Known as "College City," Marion is the county seat of Perry County and is located in the westcentral part of Alabama. Marion is home to Judson College, the Marion Military Institute, and Coretta Scott King. The city government consists of a mayor and five-person city council.
Formerly the territory of the Choctaw Indians, what is now Perry County became part of the Mississippi Territory and then the Alabama Territory after the Creek War of 1814-15. The city of Marion was first known as Muckle Ridge because Michael McElroy, also known as Michael Muckle, cleared one acre of land and built a cabin in the area in 1817. When more and more people began to settle in the area, McElroy sold his cabin to Anderson and Cecelia West in 1818 and moved to Mississippi. The city's name was changed to honor Francis Marion, the famous "Swamp Fox" of the America Revolution. The first county seat was located in Perry Ridge; Marion did not become the county seat until 1909.
Marion earliest newspaper, the Whig Party's Southern Herald, was first published in 1837 by John Oswald, a Marion dentist. In 1839, Oswald changed the title to the Marion Herald and subsequently sold it to Robert E. Love, who transformed it into the political voice of area Democrats. This newspaper has evolved into the current Marion Times-Standard, which carries the tagline, "Your Hometown Newspaper Since 1839."
Marion's population according to the 2010 Census was 3,686. Of that number, 64.1 percent identified themselves as African American, 34.3 percent as white, 5.5 percent as Asian, 1.9 percent as Hispanic or Latino, 0.2 percent as Native American, and 0.6 percent as two or more races. The city's median household income was $24,142, and per capita income was $14,900.
In 1854, Larkin and Elizabeth Tarrant sold their land to the Marion Alabama River Transportation Company for the future construction of a railroad station, in conjunction with a project to build a railroad line from Marion to the Alabama River at Cahaba. Under a new charter, the Marion Alabama River Transportation Company, with the name of the Cahaba and Marion Railroad Company, extended the railroad from Marion to intersect the Northeastern & Southwestern Railroad. The Norfolk Southern Railway Company decided to abandon the line to Marion during the mid-nineteenth century. The railroad depot, which was built between 1907 and 1910, was restored in 1998 and now serves as the Chamber of Commerce. Today, Marion is served by County Roads 5, 14, and 183.
In 1820, Anderson West and his nephew, Solomon West, started A. West & Co., which was the first store in the town when Marion was founded. In 1822, Anne Smith arrived in Marion from North Carolina and opened the first hotel in the county. During the 1850s, various general stores, grocery stores, dry-goods stores, and apothecaries were in business. J. L. Lockwood furniture company sold sofas, chairs, and coffins, which were sold in furniture stores at the time.
Nathan Harris opened a tailoring business in 1910. His son, Max, turned the tailor shop into a general merchandise store in 1921. In 1890, John Connor Mickleboro opened the Mickleboro Jewelry Store. Mr. and Mrs. L. M. Neely owned the Neely Theater in Marion, and during the Great Depression on Saturdays, children could pay their admission with an uncracked egg instead of a dime. During the 1940s, T. I. Leverett owned the Marion Ice House, which delivered ice to businesses and private homes. The Marion Bi-Flex Corporation was established in 1959. Successful industries in the past have included pulpwood producers, feed companies, lumber mills, and textile manufacturers.
The workforce in present-day Marion is divided among the following occupational categories
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (24.5 percent)
· Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (12.3 percent)
· Finance, insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (10.7 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (10.5 percent)
· Retail trade (9.7 percent)
· Manufacturing (6.1 percent)
· Construction (5.7 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (4.9 percent)
· Public administration (4.9 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing and utilities (4.8 percent)
· Wholesale trade (4.1 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (0.7 percent)
Marion was once home to the Lincoln School, founded by nine former slaves from Perry County. The nine men became some of the most successful black lawyers in the nation, and later received help from the American Missionary Association. Left behind during the Civil War, they began to teach the black children in the area, and along with a group of freedmen founded The Lincoln School of Marion in 1867. Its most famous alumna was Coretta Scott King. As part of the integration process in Marion and Perry County, the Lincoln School was officially closed in May 1970.
Judson College was founded as Judson Female Institute in 1838 by Milo P. Jewett, who later established Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Today, Judson College is a Southern Baptist-affiliated liberal arts college for women, enrolling 311 students with 19 teachers. Judson has a strong relationship with the nearby Marion Military Institute; the two colleges hold several joint annual events such as the Rose Sunday picnic and Step Sing.
The Marion Military Institute was founded as a Baptist institution on a farm near Greensboro in 1833 and was known as Howard College. The school relocated to Marion in 1841 and officially began in 1842 as a school for boys. In 1887, the Alabama Baptist Convention decided to move Howard College to Birmingham, where it would eventually become Samford University. When Howard College left Marion, Colonel James T. Murfee was president; he decided to stay in Marion and help establish a military school. Today, the Marion Military Institute enrolls 454 students, of which 83 percent are males and 17 percent are females with 21 teachers. Both Howard College and Judson College were used as Confederate hospitals from 1863 to 1865. The hospitals were opened after the fall of Vicksburg and were closed before the Confederacy fell.
Another early school, the Marion Female Seminary, was founded in 1836 by a joint-stock company. The seminary is famous for its most notable teacher, Nicola Marschall, who came from Prussia and settled in Marion as a professional portrait artist. He taught art, music, and languages at the seminary during the 1850s and 1860s. In 1861, he designed the original Confederate flag, the "Stars and Bars," and the Confederate uniform. A monument to Marschall stands in front of the Perry County Courthouse. The seminary closed in 1908, and the building served as the Perry County High School from 1917 to 1963. The building is now owned by the Marion Historical Society.
Schools in Marion are part of the Perry County school district; the town has approximately 1,227 students and 77 teachers in one elementary school and one high school. Two private schools (one pre-K-12, one 9-12) have approximately 208 students and 23 teachers.
Events and Places of Interest
The Lea House was the site of Margaret Lea and Sam Houston's marriage in 1840. Houston was former governor of Tennessee (1827-29), Commander in Chief of the Texas Revolutionary Forces, and President of the Texas Republic. The Captain Porter King House was home to the Confederate officer to whom General Bernard Bee, at the Battle of Manassas, made a remark about General Thomas J. Jackson "standing like a stone wall." From that time on, Jackson was known to his troops as "Stonewall Jackson."
Residents of Marion can enjoy the outdoor park and nature preserve at Perry Lakes Park and Barton's Beach, a Cahaba River
Reserve, located on State Highway 175.
Harris, W. Stuart. Perry County Heritage. Marion, Ala.: Perry County Historical and Preservation Society, 1991.
Perry County Heritage Book Committee. The Heritage of Perry County, Alabama. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 1999.
Published May 14, 2009
Last updated March 1, 2013