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James P. Kaetz, Auburn University
Newbern is located in southeastern Hale County in the west-central part of the state. It has a mayor/city council form of government.
Originally, Newbern was referred to as Cane Brake owing to the abundance of cane in the area. It was a part of Greene County until Hale County was created by the Alabama legislature in 1867. The earliest settler in the area was named Christopher, a planter, preacher, and physician who arrived in 1816. A man named Chiles built the first grist mill in Newbern in 1818 next to Prairie Creek, and in 1829, Harvey Tyndall and Simpson Hemphill constructed the first store, called Grab All. A F.A. Borden established the first post office in 1832 and subsequently became postmaster.
In 1834, two of Borden's brothers arrived from North Carolina. The Bordens then bought much of the land in the area and laid out a town, cutting a wide road through the center and selling lots for homesteads and for businesses. They named the town after New Bern, a town in south central North Carolina that was the seat of government for the British Province of North Carolina until the American Revolution. For a number of years the town's name was spelled as two words. The Saline Hotel, Newbern's first lodging house, was built in the early 1850s. The town incorporated in 1854.
Newbern was primarily a farm town, with settlers raising cattle and, as land was increasingly cleared, cultivating cotton. Newbern quickly developed into a cotton economy fueled by slave labor. The first train came through in 1859, running from Newbern to Uniontown. There, it linked with a line that ran from Selma to Demopolis, increasing Newbern's access to national and global markets.
During the Civil War, many of the Confederate soldiers from Newbern fought in the Fifth, Eleventh, and Twentieth Alabama regiments. The Ninth Alabama Battalion, consisting of eight regiments, was organized in Newbern in November 1861. The cotton economy regained its footing somewhat after the war through the sharecropping system. It remained a mainstay until the Great Depression collapsed the town's economy. By the 1950s, the cotton industry had become mechanized and made much human labor obsolete, leading to a lack of opportunity and a significant dip in Newbern's population. The catfish industry arose in the area in the 1960s and became an important part of the region's economy.
In 1993, Auburn University's College of Architecture, Design, and Construction established an off-campus design-build program in Newbern called the Rural Studio. The program's founders, D.K. Ruth and Samuel Mockbee, wanted to provide Auburn architecture students with a hands-on experience that would also produce well-designed housing and community facilities for the residents of the impoverished counties of Alabama's Black Belt region.
Newbern's population according to the 2010 Census was 186. Of that number, 67.2 percent of respondents identified themselves as African American, 31.7 percent as white, and 2.2 percent as Hispanic or Latino. The town's median household income, according to 2010 estimates, was $26,058, and the per capita income was $11,544.
According to the 2010 Census, the workforce in Newbern was divided among the following occupational categories:
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (26.5 percent)
· Construction (22.1 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (11.8 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing and utilities (10.3 percent)
· Retail trade (8.8 percent)
· Wholesale trade (7.4 percent)
· Finance, insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (5.9 percent)
· Manufacturing (4.4 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (2.9 percent)
Schools in Newbern are part of the Hale County school system; the town has approximately 280 students and 20 teachers in one K-12 high school.
State Highway 61 bisects Newbern running north-south.
Events and Places of Interest
Auburn University's Rural Studio is located in Newbern. The Newbern Village Historic District is listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and History. The Augusta Sledge House (also known as the Morrisette-Tunstall-Sledge House, ca. 1855) that was located southwest of town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, although it has since been destroyed. A number of structures in Newbern were catalogued by the Historic American Building survey in the mid-1930s, including the still existing Newbern Baptist Church (ca. 1845) and the Newbern Presbyterian Church (ca. 1848).
Additional Resources
Curb, Randall, ed. Historic Hale County. Greensboro, Ala.: Preservation Committee of the Alabama Reunion , 1989.
Hale County Heritage Book Committee. The Heritage of Hale County, Alabama. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2001.
Published:  February 6, 2017   |   Last updated:  February 6, 2017