Located in the north-central part of the state, Morgan County was once home to Mae Jemison, the first African American female in space. The second trial of the Scottsboro Boys also took place in Morgan County on March 28, 1933, after a change of venue from Stevenson, Alabama. The county is governed by an elected five-member commission and includes the incorporated communities of Hartselle, Trinity, Priceville, and Falkville.
· Founding Date: February 8, 1818
· Area: 575 square miles
· Population: 119,490 (2010 Census)
· Major Waterways: Tennessee River
· Major Highways: U.S. 31, U.S. 72, Interstate 65
· County Seat: Decatur
· Largest City: Decatur
Morgan County was created by an act of the Alabama Territorial General Assembly on February 6, 1818, preceding Alabama's statehood by almost two years. The county was created from land acquired from the Cherokee Indians by the 1818 Treaty of Turkeytown. The county was originally named Cotaco for a creek that flows through it. When the area was officially opened in 1818, settlers came mostly from Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, and the Carolinas. The first towns in present-day Morgan County grew up along the banks of the Cotaco and Flint creeks and their tributaries. Some of these early towns were Flint, Danville, Bluff City, Decatur, and Hartselle. On June 14, 1821, the name was changed to Morgan County in honor of Gen. Daniel Morgan of Virginia, who fought in the American Revolution. The county seat was at Somerville from 1818 until 1891, when it was moved to Decatur.
During the Civil War, northern Morgan County was a hotly contested area because of its access to a railroad bridge across the Tennessee River. Decatur hosted headquarters of both Union and Confederate forces during the war. The Battle of Decatur in 1864 destroyed all but three buildings in the city. Later, courthouse fires in 1926 and 1938 destroyed many records about the county's early history.
Major Cities and Demographics
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Morgan County's population is 119,490. Of that total, 79.8 percent of respondents identified
themselves as white, 11.9 percent as African American, 7.7 percent as Hispanic, 2.0 percent as two or more races, 0.9 percent
as Native American, and 0.6 percent as Asian. The county's median household income was $45,513, compared with $40,547 for
the state as a whole, and the per capita income was $22496, compared with $22,732 for the state as a whole. The largest city
in Morgan County is Decatur, with an estimated population of 55,683. Other significant population centers include Hartselle, Trinity, Priceville, and Falkville.
The first settlers in what would become Morgan County were generally farmers. Some established large-scale cotton plantations on the fertile lands bordering the Tennessee River. Those who settled along the county's abundant small creeks worked small farms. Abundant ferries and steamboat stops made early Morgan County a center for cotton shipping and the lumber industry. Cattle, hog, and sheep farming were minor economic efforts in the Cumberland Plauteau region as well. During the 1930s, the Tennessee Valley Authority made the Tennessee River navigable with a series of locks and dams, which also provided abundant and inexpensive electricity. Morgan County's economy thus shifted from agriculture and forestry to industry and manufacturing.
The workforce in present-day Morgan County is divided among the following occupational categories:
· Manufacturing (20.6 percent)
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (17.7 percent)
· Retail trade (11.5 percent)
· Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (9.2 percent)
· Construction (9.1 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (6.1 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (5.2 percent)
· Finance and insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (5.1 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing, and utilities (4.9 percent)
· Public administration (4.1 percent)
· Wholesale trade (3.5 percent)
· Information (1.6 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (1.4 percent)
The Morgan County School System, together with the Decatur City and Hartselle City school systems, employs approximately 2,600
teachers and administrators who serve more than 19,300 students in 44 primary and secondary schools. Calhoun Community College,
located in Decatur, is Alabama's largest two-year college, offering academic and technical education programs and degrees.
Comprising approximately 575 square miles, Morgan County is located in the north-central part of the state. The northern half of the county lies in the Highland Rim physiographic section, and the southern half lies in the Cumberland Plateau section. The county is bordered to the north by Limestone and Madison counties, to the east by Marshall County, to the south by Cullman County, and to the west by Lawrence County.
The Tennessee River runs along the northern boundary of Morgan County, with its many tributaries running throughout the county. The Tennessee River is the largest river system to pass through Alabama, and it is home to the rarest cavefish in America, the Alabama Cavefish. The river is considered one of the most biologically diverse river systems for aquatic organisms in the U.S., with over 176 species of fish, many of which are considered at-risk. The Wheeler Lake section of the Tennessee River drains virtually all of Morgan County and occupies approximately 67,000 acres.
U.S. Highway 31 runs north-south through Decatur and Hartselle, and U.S. 72 runs east-west from Memphis to Atlanta through
Decatur. Interstate 65, part of the interstate system that connects the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes, runs through Morgan
County. Pryor Field in Decatur and Hartselle-Morgan County Regional Airport in Hartselle are the county's two public airports.
Events and Places of Interest
Morgan County offers a range of opportunities for recreational activities. Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge located between Decatur and Hartselle along the Tennessee River consists of 35,000 acres of wildlife habitat. The refuge is home to Alabama's largest wintering duck population. Visitors can take part in a variety of recreational activities including hunting, fishing, hiking, bird watching, camping, and educational programs. The Decatur Point Mallard Municipal Park covers 750 acres and features a 35-acre water-themed park, 210 campsites, a golf course, an amphitheater, and hiking and biking trails. The park also hosts special events such as the annual Civil War reenactment of the Battle for Decatur every September.
Many of Decatur's private homes and commercial buildings date from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and can be seen in the Albany Heritage Neighborhood Historic District and the Old Decatur Historic District, which includes several buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as the only three buildings left standing from the Battle of Decatur—the Dancy-Polk House (1829), the Old State Bank (1833), and the Rhea-McEntire House (1835). The Old State Bank is now a local history museum open to visitors. The Princess Theatre, built in 1887, originally served as a horse stable for a hotel among other purposes. It has been home to the Performing Arts Center since 1983.
The Carnegie Visual Arts Center in Decatur was built in 1904 as part of industrialist Andrew Carnegie's public library project. The building served as the city library until 1973. In 2001, the building was restored to hold the city's arts center and hosts local and touring exhibitions as well as art classes, workshops, and lectures. Also in Decatur, Cook's Natural Science Museum houses extensive collections of wildlife specimens, especially those species native to the Tennessee Valley.
Each year, Morgan County hosts a variety of festivals and celebrations. The Spirit of America 4th of July Festival is one
of Alabama's largest Independence Day celebrations. Each September, Hartselle celebrates the town's railroad heritage at the
Depot Days Festival. Calhoun Community College hosts the Southern Wildlife Festival in mid-October. The festival features
a variety of arts and crafts related to wildlife and nature conservancy.
The Heritage of Morgan County, Alabama. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 1998.
Knox, John. History of Morgan County, Alabama. Decatur, Ala.: Decatur Printing Company, 1966.
Donna J. Siebenthaler
Published September 18, 2007
Last updated August 13, 2013