The first settlers came to what is now Northport in 1813 and referred to the area as Kentuck or Canetuck (perhaps because of all the stands of cane in the area) by 1816. The settlement was established at the site of an easy river crossing and became an important location for people transporting goods to and from the cotton warehouses that arose along both banks of the Black Warrior. It soon came to be called North Port for its location on the north side of the river and was officially named Northport in 1832; a post office and ferry service were established that same year. The first schools were constructed in the 1830s, and resident James Shirley constructed the first bridge over the river as well as the first brick buildings in the town. After the Civil War, a branch of the Alabama Insane Hospital (Bryce Hospital) of Tuscaloosa was established in Northport for African Americans; the site, the former mansion of resident Mims Jemison (who was killed in the war), is now a popular site for "ghost hunters."
The first newspaper in the community, the Northport Spectator, was established in 1870. The town was officially incorporated in 1871. In 1898, the Mobile and Ohio Railroad hired Tuscaloosa engineer Benjamin Hardaway to build what was at the time one of the longest train trestles (at 135 feet) in the nation over the river; in 1901, the company ran a rail line to the town. The town's school system was merged with the Tuscaloosa County School System in 1920. In 1932, a tornado killed 38 people in Northport and caused much destruction in the town.
According to the 2010 Census, Northport had a population of 23,330. Of that number, 68.4 percent of respondents identified themselves as white, 26.9 percent as black, 4.1 percent as Hispanic, 1.1 percent as two or more races, 1.1 percent as Asian, and 0.3 percent as Native American. The city's median household income was $48,814, and per capita income was $22,165.
According to 2010 Census estimates, the work force in Northport was divided among the following industrial categories:
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (31.8 percent)
· Retail trade (11.8 percent)
· Manufacturing (11.1 percent)
· Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (7.4 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, and recreation and accommodation and food services (7.3 percent)
· Construction (6.7 percent)
· Finance and insurance, and real estate and rental and leasing (5.7 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (5.3 percent)
· Public administration (4.0 percent)
· Wholesale trade (3.5 percent)
· Transportation, warehousing, and utilities (2.2 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extraction (1.9 percent)
· Information (1.3 percent)
Northport schools are part of the Tuscaloosa County School System. The schools serve approximately 5,430 students and employ 390 teachers in six elementary schools, three middle schools, and two high schools. The city also has three private schools. The University of Alabama's main campus lies just across the river to the south, as does Stillman College.
Northport is bisected by State Highway 69, which runs north-south through the city, U.S. Highway 11, which runs south from the city, U.S. Highway 43, which runs northwest-southwest, and U.S. Highway 82, which runs east-west. Tuscaloosa Regional Airport lies 2.5 miles to the west of Northport.
Events and Places of Interest
Each October, the city of Northport hosts the Kentuck Festival of the Arts in Kentuck Park. The event draws hundreds of artists and thousands of visitors and features folk and contemporary art as well as traditional crafts, including pottery, quilting, and basketry. In addition to vendors selling their wares, the festival also offers educational craft demonstrations, musical entertainment, and food. Art Night, held on the first Thursday of each month, gives visitors the opportunity to visit Northport's many art galleries and often take part in arts and crafts activities. The galleries open their doors after hours for this event and frequently offer arts and crafts demonstrations. Nearby Tuscaloosa holds its Art and Soul event on the same evening, and bus service is available to take attendees back and forth between both events.
On the first Tuesday in December, the city hosts Dickens Downtown, during which the town takes on the look of nineteenth-century England, the period setting of Charles Dickens's famous A Christmas Carol. This annual holiday event attracts many thousands of visitors.
The Northport Heritage Museum, located in a historic house built in 1907, is home to artifacts, furnishings, documents, and photographs relating to the history and development of Northport. Special collections include the A. H. Bean World Photographic Collection and the Peterson Military Uniform Collection. The museum is located in the Northport Community Center Park, which is also home to the 1830 Umbria Schoolhouse, moved to the location by the Friends of Historic Northport in 2006 from the nearby town of Sawyerville. It is believed to be the oldest school structure in the state. The Kentuck Arts & Crafts Center, housed in a 1920s commercial building, offers works by local artisans for sale.
Several Northport structures are listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage, among them are the Clements House (ca. 1850s), the Maxwell-Peters House (1865), the Watson-Jones House (1831), and the Winn-Rice House (1840). Byler Road (begun in 1850), a historic route formerly known as Byler's Turnpike, is on the National Register of Historic Places, as are the Northport Historic District, the East Northport Historic District, the John Hassell House (1825), the James Shirley House (1825), and the Wilson-Clements House (1825).
Hidden Meadows Golf Course is a public 18-hole facility, and Lake Lurleen State Park is located 15 minutes from town; it offers boat rentals, camping, fishing, picnic facilities, and a designated swimming area on the 250 acre lake.
Claire M. Wilson
Published January 12, 2012
Last updated February 27, 2013