Located in the southeastern part of the state, Coffee County is home to part of the Fort Rucker Military Reservation and the Boll Weevil Monument. The county is governed by an elected seven-member commission and includes four incorporated communities.
· Founding Date: December 29, 1841
· Area: 680 square miles
· Population: 49,948 (2010 Census)
· Major Waterways: Pea River
· Major Highways: I-84
· County Seat: Elba
· Largest City: Enterprise
Coffee County was created by an act of the Alabama State Legislature on December 29, 1841, and was named for Gen. John Coffee, who fought in the Creek War of 1813-14. Originally part of Dale County, the first border of Coffee County extended to Florida. In 1868 the southern border of the county was used in the formation of Geneva County. The first county seat was located at Wellborn, but was later moved to Elba in 1852. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Coffee County was a major cotton growing area, but the arrival of the boll weevil in 1915 ruined the industry. After the cotton crop was completely destroyed in 1916, Coffee County farmers were forced to shift to a new crop. Coffee county extension agent John Pittman, inspired by George Washington Carver's research, introduced peanuts to the area, and a the new staple crop proved successful. In 1919 Roscoe Fleming, a merchant in the town of Enterprise, erected a monument to commemorate the pest that forced the county to seek out new crops and gain new successes in farming. The Boll Weevil Monument holds the distinction as the only known monument erected to a pest.
In 1936, the federal government's Farm Security Administration, in an effort to increase farm prices, purchased 32,000 acres of land on the eastern border of Coffee County that they planned to transform into a wilderness reservation. Known as Bear Farm, the land was transferred to the War Department in January 1942 to serve as a training site for soldiers during World War II. Named Camp Rucker for Confederate colonel Edmund Rucker, the training base became Fort Rucker in 1955. Fort Rucker became the Army Air Corp's headquarters when flight training was consolidated at the base in 1973. Air Force helicopter pilots have trained at the base since 1971. Fort Rucker straddles the borders of Houston, Dale, and Geneva counties in addition to Coffee County. In March 2007, the county gained national attention when a tornado destroyed Enterprise High School and killed eight students.
Major Cities and Demographics
At the time of the 2010 census, Coffee County recorded a population of 49,948. Of that total, 74.7 percent of respondents
identified themselves as white, 16.7 percent as African American, 6.4 percent as Hispanic, 2.5 as two or more races, 1.3 percent
as Native American, and 1.3 percent as Asian. The median household income was $43,197, compared with $40,547 for the state
as a whole, and the per capita income was $22,211, compared with $22,732 for the state as a whole. The county seat, Elba,
had a population of 3,940. Other population centers in the county include Enterprise, New Brockton, and Kinston.
Comprising approximately 680 square miles, Coffee County lies in the southern area of the state, wholly within the Coastal Plain physiographic section. Coffee County was carved out of the western portion of Dale County. It is bounded to north by Pike County, to the east by Dale County, to the south by Geneva County, and to the west by Covington and Crenshaw counties. The Pea River, the largest tributary of the Choctawhatchee River, runs from north to south in the center of the county. Several smaller tributaries of the Pea River, including Double Bridges, Tight Eye, Beaverdam, Whitewater, Big, and Steep Head creeks, intersect the county. Interstate 84, running east-west in the southern half of the county, is the largest transportation route. Carl Folsom Airport and Enterprise Municipal Airport are the county's only airports.
Coffee County had a largely agricultural economy during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although many farmers raised hogs and cattle, the major crop was cotton. In 1915 the arrival of the boll weevil changed Coffee County's economy forever. That year, the weevil destroyed more than 60 percent of the harvest. The following year, farmers planted a huge crop of cotton and attempted to combat the boll weevil, but these efforts failed, and the entire cotton crop was virtually destroyed. Coffee County farmers thus were forced to look for another staple crop and turned to the peanut. In 1917 the county grew and harvested the largest peanut crop—more than one million bushels for market—of any county in the nation, and peanuts remain the most important cash crop in the county. In 1911, the town of Elba became synonymous with Dorsey Trailers, a manufacturing company that produces hauling equipment, machinery trailers, truck bodies, and platforms. The main employer in Elba for the majority of the twentieth century, Dorsey Trailers closed in November 2000 and its assets were acquired by Street Asset Management in June 2001. Fort Rucker, constructed during WWII, is also a major employer.
The workforce in present-day Coffee County is divided among the following occupational categories:
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (20.2 percent)
· Retail trade (14.6 percent)
· Manufacturing (12.9 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing, and utilities (7.6 percent)
· Public administration (7.5 percent)
· Construction (7.1 percent)
· Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (6.3 percent)
· Finance and insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (5.7 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (5.7 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (4.5 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (4.1 percent)
· Wholesale trade (2.8 percent)
· Information (0.8 percent)
The Coffee County School System currently employs 117 teachers who serve almost 2,000 students in four schools. In addition,
the Elba City School System employs 62 teachers who serve approximately 1,000 students in three schools, and the Enterprise
City School System employs 336 teachers who serve nearly 5,300 students in 10 schools. The county also contains two private
schools that employ 18 teachers who serve approximately 220 students. The county is home to Enterprise State Junior College,
a two-year public coeducational institution.
Events and Places of Interest
The Pea River is ideal for fishing and is considered one of the best canoeing areas in south Alabama. Every spring, the town of Enterprise hosts the Piney Woods Art Festival, featuring local art, food, and live entertainment.
Heritage of Coffee County. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants Inc., 2004.
Watson, Fred S. Coffee Grounds: A History of Coffee County, Alabama, 1841-1970. Anniston, Ala.: Higginbotham, Inc., 1970.
Patricia Hoskins Morton
Published August 30, 2007
Last updated March 22, 2013