You might think your town is old, but it probably isn’t the oldest in the country.
That is unless you live in St. Augustine, FL. Which looks pretty good for being 454 years old.
That’s older than America for those playing at home.
So that got us thinking, what is the oldest city in Alabama? And how old is that when you put it into perspective of St. Augustine or American Independence in 1776?
Because even if your Alabama city or town is old, it isn’t really all that old in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Pyramids in Egypt were built around 2600 BC, a cool 4100 years before St. Augustine.
And now that we have you thinking about how the time line of your existence is really kind of unimpressive on the timeline of history, let’s drop right into the analysis.
These are the 10 oldest cities and towns in the Heart Of Dixie according to their ‘date of foundation’:
- Huntsville (Photos)
- Mobile (Photos)
- Athens (Photos)
- Montgomery (Photos)
- Tuscaloosa (Photos)
- Russellville (Photos)
- Tuscumbia (Photos)
- Decatur (Photos)
- Florence (Photos)
- Tallassee (Photos)
For being 207 years old, Huntsville doesn’t look a day over 40. And the newest city in Alabama? That would be Mountain Brook — a brand spanking 76 years old.
How We Determined When A City Was Founded In Alabama… Or Is It Settled?
Surprisingly, there’s not a definitive data set that contains the dates of incorporation or settlement for cities in America. Put differently, there’s no official data set from the Census that contains when every place in America was founded.
So what did we do instead?
Use the internet’s version of official government data — Wikipedia of course!
For the majority of cities in Alabama, Wikipedia offers data on some kind of ‘date of foundation’ in the infobox. Unfortunately, because it’s Wikipedia and not a sprawling government bureaucracy, that can take the form of any of the following nomenclature (plus others):
And then even more stuff — for example Atlanta has a ‘Terminus’ date, whatever that is.
If no ‘date of foundation’ was found in the infobox, we looked to the general text in the History section of the city for ‘Founded in XXXX’.
All in all, we were able to collect data on 77 out of 115 in Alabama with over 5,000 people. That’s good for a 67.0% completion rate.
We then ranked them from oldest to newest with Huntsville turning out to be the matriarch of Alabama at the ripe old age of 207.
Here’s a look at the top ten and a snippet of their history from Wikipedia.
The first settlers of the area were Muscogee-speaking people. The Chickasaw traditionally claim to have settled around 1300 after coming east across the Mississippi. A combination of factors, including depopulation due to disease, land disputes between the Choctaw and Cherokee, and pressures from the United States government had largely depopulated the area prior to Revolutionary War veteran John Hunt’s arrival and settlement in the land around the Big Spring in 1805. The 1805 Treaty with the Chickasaws and the Cherokee Treaty of Washington of 1806 ceded native claims to the United States Government. The area was subsequently purchased by LeRoy Pope, who named the area Twickenham after the home village of his distant kinsman Alexander Pope.
Twickenham was carefully planned, with streets laid out on the northeast to southwest direction based on the Big Spring. However, due to anti-British sentiment during this period, the name was changed to ‘Huntsville’ to honor John Hunt, who had been forced to move to other land south of the new city.
The European settlement of Mobile began with French colonists, who in 1702 constructed Fort Louis de la Louisiane, at Twenty-seven Mile Bluff on the Mobile River, as the first capital of the French colony of La Louisiane. It was founded by French Canadian brothers Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, to establish control over France’s claims to La Louisiane. Bienville was appointed as royal governor of French Louisiana in 1701. Mobile’s Roman Catholic parish was established on July 20, 1703, by Jean-Baptiste de la Croix de Chevrières de Saint-Vallier, Bishop of Quebec. The parish was the first French Catholic parish established on the Gulf Coast of the United States.
In 1704 the ship Pélican delivered 23 French women to the colony; passengers had contracted yellow fever at a stop in Havana. Though most of the ‘Pélican girls’ recovered, numerous colonists and neighboring Native Americans contracted the disease in turn and many died. This early period was also the occasion of the importation of the first African slaves, transported aboard a French supply ship from the French colony of Saint-Domingue in the Caribbean, where they had first been held. The population of the colony fluctuated over the next few years, growing to 279 persons by 1708, yet descending to 178 persons two years later due to disease.
Founded in 1818 by John Coffee, Robert Beaty, John D. Carroll, and John Read, Athens is one of the oldest incorporated cities in the State of Alabama, having been incorporated one year prior to the state’s admittance to the Union in 1819. Limestone County was also created by an act of the Alabama Territorial Legislature in 1818. The town was first called Athenson, but was incorporated as Athens after the ancient city in Greece. The town’s first mayor was Samuel Tanner, and the Tanner area, south of Athens, was named on his behalf.
Prior to European colonization, the east bank of the Alabama River was inhabited by the Alibamu tribe of Native Americans. The Alibamu and the Coushatta, who lived on the west side of the river, were descended from the Mississippian culture. This civilization had numerous chiefdoms throughout the Midwest and South along the Mississippi and its tributaries, and had built massive earthwork mounds as part of their society about 950–1250 AD. Its largest location was at Cahokia, in present-day Illinois east of St. Louis.
The historic tribes spoke mutually intelligible Muskogean languages, which were closely related. Present-day Montgomery is built on the site of two Alibamu towns: Ikanatchati (Ekanchattee or Ecunchatty or Econachatee), meaning ‘red earth;’ and Towassa, built on a bluff called Chunnaanaauga Chatty. The first Europeans to travel through central Alabama were Hernando de Soto and his expedition, who in 1540 recorded going through Ikanatchati and camping for one week in Towassa.
Nearly 12,000 years ago, Native Americans or Paleo-Indians arrived in what today is referred to as the Deep South. They were hunter-gatherers who pursued the megafauna that became extinct following the end of the Pleistocene age. After thousands of years, successive indigenous cultures developed a rich and complex agricultural society. Archaeologists called these people the Mississippians of the Mississippian culture; they were Mound Builders. Their large earthworks, built for political and religious rituals roughly from 900AD to 1500AD, expressed their cosmology. Their earthwork mounds and great plazas survive throughout the valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, as well as their tributaries in the Southeast.
Descendant Native American tribes include the Creek (Muskogee people). Also among the historical tribes living in the area of present-day Alabama at the time of European contact were the Iroquoian-speaking Cherokee in the interior, believed to have migrated south centuries before from the Great Lakes area. The tribes of the coastal plain and Piedmont included the Muskogean-speaking Alabama (Alibamu), Chickasaw, Choctaw, Koasati, and Mobile.
After the War of 1812, the U.S. government appropriated money to improve a route from Nashville to New Orleans. It was named Jackson’s Military Road after Andrew Jackson, and it passed through what became Russellville. (Present-day Jackson Avenue and Jackson Highway, U.S. Route 43, follow portions of the original road.)
Tuscumbia had its beginnings when the Michael Dixon family arrived about 1816. They traded with Chief Tucumseh for the Tuscumbia Valley and built their home at the head of the big spring. From these humble dwellings quickly developed a village known as the Big Spring Community. The men of the community requested that the state legislature incorporate them as a city. The town was incorporated in 1820 as Ococoposa and is one of Alabama’s oldest towns. In 1821, its name was changed to Big Spring and on December 22, 1822, to Tuscumbia, after the Chief Rainmaker of the Chickasaws.
Initially the area was known as ‘Rhodes Ferry Landing’, named for Dr. Henry W. Rhodes, an early landowner who operated a ferry that crossed the Tennessee River in the 1810s at the present-day location of Rhodes Ferry Park. The city was incorporated as Decatur in 1821. It was named in honor of Stephen Decatur; after he was killed in a duel in 1820, President Monroe directed that the Alabama town be named for him.
Florence was surveyed for the Cypress Land Company in 1818 by Italian surveyor Ferdinand Sannoner, who named it after Florence, the capital of the Tuscany region of Italy. Florence, Alabama was incorporated in 1826.
The historic Creek peoples in this area are believed to have descended from the Mississippian culture, which flourished throughout the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys and the Southeast from about 1000 to 1450. They were mound builders, who created massive earthwork mounds as structures for political and religious purposes. They relied greatly on fishing and riverway trading at their major sites (c.f. Moundville, Tuscaloosa).
Oh How Time Flies For The Oldest Towns And Cities In Alabama
So there you have it, a look at some of the oldest places to live in Alabama. If we missed your city’s ‘date of foundation’, let us know in the comments. Or feel free to take a look at the table of the oldest places in Alabama.
And now, let’s raise our glasses, to the next 100 years of existence for these cities and towns in the Heart Of Dixie.
And for those wondering, here are the newest additions to Alabama:
- Mountain Brook (Founded in 1942)
- Gardendale (Founded in 1942)
- Jacksonville (Founded in 1942)
Detailed List Of The Oldest Cities In Alabama