Decatur is a city in Limestone and Morgan Counties in the U.S. state of Alabama. The city, known as "The River City", is located in Northern Alabama on the banks of Wheeler Lake, along the Tennessee River. It is the largest city and county seat of Morgan County. The estimated population in 2006 was 55,778.
Decatur is also the core city of the two-county large Decatur Metropolitan Area which had 149,269 in 2006. Combined with the Huntsville Metropolitan Area, the two create the Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Area, of which, Decatur is the second largest city.
Like many southern cities in the early 1800s, Decatur's early success was based upon its location along a river. Railroad routes and boating traffic pushed the city to the front of North Alabama's economic atmosphere. The city rapidly grew into a large economic center within the Tennessee Valley and was a hub for travelers and cargo between Nashville/Chattanooga and Mobile/New Orleans. Throughout the 20th century, the city experienced steady growth, but was eclipsed as the regional economic center by a fast growing Huntsville during the space race. The city now finds its economy heavily based on manufacturing industries, cargo transit, and hi-tech industries such as General Electric, and the United Launch Alliance.
Decatur was a very important point in North Alabama during its earliest days. Decatur was the eastern terminus of the Decatur-Courtland-Tuscumbia Railroad (in the late 1820s and early 1830s), the first railway built west of the Appalachian Mountains.
Because of its location on the strategic Memphis & Charleston Railroad, Decatur was the site of several encounters during the American Civil War. All but three buildings were burned down during the 1864 Battle of Decatur, when Decatur was referred to as A Tough Nut To Crack. The three that remained are the Old State Bank, Dancy-Polk House, and the Burleson-Hinds-McEntire House.
While the city was under Confederate control, plans for the Battle of Shiloh were mapped out within the Burleson-Hinds-McEntire House. These activities made the house one of the most historic buildings in Decatur.
New Decatur was a city that rose out of the ashes of former Decatur west of the railroad tracks. New Decatur was founded in 1887 and incorporated in 1889. But residents of the older Decatur resented the new town, founded and occupied by people who moved from the northern states. Animosity built until New Decatur renamed their town Albany, after Albany, N.Y., in September 1916. The impetus to meld the two towns came from the need for a bridge, instead of a ferry, across the Tennessee River. The Decatur Kiwanis Club was formed with an equal number of members from each town to organize efforts to get the state to build the bridge. In 1925, the two cities merged to form one City of Decatur. There is a noticeable difference between the two sides of town. The cities developed differently at different times, and still to this day have somewhat different cultures. Eastern portions of Decatur tend to act more suburban and traditional, while western portions tend to look more metropolitan and contemporary.
The Old State Bank, on the edge of downtown, is the oldest bank building in the State of Alabama, at 173 years old. The first wave pool in the United States was built here and is still in operation at the Point Mallard Aquatic Center. Decatur has the largest Victorian era home district in the state of Alabama. Decatur is also home to Alabama's oldest opera house, the (Cotaco Opera House), which still stands on Johnston Street.
In the past its industries included repair shops of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, car works, engine works, tannery, bottling plants, and manufacturers of lumber, sashes and blinds, fertilizers, cigars, flour, cottonseed oil, and various other products.
The northern portion of Decatur sits on top of a short hill that overlooks the Tennessee River, this creates a very steep dropoff to the river shore a Rhodes Ferry Park. This hill allows the "Steamboat Bill" Memorial Bridge to leave the mainland at grade without any major sloping required more height to cross the river while not interfering with Decatur's heavy barge traffic. This hill extends from the banks of the river about south to the 14th St./Magnolia St. intersection with 6th Avenue (US 31).
South past the 14th St. and 6th Ave. intersection, land continues to remain flat. South, and also west, past Alabama 67 there are a few minor mountains that sit within the city limits.
Decatur is located at (34.580992, -86.983392).
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 59.9 square miles (155.1 km²), of which, 53.4 square miles (138.3 km²) of it is land and 6.5 square miles (16.8 km²) of it (10.83%) is water.
Decatur is, unofficially, divided into four different regions of town (Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, Southwest). The reason for the existence of these four regions is because of The Beltline. Southeast and Northeast Decatur already existed as parts of town, but were simply thought of as one, as there was a much lower population at that time in the West. Southwest consists mostly of the area bordered by 6th Avenue (US 31), 8th Street W, and Moulton Street. Northwest is bordered by Moulton Street, Central Parkway, and 14th Street W.
Two halves of town were successfully created in the years following the completion of The Beltline as a bypass. While there are few major cultural differences between the East and the West, minute differences such as street grid patterns, zoning patterns, and architectural styles are noticeable.
There were 21,824 households out of which 31.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.7% were married couples living together, 13.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.4% were non-families. 28.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.43 and the average family size was 2.99.
In the city the population was spread out with 25.4% under the age of 18, 8.8% from 18 to 24, 29.6% from 25 to 44, 23.1% from 45 to 64, and 13.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 92.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 89.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $37,192, and the median income for a family was $47,574. Males had a median income of $37,108 versus $22,471 for females. The per capita income for the city was $20,431. About 11.9% of families and 14.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 21.2% of those under age 18 and 11.1% of those age 65 or over.
Decatur is also known as the "Home of Meow Mix", after the company bought a facility in town, and now utilizes its riverfront property to ship the finished product up and down the Tennessee River.
Being part of the Huntsville-Decatur CSA, the city lies within the region having the most engineers per person in the nation.
A recent BRAC Base realignment will bring a population, conservatively estimated at 5,000–10,000 people (not including their families), to the area surrounding Redstone Arsenal.
Approval of the United Launch Alliance combined Lockheed-Martin and Boeing's rocket manufacturing contracts to a central location at the plant in Decatur. All satellite launching rockets used by the U.S. government will be built in Decatur. This approval brought over 230 new jobs to the Decatur area. The ULA plant utilizes the Tennessee River to ship the rockets to Cape Canaveral.
In March 2008, a $1.3 Billion development, including a Bass Pro Shops was announced for the Interstate 65/Interstate 565 interchange inside the city limits. The development, named Sweetwater, will include more than of retail space, of medical and office space, 2,700 residences, and an entertainment venue with seating for up to 8,000 people. A school, fire department, parks and lakes are expected to support the future development.
The Alabama Jubilee, begun in 1977, is the oldest hot air balloon race south of the Kentucky Derby's Great Balloon Race (from 1973). With visiting populations rising into 75,000, people crowd around numerous seven-story tall inflating balloons. Because of the Alabama Jubilee, Decatur has been named "The Ballooning Capital of Alabama" by the Alabama State Legislature.
The Spirit of America Festival is one of the largest free 4th of July festivals in the south. More than 65,000 people arrive in Decatur to watch annual celebrations and the Miss Point Mallard Beauty Pageant.
Riverfest is a celebration sponsored by the Decatur Jaycees. Set at Rhodes Ferry Park, along the beautiful Tennessee River, barbecuers come from all over the country to try their luck at beating Big Bob Gibson's Barbecue, the seven-time world champion winner.
Another big celebration in Decatur and North Alabama, the Racking Horse World Celebration, attracts numerous horses from around the world to compete in the largest racking horse competition. Set in the Racking Horse World Celebration Arena, the celebration draws up to 75,000 fans and competitors each year.
The Decatur Daily has been the only major newspaper based in the Decatur Metropolitan Area since 1912, and the one of the only family owned newspapers in Alabama. It has an average daily circulation of 20,824 and a Sunday circulation of 23,840. The paper circulates in the morning to an area that includes Morgan County, Lawrence County, and Limestone County, and parts of Cullman County, and Winston County
The Huntsville Times is the only other newspaper with a larger circulation in the Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Area, and has been in circulation since 1996 to most area counties, when the Huntsville News closed. Before then, the News was the morning paper, and the Times was the afternoon paper. After the News closed, the Times remained an afternoon paper until 2004.
Decatur is served by two major airports. The Huntsville International Airport, in suburban Huntsville is the second busiest airport in Alabama, behind Birmingham International Airport. The city is also served by the busiest regional airport in Alabama, the Pryor Field Regional Airport.
Decatur, being only a mid-sized city, has not yet seen the conveniences of a major controlled access highway passing through the city limits.
Decatur's main thoroughfares are 6th Avenue (US 31) and The Beltline (State Route 67). 6th Avenue begins as both Alabama 20, Alternate U.S. 72, and US 31 split after being carried by the twin-span "Steamboat Bill" Hudson Memorial Bridge that crosses Tennessee River at the north central part of town. Alabama 20/Alternate U.S. 72 continues west towards The Shoals, after the Beltline begins in the vicinity of the Solutia plant. 6th Avenue continues southward where it eventually intersects with Beltline Road. After that intersection, 6th Avenue continues southward to Birmingham as Decatur Highway.
The Beltline was built as a western bypass to relieve congestion on 6th Avenue. In doing so, however, this created another problem as sprawl quickly developed along the new arterial. Construction is currently under way to widen the road from four to six lanes with the project expected to be completed by 2010.
|Rank||Intersection||Traffic Per Day|
|1|| 6th Avenue (US 31)|
Alternate US 72
|2|| The Beltline (AL 67)|
Spring Avenue SW
|3|| 6th Avenue (US 31)|
Stratford Road SE
|4|| PT Mallard Parkway (AL 67)|
|5|| The Beltline|
In addition, there are plans to transform Alabama Highway 20/Alternate US 72 into an extension of Interstate 565 into the city. Governor Bob Riley has said he will make sure that plans for the road will be put on the fast track, since more than 85 vehicle accidents occur on Highway 20's final approach into Decatur each year.
However, both Austin and Decatur failed to make adequate yearly progress in 2006 as mandated in the No Child Left Behind Act. The state said Austin's 86 percent graduation rate was four points too low.
Decatur High missed in two categories: percent of special education students the system tested in reading and percent tested in math. The graduate rate was 76 percent. However, the graduation rate is unreliable since students who move to different schools are considered "dropouts" and this drastically distorts the figures of how many students actually graduate.
The only institution of higher education located within the Decatur city limits is Calhoun Community College It has three campuses; the main campus is located just north of the city on Highway 31.
Local Higher Education