Located in the west-central part of the state and home to the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa County was the birthplace of "Queen of the Blues" Dinah Washington (1924-1963), one of the most influential vocalists of the twentieth century, and National Football League star John Stallworth of the Pittsburgh Steelers. It is home to the state's largest university (2007), the University of Alabama, which produced arguably the most celebrated college football coach of the twentieth century, Paul "Bear" Bryant. The county also was the home of Alabama's only female governor, Lurleen Wallace. The city of Tuscaloosa served as the state capital from 1826 to 1845. Tuscaloosa County is governed by an elected five-member commission and includes the incorporated cities of Coaling, Northport, and Tuscaloosa.
· Founding Date: February 6, 1818
· Area: 1,336 square miles
· Population: 194,656 (2010 Census)
· Major Waterways: Black Warrior River, Tombigbee River
· Major Highways: Interstate 20/59, U.S. 43, U.S. 82, U.S. 11
· County Seat: Tuscaloosa
· Largest City: Tuscaloosa
Tuscaloosa County is one of the oldest counties in Alabama. The Alabama General Assembly created Tuscaloosa County on February 6, 1818, from former Creek and Choctaw Indian lands. It is believed that the county received its name from Tascaluza, a Native American tribal leader in the area at the time of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto's march through Alabama. The county's earliest settlers came from Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. Some of the earliest towns included Newton, Northport, Holt, Coaling, and Tuscaloosa. The city of Tuscaloosa was designated the state capitol from 1826 until 1845, when the government was moved to the more centrally located Montgomery. While Tuscaloosa served as the state capitol, a charter for the establishment of the first public university was issued in 1827. In 1831, the University of Alabama officially opened its doors with an enrollment of 52 students.
Tuscaloosa was designated as the county seat of Tuscaloosa County in 1819, and in 1822, the county seat was moved to Newton, just a few miles from Tuscaloosa. Within a few short years, Newton was incorporated into Tuscaloosa, and Tuscaloosa again became the county seat in 1826. Many of the original structures, including the courthouse, were destroyed in a tornado that swept through in the 1840s. The present courthouse, a modern brick structure, was built in 1964 and has undergone several renovations and additions.
On April 27, 2011, a massive storm, causing numerous powerful tornadoes, struck the southeastern United States. More than
250 people were killed in Alabama, including 39 people in Tuscaloosa and surrounding communities.
Major Cities and Demographics
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Tuscaloosa County was 194,656. Of that total, 66.3 percent of respondents identified themselves as white, 29.6 percent as African American, 3.1 percent as Hispanic, 1.2
percent as Asian, 1.1 percent as two or more races, and 0.3 percent as Native American. The largest city in Tuscaloosa County
is the city of Tuscaloosa, with an estimated population of 90,468. Other significant population centers in the county include
Northport, Holt, Lake View, Brookwood, and Coaling. The median household income was $43,450, compared with $40,547 for the state as a whole, and the per capita
income was $21,843 compared with $22,732 for the state as a whole.
Farming was the prevailing occupation in Tuscaloosa County throughout the nineteenth century, and the most significant agricultural crops were wheat, corn, and oats. Tuscaloosa County also sits atop the Warrior Coal Field, and coal mining was important to the county's economy as well. Extensive forests in the northern part of the county brought timber industries to the county during the early to mid-nineteenth century as well. With the introduction of hydroelectric power in the early twentieth century, industrial growth boomed. Today, the county's economy is diverse and expanding, especially along the Interstate 20/59 Industrial Corridor, where automotive parts, electronics, plastics, wood products, food products, and chemicals are manufactured and produced. Healthcare and education account for roughly 30 percent of the non-agricultural workforce, and Tuscaloosa County has drawn major investments from companies in Germany and Japan.
The workforce in present-day Tuscaloosa County is divided among the following occupational categories:
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (28.0 percent)
· Manufacturing (13.6 percent)
· Retail trade (13.2 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (8.8 percent)
· Construction (7.5 percent)
· Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (6.5 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (4.6 percent)
· Finance and insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (4.4 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing, and utilities (4.1 percent)
· Public administration (2.9 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (2.4 percent)
· Wholesale trade (2.4 percent)
· Information (1.7 percent)
The Tuscaloosa County school system employs approximately 2,000 teachers and administrators who serve nearly 16,000 students
in 30 primary and secondary schools. Tuscaloosa city schools employ more than 1,300 teachers and administrators in 20 primary
and secondary schools, serving more than 9,700 students. There are three institutions of higher education in Tuscaloosa city. The University of Alabama is the state's major research university and Alabama's first public college. The
county is also home to Stillman College, a historically black, four-year liberal-arts instutution, and Shelton State Community College, a two-year institution offering academic and technical degree programs.
Comprising 1,336 square miles in west-central Alabama, Tuscaloosa County is the second largest county in area in the state. The county straddles the Cumberland Plateau and East Gulf Coastal Plain physiographic sections of the Atlantic Plain region, resulting in a diverse geography that is forested and hilly in the northeast and low-lying and occasionally swampy in the southwest. The county is bordered by Fayette and Walker counties to the north, Jefferson and Bibb counties to the east, Hale County to the south, Greene County to the southwest, and Pickens County to the west.
The Black Warrior River system is the largest watershed wholly within Alabama's boundaries and emanates from three sources: Locust Fork, Mulberry Fork, and the Sipsey Fork. The Mulberry Fork River and its tributaries flow throughout Tuscaloosa County. Near the city of Tuscaloosa, the Black Warrior River flows across the "Fall Line," a site at the juncture of two geologically distinct continental landforms that in Alabama separate the elevated and hilly Cumberland Plateau from the flat East Gulf Coastal Plain. The Upper Tombigbee Watershed drains portions of the western half of Tuscaloosa County, and the Tombigbee River is considered vitally important in terms of ecological diversity. Although the river has a high level of aquatic biodiversity because it remained relatively free from major changes for a long period of time, many of the fish and mussel species are currently at-risk.
Interstate 20/59 is one of Tuscaloosa County's main transportation routes, running southwest-northeast. U.S. Highway 11 runs
along Interstate 20/59. U.S. Highway 43 runs north-south through the middle of the county, and U.S. Highway 82 runs east–west,
bisecting Tuscaloosa County. The Van de Graaff Field Municipal Airport is the only airport in Tuscaloosa County and is used mostly for air freight and private air traffic.
Events and Places of Interest
There are many recreational opportunities for visitors to Tuscaloosa County. Lake Lurleen State Park, named for Governor Lurleen Wallace, is located about 10 minutes from downtown Tuscaloosa and offers 1,600 acres for camping and hiking and a 250-acre lake for swimming and fishing. Located 15 miles south of Tuscaloosa is Moundville Archaeological Park, part of the Alabama Museum of Natural History, and is the site of a Mississippian period settlement. The 320-acre park includes nature trails, Native American village reconstructions, and a museum that houses artifacts and documents relating to Native American cultures in the area. A portion of Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park, built around the pre-Civil War Tannehill Iron Works, spreads across the wooded hills of eastern Tuscaloosa County, although most of the park is located in neighboring Jefferson County. The park contains a monument to the Confederacy and offers camping, hiking, golfing, hiking, and swimming. Special events at the park include an annual re-eanactment of a Civil War battle and monthly trade days. Other outdoor recreational areas in Tuscaloosa County include Lake Tuscaloosa, Holt Lake, and Lake Nichol. In addition, the Tuscaloosa County Park and Recreation Authority operates 31 small public parks totaling 1,700 acres.
Tuscaloosa County is home to a number of museums and cultural centers. The Alabama Museum of Natural History, located in Smith Hall on the University of Alabama campus, displays fossils, rocks, and minerals. The Murphy African-American Museum at the Murphy-Collins House in Tuscaloosa was home to William J. Murphy, the first licensed African-American mortician in Alabama, and features Murphy family memorabilia as well as other artifacts representative of the lifestyle of affluent African Americans at the turn of the century. Celebrating more than 100 years of Crimson Tide football and 12 national championships, the Paul W. Bryant Museum on the University of Alabama campus houses a re-creation of the legendary Coach "Bear" Bryant's office along with other football memorabilia. The Children's Hands-On Museum provides educational experience for children of all ages through hands-on exhibits, programs, and special events.
Other places and events of interest in Tuscaloosa County include the Kentuck Art Center in Northport. The gallery features rotating monthly exhibits of regional artists and hosts the annual Kentuck Arts Festival.
At the Mercedes-Benz Visitor's Center in Vance, visitors can tour the plant and trace the history of Mercedes-Benz from 1886 to the present. Tuscaloosa County is home to
many historic buildings as well, including the Jemison-Van de Graaff Mansion in Tuscaloosa, the Denny Chimes Tower and Gorgas
House on the campus of the University of Alabama, and the Mildred Warner House.
The Heritage of Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 1999.
Donna J. Siebenthaler
Published August 22, 2007
Last updated November 7, 2013