Arab is located primarily in west-central Marshall County, although part of the city also is located in Cullman County, in the northeast part of the state. The city's distinctive name, pronounced "ey-rab," resulted from an error by the U.S. postal service when the town was incorporated. Arab has a mayor-council form of government.
The founder of what would become Arab, Stephen Tuttle Thompson, first moved to the area in 1840 with his parents from Rhea County, Tennessee. By 1858, the community that arose around the Thompson farm was known as Thompson's Village. In 1882, Thompson applied to the federal government to open a post office in the community and submitted three possible names for it: Ink, Blue Bird, and Arad, after his son Ranson Arad Thompson. The government committee chose the latter but misspelled it as Arab. Thompson was granted permission for the post office and became the town's first postmaster and tax assessor and later served as County Commissioner. His son J. R. N. Thompson served as the first mayor when the town officially incorporated in 1892. Arab's first telephone line was run in 1908, and the Bank of Arab was established in 1909. The first high school opened in 1922, and electricity came to the town in 1928.
Historically, Arab was a rural community dependent on surrounding farms for its livelihood. The downtown Farmer's Exchange, founded by resident William Harrison, became an important center for agriculture-related commerce from about 1933. The town began growing significantly after Redstone Arsenal and the Marshall Space Flight Center opened in nearby Huntsville, Madison County, and began drawing workers from throughout the country to the Huntsville area.
Arab's population according to the 2010 Census was 8,050. Of that number, 96.6 percent of respondents identified themselves as white, 1.7 percent as Hispanic, 1.1 percent as two or more races, 0.7 percent as Asian, 0.6 percent as Native American, and 0.1 percent as African American. The town's median household income was $42,435 and the per capita income was $23,986.
The workforce in present-day Alabaster is divided among the following occupational categories:
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (19.2 percent)
· Manufacturing (16.9 percent)
· Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (15.0 percent)
· Retail trade (9.9 percent)
· Public administration (7.7 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (6.6 percent)
· Construction (6.4 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing and utilities (5.5 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (3.3 percent)
· Finance, insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (3.1 percent)
· Information (2.9 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (1.0 percent)
· Wholesale trade (0.3 percent)
Schools in Arab are part of the Arab City School District; the town has approximately 2,702 students and 168 teachers in one primary school, one elementary school, one junior high school, and one high school. Snead State Community College has a branch campus in Arab.
U.S. Highway 231 runs north-south through Arab, and State Highway 69 runs east-west. The closest airport to Arab is the Huntsville International Airport, about 27 miles north of the city.
Events and Places of Interest
Arab has two large city parks that include all types of athletics fields, as well as tennis courts, a municipal swimming pool, a multi-purpose arena, pavilions, and a community center. The city hosts the Annual Park and Recreation Horse Show in the arena the second Saturday of each July. The city also has a recreation center that features basketball and racquetball courts, plus a banquet room and kitchen.
The Arab Historic Village also is located on the grounds of the Arab City Park. Begun in 1991, the village includes ten buildings representing different historical eras from the late 1800s through the 1940s. It hosts such events as "Back When Day," which is held annually on the last Saturday in April and features demonstrations of quilting, milling corn, and blacksmithing; "Fall Fest," which is held the second Saturday in September and features arts and crafts and food vendors; and "Santa in the Park," which is held the first Friday after Thanksgiving.
The Poke Salat Bluegrass Festival is held in downtown Arab on the third Saturday in May in reference to the German word for
salad that is made from pokeweed, a toxic plant that requires special preparation.
Marshall County Heritage Book Committee. Heritage of Marshall County. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2000.
James P. Kaetz
Published October 27, 2011
Last updated July 12, 2012