Jasper is the county seat of Walker County, located in the north-central part of the state. It has a mayor/city council form of government. Jasper is the birthplace of well-known character actors George Lindsey and Polly Holiday, and stage and screen star Tallulah Bankhead lived for a short time in the city. It is also the birthplace of noted Alabama congressman Tom Bevill, for whom a nearby community college is named.
Jasper was first settled around 1815; it was named after Sgt. William Jasper, a Revolutionary War hero. Its first settler, E. D. Musgrove, donated land to the county for the establishment of the city with the stipulation that it be designated as the county seat.
During the Civil War, Jasper was the target of Union troops marching toward Selma during Wilson's Raid. The troops burned the courthouse and several other buildings in town and raided neighboring farms for supplies. The county courthouse burned again in 1877, 1878, and 1884. It was replaced by a brick structure that in turn burned in 1886. Jasper was officially incorporated on August 18, 1886.
In 1886, the Kansas City-Memphis Railroad completed a line through Jasper, and the Sheffield and Birmingham Railroad completed a line in 1888. These new connections brought a huge increase in population, from 200 in 1886 to more than 3,000 by 1890. Into the 1890s, the main industries in the area were coal mining and coke oven operations, as well as timber processing operations, such as saw mills. Jasper's first water and power authority was established in 1905, and the current courthouse was completed in 1907, as was the town's Confederate Memorial. The first automobile appeared on the streets of Jasper in 1907 as well.
Much of the downtown was damaged in a major fire on December 1, 1920, but the area was quickly rebuilt. The Walker County Hospital was completed in 1923. The Great Depression cause severe economic hardship, and the courthouse also was heavily damaged by fire in 1932. Federally funded Works Progress Administration projects built in the town during the Depression included the city auditorium and a county activities building that now houses the Walker County Library. President Franklin Roosevelt visited the town in 1940 to attend a memorial service for his friend and supporter, William B. Bankhead, the longtime congressman and two-term Speaker of the House of Representatives who represented the local district.
In April 1974, downtown Jasper was heavily damaged by a tornado. More recently, the once-thriving downtown area has experienced the same economic challenges faced by many towns as businesses have moved out or closed because of competition from larger chain stores.
Jasper’s population at the time of the 2010 Census was 14,352. Of that number, 81.3 percent identified themselves as white, 13.4 percent as African American, 4.4 percent as Hispanic, 1.4 percent as two or more races, 0.7 percent as Asian, 0.3 percent as Native American, and 0.2 percent as Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. The city's median household income was $41,586, and per capita income was $27,927.
The workforce in present-day Jasper 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)
· Wholesale trade (10.8 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)
· Construction (8.0 percent)
· Manufacturing (6.1 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (5.0 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing and utilities (4.8 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (4.3 percent)
· Public administration (4.2 percent)
· Information (3.9 percent)
Schools in Jasper are part of the Jasper City School System; the city has approximately 2,633 students and 189 teachers in six public schools (three elementary, middle, high, and an alternative school). It also has one private school serving K-12 with approximately 71 students and 5 teachers.
Jasper is intersected by U.S. Highway 78 (east-west) and State Highway 269 (roughly north-south). It also is served by the Walker County-Bevill Field Airport.
Events and Places of Interest
Jasper is located about 15 miles south of the 21,000-acre Lewis Smith Lake, which has the largest earthen dam in the world. It offers all forms of water recreation, including boating, fishing, and swimming. The city itself has seven municipal parks that include athletic fields, a gymnasium, and a municipal pool complex. Also nearby is the Clear Creek Recreational Area in the Bankhead National Forest, with campgrounds and lodges. The 163-acre Walker County Public Lake also offers boating and fishing. Musgrove Country Club, with golf and tennis, is located just north of Jasper.
Every spring and fall, the city of Jasper hosts the Blackwater Bluegrass festival, a celebration of music and heritage in
Jasper's Blackwater Park. Visitors interested in history can view the Bankhead House, home of Alabama's notable Bankhead family
of politicians, and the Carl Elliot House Museum, former home of Congressman Carl Elliot.
Winston County Heritage Book Committee. The Heritage of Winston County, Alabama. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 1998.
James P. Kaetz
Published February 10, 2010
Last updated July 13, 2012