See Rock City

See Rock City

Friday, April 10, 2009

Decatur, AL

Nickname(s): Chicago of the South, The River City,The Dec, D-Rock, The Heart of the Valley

Decatur, Alabama (top center), along the Tennessee River, is southwest of Huntsville and north of Birmingham, along Interstate 65. Nearby towns include: Madison, Hartselle and Athens, Alabama.Decatur is a city in Limestone and Morgan Counties in the U.S. state of Alabama. The city, known as "The River City", is located in Northern Alabama on the banks of Wheeler Lake, along the Tennessee River. It is the largest city and county seat of Morgan County. The estimated population in 2006 was 55,778.

Decatur, Alabama (top center), along the Tennessee River, is southwest of Huntsville and north of Birmingham, along Interstate 65. Nearby towns include: Madison, Hartselle and Athens, Alabama.

Decatur is 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 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 Nashville/Chattanooga and Mobile/New Orleans. 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.

Keller Memorial Bridge, Spanning Tennessee River at U.S. Highway 31, Decatur, Morgan County, AL

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 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 House.

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

New 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.

The 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 the Point 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 Street.

State Bank Building, Decatur Branch (Old State Bank)

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 Bank erected on July 29, 1833.

Rhea-McEntire House built in 1836.

Battle of Decatur 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 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 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 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.

Wheeler Lock and Dam, impounding Wheeler Lake on the Tennessee River

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 a 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 1.5 miles (2.4 km) south to the 14th St./Magnolia St. intersection with 6th Avenue (US 31).

The "Steamboat Bill" Memorial Bridges

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.

Bodies of water

Wheeler Lake,

Wheeler Lake is located in the northern part of the United States state of Alabama, between Rogersville and Huntsville. Created by Wheeler Dam along the Tennessee River, it stretches 60 miles (96.5 km) from Wheeler Dam to Guntersville Dam. It is Alabama's second largest lake at 67,100 acres (272 km²).

Decatur operates the busiest port along the Tennessee River on this lake, Port of Decatur.

Wheeler Lake is a major recreation and tourist center, attracting about four million visits a year. Along with camping, boating, and fishing, visitors enjoy the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge several miles upstream from the dam.

The lake and dam are named for General Joseph "Joe" Wheeler.

Tennessee River

The Tennessee River is the largest tributary of the Ohio River. It is approximately 652 miles (1049 km) long and is located in the southeastern United States in the Tennessee Valley. The river was once popularly known as the Cherokee River, among other names.

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

The Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge is a 35,000 acre (142 km²) National Wildlife Refuge located along the Tennessee River near Decatur, Alabama. Named after Major General Joseph Wheeler, it was established to provide a habitat for wintering and migrating birds in the eastern United States.

Of the 35,000 acres (142 km²) of the refuge, about 4,085 acres (16.5 km²) are located within Redstone Arsenal. Approximately 1,500 acres (6 km²) of the Redstone Arsenal land is administered by the Marshall Space Flight Center. The facility has a sixteen person staff with a $1,694,000 annual budget.

Wheeler NWR is charged with the administration of four other National Wildlife Refuges including Fern Cave, Key Cave, Sauta Cave, and the Watercress Darter National Wildlife Refuge. Until recently, Wheeler NWR also administered the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge (now administered by the Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge).

Flint Creek

Chula Vista Lake


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



Burleson Mountain
Burningtree Mountain
Cedar Lake
Hickory Hills
Indian Hills
Point Mallard Estates


Moulton Heights
West Decatur


Cedar Ridge
Chapel Hill
Chula Vista
Deerfoot Estates
Dogwood Estates
Griffin Addition
Longleaf Estates
Oak Lea
Russell Village


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 200,000-square-foot (19,000 m2) facility in town, and now utilizes its riverfront property to ship the finished product up and down the Tennessee River.

Meow Mix is a popular variety of cat food made mostly from corn, and is well known for its popular advertising jingle. Corn based dry cat food is known to cause digestive problems in cats.[citation needed]

The Meow Mix Company operates from a 200,000-square-foot (19,000 m2) facility in Decatur, Alabama, and also produces Alley Cat brand cat food products. Originally a product of Ralston Purina, Meow Mix was divested for antitrust reasons in the early 2000s. The brand was acquired by Del Monte Foods in May, 2006. Their most famous slogan is, “Tastes so good, cats ask for it by name.”

Being part of the Huntsville-Decatur CSA, 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 5,000–10,000 people (not including their families), to the area surrounding Redstone Arsenal.

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 Canaveral.

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, will include more than 1,000,000 square feet (93,000 m2) of retail space, 825,000 square feet (76,600 m2) 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 are expected to support the future development.

Major Employers


United Launch Alliance

BP, Manufactures Paraxylene and Purified Terephthalic Acid

Bunge International

Daikin America

Decatur City Schools

General Electric


Meow Mix,



Tennessee Valley Authority

MPW Industrial Services


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.

View of Balloons Inflating At The Alabama Jubilee

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 Alabama" by the Alabama State Legislature.

The Spirit of America Festival is one of the largest free 4th of 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

Replica of historic structure in the re-constructed Rose Garden in Delano Park

Alabama Jubilee

Decatur City Cemetery

Delano Park

Jack Allen Soccer Complex

Point Mallard Park

J. Gilmer Blackburn Aquatic Center

"Home of America's first wave pool"

Spirit of America Festival


Racking Horse World Celebration Arena

Wilson Morgan Park


The Decatur City School System is well regarded throughout the nation. Both of the city's high schools (Decatur High School and Austin High School) have been awarded the Safe Schools Award for the past two years that it has been presented in the State of Alabama. The two schools are the only ones in the state to have won this award both years. 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 Stadium. Indoor track meets are held at the 10,000 seat Racking Horse World Celebration Arena.

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.

Alabama A&M University - Huntsville
Athens State University - Athens
Calhoun Community College System
Calhoun Main Campus - Decatur
Calhoun Redstone Arsenal Campus - Huntsville
Calhoun Cummings Research Park Campus - Huntsville
University of Alabama in Huntsville - Huntsville
University of North Alabama - Florence


"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 era.

"Decatur where it's Greater" - a more recent phrase used by people in the area, sometimes in joking by people in larger cities such as Huntsville.

Famous Decaturites:

Seth Kimbrough, Frontman of former Unblack metal/Deathcore band Mortal Treason, and Professional BMX rider.

Joseph Abbott, Texas politician.

Mae C. Jemison, first African American woman in space.

Dean Jones, actor.

Lucas Black, actor.

Taye Biddle, football player

Philip Rivers, football player.

Charles Redding Pitt, United States Attorney for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama; private lawyer; Democratic politician

John O'Sullivan, conservative columnist and pundit.

Gary Knotts, baseball player

Gary Redus, baseball player

Rip Sewell, baseball player

Brad Tuggle, Rhodes scholar