Union Springs, the county seat of Bullock County, is located in the Black Belt region of eastern Alabama. The first European settlers arrived in the area after the Creek Indian removal of the 1830s and gave the town its name because of the 27 springs flowing from the nearby Chunnenuggee Ridge. The rich black belt soil and ample fresh water of the area attracted migrants from surrounding states and made Union Springs a prosperous antebellum agricultural center. Union Springs was officially incorporated on January 13, 1844, as part of Macon County. When Bullock County was created in 1866 from parts of Macon, Montgomery, Pike, and Barbour counties, voters chose Union Springs as the county seat. Union Springs has a mayor-council form of government, with the mayor and council members serving four-year terms.
Originally Creek Indian territory, the rich land of Bullock County made Union Springs an important center of the antebellum cotton trade beginning in the 1830s. With no access to river transport, Union Springs conducted its trade with the market in Columbus, Georgia, via the Mobile and Girard Railway Company. During the antebellum period, cotton barons built many striking mansions along the Chunnenuggee ridge, including the 1843 Moorish Revival style Foster-Chapman House, childhood home to civil rights activist Virginia Foster Durr. Although these homes and much of the town were spared generally from the destruction of the Civil War, the impact of Reconstruction and Emancipation led to a period of post-war economic decline.
By 1885, Union Springs had rebounded from the aftermath of the Civil War. The town was by then a junction of the Mobile and Girard and the Montgomery and Eufaula Railroads. It was home to an oil mill, a planing mill, and professional offices for doctors and lawyers. Cotton mills soon followed and again made Union Springs an economic hub for the surrounding counties. The growth of commerce in Union Springs enriched many of its citizens and led to more mansions being built around the town. These buildings and their antebellum predecessors now form the core of Union Springs's popular Historic District.
Beginning in the early twentieth century, land originally used for cotton farming in Bullock County began to give way to other uses, particularly hunting. By the 1920s, game preserves occupied many of the sites of former cotton plantations. During that period, Lewis B. Maytag, an avid hunter and originator of the Maytag line of appliances, created a 14,000-acre hunting preserve known as the Sedgefields Plantation. This preserve and the lands surrounding it became a very popular location for bird dog field trials, which continue today. Field trials judge a bird dog's ability to successfully point out the hiding places of game birds.
Union Springs's population according to the 2010 Census was 3,880. Of that number, 71.8 percent identified themselves as black, 17 percent as Hispanic or Latino, 12.9 percent as white, 0.4 percent as Asian, 0.2 percent as Native American, and 0.8 percent as two or more races. The city's median household income was $22,476, and per capita income was $20,485.
Economic Development and Employment
From its founding through the present day, the economy of Union Springs has remained tied to agriculture. Bonnie Plant Farms, the nation's largest grower of container vegetables and herbs, was founded in Union Springs and now has 62 facilities in 38 states. The workforce in present-day Union Springs is divided among the following occupational categories:
· Retail trade (18.0 percent)
· Construction (15.5 percent)
· Public administration (13.1 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services (10.6 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing and utilities (9.9 percent)
· Manufacturing (9.8 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (9.1 percent)
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (8.8 percent)
· Wholesale trade (3.8 percent)
· Finance, insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (1.4 percent)
Schools in Union Springs are part of the Bullock County school system; the town has approximately 1,705 students and 102 teachers in two elementary schools and one high school.
Two major highways intersect in Union Springs: U.S. Highway 82, an east-west artery, and U.S. Highway 29, a north-south route. The town is less than an hour's drive to Montgomery, Auburn/Opelika, and Columbus, Georgia. Franklin Field, the municipal airport, has a 3,660-foot runway and serves general aviation. Bus service is provided to Union Springs by Greyhound Lines, Inc.
Events and Places of Interest
Union Springs's rich rural and agricultural heritage features largely in the local attractions. The Chunnenuggee Garden, established
in 1847, is one of the oldest public garden in the United States and is the oldest in Alabama. The Chunnenuggee Fair is a
modern continuation of a pre-Civil War festival that was originally hosted by the oldest horticultural society in the United
States, the Chunnenuggee Garden Club. The National Register of Historic Places lists 47 homes and businesses in Union Springs
that have been preserved as standing monuments to the town's history. In addition to the historic Second Empire Bullock County
Courthouse, built in 1872, the Courthouse Historic District has 25 other historic buildings, including antebellum homes and
churches, a Carnegie Library, and the Red Door Theatre. The city of Union Springs, which bills itself as the Field Trial Capitol of the World, welcomes hundreds of tourists every February at the National Amateur
Free-for-All Championship of field trials. Since 1921, this annual event has drawn participants from around the world. The
Bird Dog Field Trial Monument, located in Union Springs's Courthouse Historic District, is a life-sized bronze statue of a
pointer that pays tribute to the 11 men inducted into the Bird Dog Field Trial Hall of Fame.
The Heritage of Bullock County, Alabama. Clanton, Ala: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2004.
Published May 15, 2009
Last updated March 26, 2013