Located in the southeastern part of the state, Russell County is known as "The County of Forts," because of the many forts that once existed within the county's boundaries, including Fort Mitchell, Sand Fort, Fort Bainbridge, and a small portion of present-day Fort Benning (most of which is in Georgia). Fort Mitchell National Cemetery, established in 1987, will be the final resting place for many veterans in the Southeast. Russell County was also the home of Horace King, an enslaved African American engineer and bridge designer who oversaw construction of many bridges in the southeast. The county is governed by an elected seven-member commission and includes two incorporated communities.
· Founding Date: December 18, 1832 · Area: 639 square miles · Population: 52,947 (2010 Census) · Major Waterways: Chattahoochee River, Big Uchee Creek · Major Highways: U.S. 80, U.S. 431 · County Seat: Phenix City · Largest City: Phenix City
Russell County was created by the Alabama Territorial General Assembly on December 18, 1832; however, the final geographical boundaries did not exist until 1932. The county was created from former Creek Indian lands, and the remains of several Indian villages, cemeteries, and mounds may still be seen. Russell County was named in honor of Col. Gilbert C. Russell of Mobile, a U.S. military officer who fought in the Creek Wars. Early settlement of Russell County as well as other parts of Alabama followed the establishment of Fort Mitchell. The fort was constructed by Georgia militia in 1813 during the Creek Indian War of 1813-14 to provide military protection for non-Indian expansion into Native American lands. Most of Russell County's early settlers came from Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia.
The first permanent settlement in Russell County, established in 1830, was Glennville Beat. Other early settlements and towns included Cottonton, Uchee, Sandfort, Hatchechubbee, Crawford, Hurtsboro, and Girard. The Battle of Girard, which took place on April 16, 1865, was the last land battle of the Civil War. It was fought one week after General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, because of the slow pace of communication. The action ended when Union forces under Gen. James H. Wilson captured the two bridges connecting Girard to Columbus, Georgia, thus gaining access to the entire state of Georgia.
In 1832, Girard became the first county seat. A storehouse served as the courthouse from 1832 to 1834, at which time the county seat was moved to Crawford (formerly known as Crocketsville). A permanent brick courthouse was built in Crawford in 1842 and used until 1868, when it became a church. It was demolished in 1901. In 1868, the county seat was moved to Seale, where a brick courthouse was built. In 1926, Russell County established dual county seats in Seale and Phenix City. The two towns shared administrative duties until 1934, when Phenix City became the sole county seat. The courthouse in Seale served several functions after 1934, including as a school gym and meeting house. In 1974, the building was restored and now serves as a meeting place for community groups and houses the town's natural history collection.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Russell County 52,947. Of that total, 53.7 percent of respondents identified themselves as white, 41.8 percent as African American, 3.7 percent as Hispanic, 2.1 as two or more races, 0.4 percent as Asian, and 0.4 percent as Native American. The median household income was $32,601, compared with $40,547 for the state as a whole, and the per capita income was $17,815, compared with $22,732 for the state as a whole. The largest city in Russell County is its county seat, Phenix City, with an estimated population of 32,822. Other significant population centers include Ladonia and Hurtsboro.
Like most of Alabama's counties, farming was the prevailing occupation in Russell until well into the twentieth century. Cotton, corn, and cattle served as the county's main agricultural activities. With easy access to the Chattahoochee River and Georgia markets, however, shipping and other forms of transportation became an important part of Russell's economy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. When the river was dammed in the 1940s, hydroelectric power led to the development of industry, including textile manufacturing.
The workforce in present-day Russell County is divided among the following occupational categories:
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (21.5 percent) · Retail trade (13.1 percent) · Manufacturing (11.8 percent) · Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (9.8 percent) · Construction (8.3 percent) · Finance and insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (8.0 percent) · Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (7.8 percent) · Other services, except public administration (5.3 percent) · Public administration (4.4 percent) · Transportation and warehousing, and utilities (4.1 percent) · Information (2.5 percent) · Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (1.7 percent) · Wholesale trade (1.6 percent)
The Russell County School System, together with the Phenix City School System, employs more than 1,200 teachers and administrators who serve approximately 8,800 students in 18 primary and secondary schools. The Phenix City branch of Troy University offers degrees in business, counseling, education, and nursing. Chattahoochee Valley Community College, a two-year institution also located in Phenix City, offers academic, technical, and vocational programs.
The Chattahoochee River runs along the county's eastern border, and the river's many tributaries fan out through the entire county. Because the Chattahoochee River is one of the most dammed rivers in the southeast, its physical and biological systems have been severely altered over the last half century. The overall biological diversity of the river has declined, and several fish and mussel species are at risk.
U.S. highways 80 and 431 are Russell County's major transportation routes. U.S. Highway 80 runs east-west across the northernmost part of the county. U.S. Highway 431 runs northeast-southwest through the middle of the county. There are no public airports in Russell County, but the Columbus Airport in Columbus, Georgia, is easily accessible.
Events and Places of Interest
There are a number of recreational opportunities and historically important sites in Russell County. The Phenix City Amphitheater is located on the western bank of the Chattahoochee River. With seating for 1,500 people, the amphitheater hosts a multitude of civic and cultural events throughout the year. The amphitheater also serves as the anchor point for the RiverWalk walkway and bicycle trail.
The Russell County Historical Commission-Fort Mitchell National Landmark Site is open to the public. Known as the Gateway to the West, Fort Mitchell played a significant part in the settlement history of the region and was a starting point for the Trail of Tears. Visitors can tour the 1813 fort with its defensive moat, 12-foot-high palisade, houses, and barracks. The Indian Heritage Center is located near the site of the original fort and features displays documenting the contributions and history of Native Americans in the Southeast.
The East Alabama Motor Speedway in Phenix City hosts six classes of championship stock-car racing every Saturday night from March to October. Special events include demolition derbies, fireworks, and sprint-car races. The Mural at Idle Hour Park, also located in Phenix City, is 28 feet tall and 140 feet long and depicts the midway of Phenix City in the 1940s. The mural includes scenes of carousels, trains, skating, a zoo, a dance hall, and a Ferris wheel. Russell County hosts a number of festivals each year. Thunder on the Hooch is a Fourth of July extravaganza that takes place on both sides of the Chattahoochee River in Columbus, Georgia, and Phenix City. The event includes music, games, carnival rides, food, arts and crafts, and fireworks. Each May, Phenix City hosts the Hometown Hoedown, which includes country music performances, square dancing, food, and games. The annual Festival of Art takes place in Phenix City each October and promotes the work of local artists and craftsmen.
The Heritage of RussellCounty, Alabama. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2003.
Russell County Historical Commission. The History of RussellCounty, Alabama. Dallas: National ShareGraphics, 1982.
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