Skip directly to content

Perry County

Donna J. Siebenthaler, Auburn University
Coretta Scott King Memorial
Located in the west-central part of the state, Perry County is part of Alabama's Black Belt region. Civil-rights leader Coretta Scott King was born in Heiberger and attended Lincoln Normal School in Marion, which is also home to Marion Military Institute and the all-female Judson College. Perry County is governed by an elected five-member commission and includes the communities of Marion and Uniontown. Literary figures Zitella Cocke, Louise Clarke Pyrnelle, John Trotwood Moore, Mary Ward Brown, and Florence Glass Palmer were natives of Perry County, as were historian William Garrott Brown and politician and businessman A. N. Johnson.
  • Founding Date: December 13, 1819
  • Area: 719 square miles
  • Population: 9,856 (2016 Census estimate
  • Major Waterways: Cahaba River
  • Major Highways: U.S. 80
  • County Seat: Marion
  • Largest City: Marion
Perry County Courthouse
Perry County was created by the Alabama legislature on December 13, 1819, from land acquired from the Creek Indians in the 1814 Treaty of Fort Jackson. It was named for Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry of Rhode Island, a hero of the War of 1812. When the area was officially opened to settlement, pioneers came from the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee. The first towns in the area that would become Perry County were Muckle's Ridge (now known as Marion), Perry Ridge, Uniontown (originally known as Woodville), and Heiberger.
The first courthouse, a log cabin, was erected at Perry Ridge, located approximately seven miles southeast of present-day Marion. The county soon found that a more centrally located county seat was needed, and in 1823 Marion became the county seat. A two-story log cabin was erected on the site of the present-day courthouse. A modest brick building replaced the log cabin shortly thereafter in 1837. In 1854, construction began on a new marble-and-brick Greek Revival courthouse.
Old Marion City Hall
Two-story porticos flanked each end of the building, with six Ionic columns supporting the massive pediments. The building was completed in 1856 and underwent renovation in 1954 and 2012. It continues to serve as the county courthouse today. The county became a major center for education in the Black Belt. Baptists founded both Judson College (1838) and Howard College (1842). Lincoln Normal School was founded in 1867 by freed slaves as a school for African American children. It later moved to Montgomery and was renamed Alabama State University. A museum is currently underway on the site of Lincoln to house historic memorabilia regarding Lincoln School. Many of the buildings on the campus of the Marion Military Institute pre-date the Civil War, and its chapel, built in 1857, served as a Confederate hospital during the war. During the civil rights era, an incident in Marion triggered the Selma-to-Montgomery March and the ensuing Voting Rights Act of 1965. Baptists also made Marion the headquarters of the state-wide newspaper and the first location of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Major Cities and Demographics
According to 2016 Census estimates the population was 9,856. Of that total, 68.6 percent of respondents identified themselves as African American, 30.1 percent as white, 1.0 percent as Hispanic, 0.7 percent as two or more races, 0.2 percent as Asian. The county seat Marion is the largest city in the county and had an estimated population of 3,507. The only other significant population center in the county is Uniontown. The median household income was $23,912 compared with $44,758 for the state as a whole, and the per capita income was $14,033 compared with $24,736 for the state as a whole.
Pitts' Folly in Uniontown, 1936
Like most of Alabama's counties, farming was the prevailing occupation in Perry County until well into the twentieth century. The Canebrake region, a section within the Black Belt between Marion and Demopolis, contains some of the richest soil in Alabama. Cotton remained the county's largest crop until well into the twentieth century, although corn and sweet potatoes were also important crops. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, livestock became an important part of the county's economy. Unlike neighboring counties, Perry County did not benefit much from the industrialization boom of the mid-twentieth century, remaining largely rural and agricultural, and this remains the case today.
According to 2016 Census estimates, the workforce in Perry County was divided among the following industrial categories:
  • Educational services, and health care and social assistance (27.2 percent
  • Manufacturing (18.6 percent
  • Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (12.9 percent
  • Retail trade (7.4 percent
  • Public administration (7.2 percent
  • Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (6.6 percent
  • Other services, except public administration (5.2 percent
  • Finance and insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (4.4 percent
  • Transportation and warehousing, and utilities (4.4 percent
  • Construction (3.6 percent
  • Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (1.6 percent
  • Information (0.7 percent)
  • Wholesale trade (0.4 percent)
Judson College
The Perry County school system oversees four primary and secondary schools. Perry County is also home to Alabama's only college for women, Judson College, founded in 1838 (the second oldest women's college in the South) and located in Marion. Founded in 1842 as Howard College, the Marion Military Institute (as it was named after Howard College moved to Birmingham and was renamed Samford University) is the nation's oldest two-year military college, serving both male and female cadets.
Perry County Map
Comprising approximately 719 square miles, Perry County lies in the west-central part of the state. It is part of the Coastal Plain physiographic section of the Atlantic Plain region. Its northern forests cover the trailing end of the Appalachian Mountains, and the hills and valleys give way to grass-covered prairies and farmlands of the Black Belt in the southern half of the county. The county is bordered by Bibb County to the north, Chilton County to the east, Dallas County to the southeast, Marengo County to the southwest, and Hale County to the west.
The Cahaba River, one of the most endangered rivers in North America, runs through the middle of the county. The Cahaba is one of Alabama's most diverse river systems in terms of the number of species it supports, 69 of which are considered rare and imperiled. Ten species of fish and mussels are threatened or endangered. Numerous tributaries of the Cahaba River run throughout the county, offering scenic views and recreational opportunities.
U.S. Highway 80 runs east-west along the southernmost part of Perry County. Perry County Airport in Marion and Uniontown Municipal Airport are the county's two public airports.
Events and Places of Interest
Talladega National Forest
Perry County offers a range of recreational opportunities for visitors. The Talladega National Forest, in the north and northeast part of the county, covers 375,000 acres at the southern edge of the Appalachian Mountains. Rugged mountains, forests, waterfalls, and streams afford visitors various opportunities for camping, hiking, backpacking, fishing, and bird watching. The Perry Lakes Park and Barton's Beach Cahaba River Preserve near Marion includes an outdoor park as well as a nature preserve. Visitors can hike and picnic along the park's interpretive nature trails, which offer views of more than 60 native tree species.
Historic Marion is home to many important public museums and cultural centers. The Alabama Military Hall of Honor Museum displays portrait plaques of inductees and military artifacts. First built in 1832, the building initially served as a law office for John Lockhart. The building was then used until 1968 as the Marion City Hall. In 1988, the building was moved to the Marion Military Institute, where it was restored and preserved and continues to serve the community as a museum. Judson College's A. Howard Bean Hall is home to the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame. It serves as a permanent place of honor for Alabama's most outstanding women, including Helen Keller, Julia Strudwick Tutwiler, and Tallulah Bankhead.
Marion Female Seminary
Perry County is home to a variety of historic educational institutions as well. The Female Seminary in Marion was founded in 1836 as a school for girls. Prussian immigrant Nicola Marschall, usually credited with designing the first Confederate flag and the Confederate uniform, was an art teacher at the school. Visitors can tour the campus of Judson College and the original Female Seminary building in Marion, which now houses the Perry County Historical Society and the Perry County High School Alumni Association.
Moore-Webb-Holmes Plantation
Several important historic homes are also located in the county. The family home of Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King Jr., is located in Marion. Near Marion is Carlisle Hall, also known as Kenworthy Hall. Completed in 1860, it is one of the best examples of the Italian Villa style in Alabama. The Governor's House, built in the 1830s, was the home of Alabama's first Civil War governor, Andrew Barry Moore. The basement of the Huntington-Watters house (c. 1835) served as Confederate headquarters for Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who left accounts of the war written on the basement walls. Other important sites include the Holmestead Plantation (also known as the Moore-Webb-Holmes Plantation), possibly the only working plantation remaining in the state; the Lockett-Martin House, the 1840s house where several Marion women sewed the original "stars and bars" flag of the Confederacy; and King-Colburn house, an 1819 one-story raised cottage structure rarely seen in the Black Belt. Reverie Historic Home (1858) is a privately owned house museum within the West Marion Historic District.

Additional Resources

Harris, W. Stuart. A Short History of Marion, Perry County, Alabama: Its Homes and Its Buildings. Marion, Ala.: [s.n.], 1970.
The Heritage of Perry County, Alabama. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 1999.
Published:  August 21, 2007   |   Last updated:  December 3, 2020