Located in the east central part of the state, Randolph County was the home of Ella Gaunt Smith (1868-1932), an innovative doll manufacturer. Known as Ella Smith and Alabama Babies dolls, they were also called "Roanoke Indestructible Dolls" because of their heavy cotton frame and plaster of Paris heads. In 1904, Smith exhibited her dolls at the World's Fair in St. Louis, winning the Grand Prize for Innovation. Randolph County is governed by an elected five-member commission and includes the incorporated community of Roanoke.
· Founding Date: December 18, 1832
· Area: 585 square miles
· Population: 22,913 (2010 Census)
· Major Waterways: Tallapoosa River, Chattahoochee River
· Major Highways: U.S. 431
· County Seat: Wedowee
· Largest City: Roanoke
The Alabama General Assembly created Randolph County on December 18, 1832, from lands acquired from the Creek Indians in the 1832 Treaty of Cusseta. The county was named in honor of John Randolph (1773-1833), a statesman from Virginia. The first settlers were mostly from Georgia and the Carolinas, and some of the earliest settlements and towns included Louina (no longer in existence), Roanoke, Wedowee, and Wadley.
The first county seat was at or near Hedgeman Triplett's Ferry (later known as Blake's Ferry) on the Big Tallapoosa River.
In 1834, the county seat was moved to Wedowee, which means "rolling water" in Muscogee. Court was held in the open air until
1836, when a log courthouse was built. Between 1839 and 1841, Wedowee was known as McDonald. A brick courthouse replaced
the log structure in 1857, but it was destroyed by fire in 1896, along with all its records. In 1897, a new courthouse was
built, and additions were made to the building in 1937. This courthouse burned in 1940, but most of the records were saved.
A modern courthouse, built in 1941, remains in use today.
Major Cities and Demographics
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Randolph County was 22,913. Of that total, 76.5 percent of respondents
identified themselves as white, 20.1 percent as African American, 2.8 percent as Hispanic, 1.1 percent as two or more races,
0.4 as Native American, and 0.2 as Asian. The largest city in Randolph County is Roanoke, with an estimated population of
6,074. Other significant population centers include Wedowee, Rock Mills, and Wadley. The per capita income for Randolph County
was $20,433, compared with $22,732 for the state as a whole, and the median household income was $34,212, compared with $40,547
for the state as a whole.
Sitting on the Piedmont Plateau, Randolph County has relatively poor soil but a great deal of mineral wealth. Before the Civil War, farmers focused primarily on livestock and subsistence agriculture. Cotton became an important economic commodity in the 1860s and remained so until the mid-1940s. During the 1930s and 1940s, farmers diversified into poultry and commercial vegetables. Those crops, along with cattle and forestry, remain important today. Although Randolph County sits on a great deal of mineral wealth, including gold, copper, mica, and kaolin, the high costs of mining proved prohibitive throughout the nineteenth century. Consequently, few mining operations were attempted in the twentieth century. In the late 1920s, the Alabama Power Company began acquiring land along the Tallapoosa River to build hydroelectric dams. Although there were delays in the project, activity picked up in the 1960s and 1970s and in 1983, electricity from the R. L. Harris Dam project went online.
The workforce in present-day Randolph County is divided among the following occupational categories:
· Manufacturing (25.4 percent)
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (19.2 percent)
· Retail trade (16.2 percent)
· Construction (7.4 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing, and utilities (6.3 percent)
· Public administration (4.7 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (4.5 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (3.9 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (3.8 percent)
· Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (3.5 percent)
· Wholesale trade (2.1 percent)
· Finance and insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (2.0 percent)
· Information (0.9 percent)
The Randolph County school system employs approximately 290 teachers and administrators who serve more than 2,200 students
in six primary and secondary schools. Roanoke City Schools employ more than 150 teachers and administrators in four primary
and secondary schools, serving approximately 1,400 students. The Randolph-Roanoke Area Vocational School was established in
Wedowee in 1973 and offers supplemental courses to high school students and adults. Southern Union State Community College, a public two-year college with academic, technical, and health science programs, has a campus in Wadley.
Comprising approximately 580 square miles, Randolph County is among Alabama's smallest counties. The county lies in the east central part of the state in the Piedmont physiographic section. Randolph County is bordered by Georgia to the east, Cleburne County to the north, Clay County to the west, Tallapoosa County to the southeast, and Chambers County to the south.
The Tallapoosa River runs through the county and is home to 120 species of fish and 31 species of mussel. The R. L. Harris Dam forms the 10,000-acre Lake Wedowee on the Upper Tallapoosa. Both the Upper and Middle Tallapoosa tributaries offer a range of recreational opportunities and scenic views in Randolph County. A few tributaries of the Chattahoochee River wind their way through the eastern half of the county as well.
U.S. Highway 431 is Randolph County's main transportation route. The highway runs from the northwest part of the county to
the southeast part of the county. The Roanoke Municipal Airport in Roanoke is the county's only public airport.
Events and Places of Interest
Randolph County offers a variety of recreational activities. Lake Wedowee has more than 270 miles of shoreline for bird watching, boating, fishing, hiking, and picnicking. The Tallapoosa River and its many tributaries also offer visitors the chance to fish and boat. The Talladega National Forest meets the northwest boundary of Randolph County. Its 375,000 acres offer a variety of recreational activities, including hunting, hiking, camping, bird watching, and picnicking.
The Randolph County Historical Museum in Roanoke houses historical artifacts from the entire county, including Native American relics, historical documents, Civil War memorabilia, vintage clothing, and Ella Smith dolls. Built in 1881, Butlers Mill is a grist mill located on the banks of the Tallapoosa River. The mill still operates from October through April, and visitors can tour the mill, eat at the restaurant, and shop for antiques in the gift shop. The Roanoke Downtown Historic District has a number of architecturally significant buildings in the Renaissance and Romanesque styles, many of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Eller, Lynda S. Randolph County: Alabama Pioneers. Lanett, Ala.: [s.n.], 1981.
The Heritage of Randolph County, Alabama. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 1998.
Smith, Eugenia Elizabeth. A History of Randolph County. Roanoke, Ala.: The Roanoke Leader, 1978.
Stewart, Margaret Estelle. Alabama's Randolph County: A History of the County and Her People. Centre, Ala.: Stewart University Press, 1992.
Donna J. Siebenthaler
Published August 22, 2007
Last updated August 16, 2013