home
to the huge Louisville & Nashville railyards.
- "Ballooning Capital of
Alabama" - Bestowed by the Alabama Legislature because of
the annual Alabama Jubilee Hot Air
Balloon Classic, which brings over 50 hot air balloons to Point
Mallard Park. Begun in 1978, it is one of the oldest
hot-air balloon rallies in the U.S.
- The Heart of the Valley - Because of Decatur's
location at the very center of the Alabama portion of the Tennessee River and Tennessee Valley.
- "Home of America's First Wave
Pool" - Decatur is home to the first wave pool ever built in the United States at the
popular Point Mallard Aquatic Center.
- "Home of Meow Mix" -
Decatur is home to one of the Meow Mix production facilities, and a
sign reading "Decatur: Home of Meow Mix" is visible on one of the
city's buildings from the Tennessee River bridge.
- D-Rock or The Dec - nickname given by high
school students inside Decatur. Many people outside of Decatur also
refer to the city with this nickname.
- "Hub of the South" - Decatur is in a
convenient location nearby many important southern cities.
- "City of Opportunity" - a popular name in the
1950s and 1960s due to the city's rapid growth during that
- "Decatur where it's Greater/ Greater Decatur"
- a more recent phrase used by people in the area, sometimes in
joking by people in larger cities such as Huntsville.
- Bennie Perrin, Professional Football Player
- Joseph Abbott,
- Taye Biddle, football player
- Lucas Black, actor
- Mae C. Jemison, first African American woman in
- Dean Jones, actor
- Seth Kimbrough, Frontman of
former Unblack metal/Deathcore band Mortal Treason, and
Professional BMX rider
- Gary Knotts, baseball player
- John O'Sullivan,
conservative columnist and pundit
- Jerraud Powers,football
- Charles Redding Pitt,
United States Attorney for the U.S. District Court for the Middle
District of Alabama; private lawyer; Democratic politician
- Gary Redus, baseball player
- Kristopher Reisz, novelist
- Philip Rivers, football
- Rip Sewell, baseball player
- Brad Tuggle, Rhodes scholar
- Brady Lett, of Dolf Productions. Voted Hottest man in Decatur
'05-'06 by Diamond Magazine, and frontman of the one-man-band:
- David Dennis, of Dolf Productions. World record holder for
blowing out the most candles in a one minute period
- Rolando McClain, football player