Marengo County


Marengo County native Ralph David Abernathy (1926-1990) was Ralph David AbernathyLocated in the west-central region of the state, Marengo County is part of Alabama's Black Belt region. The Vine and Olive Colony, established by Napoleonic-era French immigrants, was located in Marengo County, civil-rights leader Ralph Abernathy was born in the Hopewell community, and Waldo L. Semon, the inventor of PVC (vinyl), was born in Demopolis. Marengo County is governed by an elected five-member commission and includes the incorporated communities of Linden and Demopolis.

· Founding Date: February 6, 1818
· Area: 982 square miles
· Population: 21,027 (2010 Census)
· Major Waterways: Tombigbee River, Black Warrior River
· Major Highways: U.S. 43, U.S. 80
· County Seat: Linden
· Largest City: Demopolis

History 

The first Marengo County courthouse was a log Old Marengo County CourthouseMarengo County was created by the Alabama Territorial General Assembly on February 6, 1818, preceding Alabama's statehood by almost two years. The land was acquired from the Choctaw Indians under the 1816 Treaty of Fort St. Stephens. In 1817, a group of French immigrants, a few of whom served with Napoleon Bonaparte, traveled up the Tombigbee River to establish a colony dedicated to growing wine grapes and olives. The immigrants were granted four townships of land by an act of Congress on March 3, 1817. The county's name was suggested by Judge Abner Lipscomb to commemorate these settlers and Napoleon Bonaparte's victory at Marengo, Italy, over Austrian forces on June 14, 1800. The settlers of the Vine and Olive Colony, as it came to be known, founded several towns, including Demopolis. When the area was officially opened to settlers in 1818, pioneers came mostly from Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. Later settlers traveled from Kentucky and Tennessee via the Federal Road. The first towns in the area that would become Marengo County were Linden, Demopolis, Myrtlewood, and Sweet Water.

Thomaston Colored Institute, also called Thomaston Academy, was Thomaston Colored InstituteThe county seat was originally known as the Town of Marengo. Its name was changed in 1823 to Linden, a shortened version of "Hohenlinden," which was the scene of another French victory in Bavaria in 1800. In 1820, the county constructed a two-room log courthouse in the Old Town part of Linden. This courthouse was replaced in 1825 with a larger, two-story log courthouse that burned in 1848. In the 1850s, a two-story Federal-style courthouse was constructed and remains the oldest Greek Revival courthouse in Alabama. This courthouse was used continuously until 1902, except for a brief period during Reconstruction when the county seat was located in Demopolis. In 1903, a new Gothic-style courthouse was constructed; it burned in 1965 and was replaced in 1968 by the current courthouse.

Major Cities and Demographics 

Bluff Hall, built in 1832 by plantation owner Bluff HallAccording to 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Marengo County was 21,027. Of that total, 51.7 percent of respondents identified themselves as African American, 46.4 percent as white, 1.7 percent as Hispanic, 0.8 percent as two or more races, 0.3 percent as Asian, and 0.2 percent as Native American. The largest city is Demopolis, with an estimated population of 7,483. Other significant population centers include Linden,Thomaston, Providence, and Sweet Water. The median household income for the county was $33,374, compared with $40,547 for the state as a whole, and the per capita income was $18,157, well below the $22,732 average for the state.

Economy 

Like most of Alabama's counties, farming was the prevailing occupation in Marengo County until the middle of the twentieth century. After the failure of the Vine and Olive Colony, the colonists and other settlers turned to cultivating cotton, which was the most prevalent cash crop until the 1930s. During the Great Depression, farmers diversified into corn and livestock and Agriculture was the dominant component of Marengo County's Marengo County Timberturned cotton fields into pasture for beef and dairy cows. In the 1960s, farmers began raising soybeans and constructing ponds for catfish farming. Marengo County's economy was mainly agricultural until the mid-twentieth century, but its many acres of forest along the Tombigbee River also provided employment in the timber industry.

Employment 

The workforce in present-day Marengo County is divided among the following occupational categories:

· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (21.3   percent)
· Manufacturing (18.3 percent)
· Retail trade (14.8 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services   (8.1 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (5.4 percent)
· Construction (5.4 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing, and utilities (5.3 percent)
· Finance and insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (4.9   percent)
· Other services, except public administration (4.9 percent)
· Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste   management services (4.5 percent)
· Public administration (3.8 percent)
· Wholesale trade (3.0 percent)
· Information (0.3 percent)

Education 

The Marengo County school system, the Demopolis City school system, and the Linden City school system together employ approximately 600 teachers and administrators who serve more than 4,500 students in 13 primary and secondary schools. There are no community or technical colleges in Marengo County, but nearby Shelton Community College and the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa serve Marengo County residents.

Geography 

Marengo County is 10th in size among Alabama Marengo County MapComprising approximately 982 square miles, Marengo County lies in the west-central part of the state. The county lies within the Coastal Plain section of the Atlantic Plain region. It is bordered to the north by Hale and Greene counties, to the northeast by Perry, Dallas, and Wilcox counties, to the south by Clarke County, and to the west by Choctaw and Sumter counties. A strip of dark black prairie soil known as the Black Belt runs through the northern part of the county, and the southern part of the county consists of sandy and clay soils.

The Black Warrior River merges with the smaller Tombigbee River in Demopolis in the northernmost part of the county. The Tombigbee River forms the western border of the county. Both rivers are considered amongst the most critical watersheds in the nation, with more than 125 species of fish, 10 of which are considered at risk. Numerous tributaries offer scenic views and recreational opportunities.

U.S. Highways 43 and 80 are the county's major transportation routes. U.S. Highway 43 runs north-south through the middle of the county, and U.S. 80 runs east-west along the northern part of the county. The Demopolis Municipal Airport and Freddie Jones Field in Linden are Marengo County's two public airports.

Events and Places of Interest 

The Alabama Rural Heritage Foundation and Center in Alabama Rural Heritage Foundation and CenterMarengo County offers many opportunities for recreation. For example, the scenic Black Warrior and Tombigbee Lakes system, which encompasses Bankhead Lake, Holt Lake, Oliver Lake, Warrior Lake, Demopolis Lake, and Coffeeville Lake, offers numerous recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, boating, hiking, and camping. The 520-acre Chickasaw State Park features campsites, a wading pool, and hiking trails as well as large pavilions and picnic sites. The Alabama Rural Heritage Foundation and Center is located in Thomaston, at the former Marengo County High School. Completed in 1909, the building is the oldest standing county high school in the state. Begun in 1986 and incorporated as a non-profit foundation in 1990, the center displays and sells traditional folk art and crafts from across the state, serving as a community hub and new source of income for the area.

Gaineswood is a historic Greek Revival home in GaineswoodHistoric downtown Demopolis is home to several buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Gaineswood mansion, a nationally renowned example of Greek Revival antebellum architecture, was built between 1843 and 1861 under the direction of General Nathan Whitfield. It was opened to the public in 1975 and stands as a reminder of the antebellum period when cotton was king and the Black Belt was the most influential area of Alabama. Other historic homes include Bluff Hall, built in 1832 and now a museum of local history, and Lyon House, built ca. 1850 and another example of Greek Revival architecture. Demopolis is also home to Christmas on the River, which is noted for its floating light displays that adorn the Tombigbee River annually on the first weekend of December. The festival also features candlelight tours of the city's many historic homes as well as a barbecue cook-off.

Additional Resources  

The Heritage of Marengo County, Alabama. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2000.

Meador, Daniel John. Rembert Hills and Myrtlewood: From Cotton Kingdom to Great Depression. Charlottesville, Va.: Daniel J. Meador, 2000.

Donna J. Siebenthaler
Auburn University


Published June 29, 2007
Last updated October 27, 2014