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Decatur is a city in Limestonemarker and Morganmarker Counties in the U.S. state of Alabamamarker. The city, known as "The River City", is located in Northern Alabama on the banks of Wheeler Lakemarker, along the Tennessee River. It is the largest city and county seat of Morgan County. The estimated population in 2006 was 55,778.

Decatur is also the core city of the two-county large Decatur Metropolitan Areamarker which had 150,125 in 2006. Combined with the Huntsville Metropolitan Area, the two create the Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Areamarker, of which, Decatur is the second largest city.

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. The city rapidly grew into a large economic center within the Tennessee Valley and was a hub for travelers and cargo between Nashvillemarker/Chattanoogamarker and Mobilemarker/New Orleansmarker. 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 in the 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 Railroad (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 Railroad, Decatur was the site of several encounters during the American Civil War. All but three buildings were burned down during the 1864 Battle of Decaturmarker, when Decatur was referred to as A Tough Nut To Crack. The three that remained are the Old State Bankmarker, Dancy-Polk House, and the Burleson-Hinds-McEntire House.

While the city was under Confederate control, plans for the Battle of Shilohmarker were mapped out within the Burleson-Hinds-McEntire House. These activities made the house one of the most historic buildings in Decatur.

New Decatur, Alabamamarker 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.

The Old State Bankmarker, on the edge of downtown, is the oldest bank building in the State of Alabamamarker, at 173 years old. The first wave pool in the United Statesmarker was built in Decatur and is still in operation at the Point Mallard Aquatic Centermarker. 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 Housemarker), which still stands on Johnston Street.

In the past its industries included repair shops of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, 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 Railroad.
  • Old State Bankmarker erected on July 29, 1833.
  • Rhea-McEntire Housemarker built in 1836.
  • Battle of Decaturmarker takes place during the American Civil War in November, 1864.
  • 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 Theatremarker 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 1930s.


The Tennessee River has 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 Lakemarker 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 water.


Decatur experiences a humid subtropical climate, 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 tornadoes 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 Super Outbreak in 1974, while the city was largely unaffected by the more recent Huntsville, Alabama Tornado in 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 Mexicomarker. Though a few tropical systems do track through the central Tennessee Valley, 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

Neighboring cities/towns


Decatur is, unofficially, divided into four different regions of town (Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, Southwest). The reason for the existence of these four regions is because of The Beltline. Southeast and Northeast 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. Southwest consists mostly of the area bordered by 6th Avenue (US 31), 8th Street W, and Moulton Street. Northwest is bordered by Moulton Street, Central Parkway, and 14th Street W.

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 and the West, 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)

Limestone County

  • Whiteside
  • Irvington


  • Bayside
  • Brookmeade
  • Burleson Mountain
  • Burningtree Mountainmarker
  • Cedar Lake
  • Fairview
  • Flint
  • Hickory Hills
  • Indian Hills
  • Point Mallard Estates



  • Austinville
  • Basham
  • Braswell
  • Cedar Ridge
  • Chapel Hill
  • Chula Vista
  • Deerfoot Estates
  • Dogwood Estates
  • Dunbarton
  • Flint
  • Graystone
  • Griffin Addition
  • Longleaf Estates
  • Oak Lea
  • Russell Village
  • Vestavia
  • Westmeade
  • Woodtrail


[15385]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 on.

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)

Public Safety

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.


[15386][15387]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.


[15388]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 Battalion Chief.

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 was 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 other races, and 1.33% from two or more races. 5.64% of the population were Hispanic or Latino 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 sees large amounts of barge traffic from up and down the Tennessee River, which has led to twenty Fortune 500 companies opening plants in the city.

Decatur is also known as the "Home of Meow Mix", 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.

Being part of the Huntsville-Decatur CSAmarker, the city lies within the region having the most engineers per person in the nation.

A recent BRAC Base realignment will bring a population, conservatively estimated at 5,000‚Äď10,000 people (not including their families), to the area surrounding Redstone Arsenalmarker.

Delta IV Medium launch carrying DSCS III-B6

Approval of the United Launch Alliance combined Lockheed-Martin and Boeing'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 Canaveralmarker.

In March 2008, a $1.3 billion development, including a Bass Pro Shops was announced for the Interstate 65/Interstate 565 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.

Major Employers


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 South.

The Alabama Jubilee, begun in 1977, is the oldest hot air balloon race south of the Kentucky Derby's Great Balloon Race (from 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 Alabamamarker" by the Alabama State Legislature.

The Spirit of America Festival 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.

Riverfest 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 Celebration, 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 and Recreation

  • Jack Allen Soccer Complex

  • Wilson Morgan Park



The Decatur Daily has been the only major newspaper based in the Decatur Metropolitan Areamarker since 1912, and the one of the only family owned newspapers in Alabamamarker. It 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 Countymarker, Lawrence Countymarker, and Limestone Countymarker, and parts of Cullman Countymarker, and Winston Countymarker

The Huntsville Times is the only other newspaper with a larger circulation in the Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Areamarker, 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 Times was the afternoon paper. After the News closed, the Times remained an afternoon paper until 2004.


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 Daily/Athens-News-Courier.


Air Transport

Decatur is served by two major airports. The Huntsville International Airportmarker, in suburban Huntsvillemarker is the second busiest airport in Alabama, behind Birmingham International Airportmarker. The city is also served by the busiest regional airport in Alabama, the Pryor Field Regional Airportmarker.


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 31) and The Beltline (State Route 67). 6th Avenue begins as both Alabama 20, Alternate U.S. 72, and US 31 split after being carried by the twin-span "Steamboat Bill" Hudson Memorial Bridge that crosses Tennessee River at the north central part of town. Alabama 20/Alternate U.S. 72 continues west towards The Shoalsmarker, after the Beltline begins in the vicinity of the Solutia plant. 6th Avenue continues southward where it eventually intersects with Beltline Road. After that intersection, 6th Avenue continues southward to Birmingham as Decatur Highway.

The Beltline 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.

Major Highways

Busiest Intersections

Rank Intersection Traffic Per Day
1 6th Avenue (US 31)
Alabama 20
Alternate US 72

2 The Beltline (AL 67)
Spring Avenue SW
3 6th Avenue (US 31)
Stratford Road SE
4 PT Mallard Parkway (AL 67)
Interstate 65
5 The Beltline
Betty Street
Westmead Street



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 Countymarker, 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 Bob Riley 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 Schools

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).

All high school football and soccer teams compete in the 10,000 seat Ogle Stadiummarker.

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 low.

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

High Schools

Middle Schools

Elementary 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 Parkmarker. 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 Centermarker.
  • "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 era.
  • "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.

Famous Decaturites

  • Bennie Perrin, Professional Football Player
  • Joseph Abbott, Texas politician
  • Taye Biddle, football player
  • Lucas Black, actor
  • Mae C. Jemison, first African American woman in space
  • 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 player
  • 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 player
  • 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: TATMM.
  • David Dennis, of Dolf Productions. World record holder for blowing out the most candles in a one minute period
  • Rolando McClain, football player


  • George R. Stewart. Names on the Land. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston (1967).

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