A County Older Than the State-Morgan County
Alabama Territorial Legislature created this county in 1818 from lands ceded by Cherokee Indians in 1816. County first named Cotaco, for large creek in county. Named Morgan County in 1821 for Maj. Gen. Daniel Morgan, Revolutionary hero, winner over British at Battle of Cowpens. County often invaded by both armies in War Between the States. Until 1891 county seat at Somerville. Then county seat moved to Decatur. Named for Stephen Decatur, naval hero against Tripoli pirates and in War of 1812.
[Before 1965: Courthouse, Decatur]
Battle of Decatur
The Battle of Decatur, Oct. 26-29, 1864, was the result of Confederate Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood's effort to move his army across the Tennessee River and into central Tennessee in an attempt to reclaim Nashville. The engagement occurred as part of the larger Franklin-Nashville Campaign. The Union garrison at Decatur, commanded by U.S. Brig. Gen. Robert S. Granger, prevented Hood from crossing and forced him to move his army westward and eventually cross the river at Tuscumbia some 40 miles away. Ultimately the engagement here would delay Hood's crossing of the Tennessee River and contribute to his failure in December to retake Nashville for the Confederacy. A lack of provisions for his starving army and stiff resistance put forth by Granger's garrison, combined with the arrival of two Union gunboats, convinced Hood and his superior, Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, who had arrived on the scene the night of Oct. 27, that further action against Decatur would be foolhardy. During the engagement, the South suffered approx. 450 casualties, whereas the Union lost 155 men.
Cedar Plains Christian Church
Ceadar Plains Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was the first congregation in Alabama - 1837 - of the first denomination formed on American soil - 1832 - Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Originally meeting in homes, the first structure, a log cabin, was erected in 1849, serving the dual purpose as a church and school for early pioneers. The first frame structure was erected in 1884, refurbished in 1948, and destroyed by a tornado in 1935. The new structure was dedicated October, 14, 1956.
Cherokee Trail of Tears
Of the various detachments that removed the Cherokee People from their home lands in the southeastern United States, three of them landed in Decatur at what became Rhodes Ferry Park. Due to the difficulty of navigating the Muscle Shoals portion of the Tennessee River, the Cherokee were transported from Decatur Landing to Tuscumbia Landing using the newly built Tuscumbia, Courtland, and Decatur Railroad. On March 7, 1837, the Major Ridge party docked at Decatur with 471 Cherokee. The Lt. Edward Deas detachment landed here on June 9, 1838 with 800 Cherokee, and on June 21, 1838, the Lt. Robert H. K. Whiteley detachment landed with 1000 Cherokee. Out of the three detachments, there was but one documented fatality in Decatur, that of an elderly Cherokee woman. A second documented fatality happened en route between Decatur and Tuscumbia involving a Cherokee man crushed by the train.
[2015: Rhodes Ferry Park, Decatur]
First Permanent Court House, Morgan County
Built circa 1837 with special taxes levied for that purpose by Alabama Legislature, 1836. Replaced first court house, built circa 1825. Somerville was incorporated, 1819, county seat 1819-1891. Cotaco County created February 8, 1818, renamed Morgan County, June 14, 1821.
First Presbyterian Church (USA)
This church was formed in 1853 by the Tuscumbia Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. The first building, located on the southeast corner of Bank and Church streets in Decatur, was a single story, plastered and painted structure with large windows and a brick foundation. The Civil War interrupted services, and in 1864 the building was dismantled by the Union Army along with most of Decatur. After the Civil War, the congregation worshipped with the Methodists in a log structure used as a church and school. Rev. Alexander Penland and others assisted in the reformation of this Presbyterian Church and by 1873 a small frame church was built on this site. The Presbyterian Church of Decatur was incorporated in 1903. The first brick structure was erected in 1904, and the current Christopher Wren sanctuary was constructed in 1953 with additional expansion in 1978.
Since 1853, this congregation has worked to fulfill its mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ, who love God, love one another, and serve the world.”
[701 Oak Street Northeast, Decatur]
First Railroad West of Allegheny Mountains
Tuscumbia Courtland & Decatur RR-Built 1833 to bypass shoals in Tennessee River-absorbed by Memphis & Charleston and by Southern Railway in 1898.
Gen. Joseph Wheeler
For whom this lake in Tennessee River is named lived 1836-1906. His home 6 miles west. Lt. Gen. in Confederate Army 1864-65. Major Gen. U. S. Army 1898. Named by Alabama to Hall of Fame, Washington 1922.
Judge James E. Horton Jr. Hailed for Legal Courage
Circuit Judge James E. Horton Jr., who presided over Haywood Patterson’s highly publicized retrial in Decatur in 1933, gained widespread acclaim for his courage in voiding the conviction. Horton cited a lack of evidence to corroborate the accusations of rape and granted a new trial. Under intense pressure from the state’s attorney general and chief justice, Horton stepped down from the case. He lost re-election in 1934 but was comforted by carrying his home county of Limestone by a large margin. Horton’s decision is quoted in a courtroom plaque in Athens: “So far as the law is concerned it knows neither native nor alien, Jew nor Gentile, black nor white. This case is no different from any other. We have only to do our duty without fear or favor.”
[Morgan County Courthouse, Decatur]
King’s Memorial United Methodist Church
King’s Memorial United Methodist Church, formerly St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church, evolved out of the Decatur First Methodist Episcopal Church, founded in 1827. In 1854, Richard Rather, Charity Barnes Rather, and Robert Murphy led the church’s black congregants in hiring Sawney Price to build a separate sanctuary for them at Lafayette and Bank Street. After the Civil War, Northern Methodists returned to Alabama and, in 1867 at Talladega, the congregation was received into the Alabama Conference. During this Reconstruction era, the Methodist Freedmen’s Aid Society used the church building, then located on Market and Oak Street, as a school. In 1881, the congregation moved to this site, soon after which the City of Decatur leased the church building as the first city-supported facility for black education. Lightning destroyed the church building and parsonage in 1907. The congregation worshipped in railroad cars until famed architect Wallace A. Rayfield was employed to design a raised cottage-style brick sanctuary. The Rev. Willis Jefferson King, later elected Bishop, was invited to lead a revival which proved so successful that the congregation changed the church’s name to honor the preacher’s father in 1908. In 1978, King’s Memorial and Jones Chapel Congregations united to strengthen the Methodist presence in the area. Church buildings built in 1986 and 2014 are currently located on this McCartney Street site.
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Howell Echols, Pastor
H. H. Cantrell, Pastor
William H. Blackwell
Lawson H. Hunley, Pastor
Alexander Samuel Williams, Pastor
W. L. Darius, Pastor
Jonas C. Chuman, Pastor
H. L. Murphy
J. E. Martin
C. H. Troup
F. W. Williams
J. H. Harris
H. J. Banks
Matthew H. Banks
W. G. H. Armstrong
[2014: 702 McCartney St. NW, Decatur]
Abundant water and fertile land in this area south of the Tennessee River attracted pioneer settlement in the early 1800s. The community established here by three Virginia-born brothers, Hopkins, John, and Theophilus Lacy, took on their name and became the site for a U.S. post office in February 1831. "Lacy's Spring" became "Lacey's Spring" when the postal seal furnished by Washington officials inserted an "e" into the name.
Hopkins Lacy had been active in Tennessee politics prior to his immigration into Alabama and John reportedly had served in the North Carolina militia during the American Revolution. The Lacys became important landowners in the area, promoting settlement and serving in public office. All three brothers were buried in Bartee Cemetery, west of this site.
The spring that had drawn the Lacys to Alabama in the early 19th century was covered over by highway construction in the late 20th century. Built in the 1960s, the north-bound lanes of Hwy 231 obscured the spring but a 48-inch tile placed into the water source allowed the spring to continue flowing.
[2000: Hwy 231]
Old State Bank Building
Erected 1833. Cost $9,482. Classic Revival design. Listed on National Register of Historic Places. Decatur Branch, Bank of The State of Alabama. Chartered 1832 by state legislature, profitable until 1837, charter revoked 1842 and closed. 1842-1901 used as residence, Union Army supply depot, and First National Bank. 1901 purchased by Dr. F. Y. Cantwell. Renovated 1934 by C.W.A. as museum and civic hall. Donated by Mrs. W. B. Edmundson and American Legion Post No. 15 to City. Restored 1982. Site is original lot No. 60 of 1824 Town Plan.
[1983: 624 Bank St., Decatur]
Rising Sun Lodge No. 29
Ancient Free & Accepted Masons
Dr. Henry W. Rhodes, for whom Rhodes Ferry Landing was named, was Decatur’s first Postmaster and one of the organizers of the Lodge (Nov. 22, 1826). Chartered in 1827, its first Worshipful Master was Colonel Francis Dancy, builder of the Dancy-Polk House. It is the oldest Lodge in Morgan County and the first fraternal organization in Decatur. Early members were the pioneer settlers of Morgan County. Two of Decatur’s founders, Isaac Lane and General Jesse Winston Garth, were Masons and Directors of the Decatur Land Company which laid out the city streets. A Lodge was built in 1834 with the lower floor used for school and church purposes. Rising Sun Lodge was destroyed by the enemy during the War Between the States (Nov. 25, 1864). In 1873 a Lodge was built on the NW corner of Bank and Pond Streets, across from the Old State Bank. W.W. Littlejohn and Colonel C.C. Harris were Masons and founders of the Decatur Land Improvement & Furnace Company which planned the city of New Decatur (1887). Three members, all doctors in faithful discharge of their Hippocratic Oath, were lost to the 1888 Yellow Fever epidemic. James McGinnis Brundidge, PM, is the only Mason in the history of the Alabama Grand Lodge to be bestowed the title of ‘Honorable Past Grand Master’ (1899). In 1934, the Lodge moved into the Masonic Temple on Johnston Street, formerly the Cotaco Opera House.
[2014: 1 Walnut Dr., Decatur]
Schaudies - Banks Cottage
During the 1870s, Samuel Schaudies and Abbie Robinson Schaudies moved to this site from Huntsville and purchased this five-room cottage in 1881 for $800.00. The deed lists this site as part of Lot 84, "Old Town" Decatur. In 1875, their daughter, Tulie Ophelia, was born and, in 1898, she married H.J. Banks in the parlor. He was a descendant of a pioneer Decatur family, notary public, businessman, and son of a city alderman. Their daughter, Athelyne Celest, was born and lived in this cottage for 98 years. She was a tireless church worker, educator, and philanthropist. An academy, city park, and elementary school were named in her honor.
[2006: Sycamore St. at Pound St., Decatur]
“Scottsboro Boys” Case Landmark Decisions
A series of racially charged trials where nine African American males ages 13 to 20 were falsely accused of raping two white women on a freight train in Alabama produced a pair of landmark civil rights decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1930s. After all-white juries in Jackson County convicted the “Scottsboro Boys,” attorneys for the International Labor Defense (ILD) guided the defendants’ appeals. They argued that the trial judge had failed to appoint adequate counsel for the accused men. The Supreme Court agreed in Powell v. Alabama (1932) to a constitutional right to a competent defense. A change of venue moved trials to Decatur, where New York attorney Samuel Leibowitz assumed the role of lead counsel for the defense. Retrials by all-white juries also ended in convictions. On appeal, the ILD successfully argued for reversal, showing that blacks had been excluded from jury duty in Morgan County. The high court ruled in Norris v. Alabama (1935) that a defendant must receive a trial by a jury of one’s peers.
"Vale of Beauty"
The restorative qualities of the mineral springs here attracted settlement in the early 1800s. Variously known as Chunn Springs (after Lancelot Chunn) and Manning Springs (after Robert Manning), the spot was named for early developers of the resort where a hotel and surrounding cabins were erected between 1818 and 1823. By 1834, when the first post ofice was established, it was called White Sulphur Springs.
Jean Joseph Giers acquired the hotel and surrounding property in 1856, renaming it "Valhermoso Springs." Into the 20th century, travelers from all over the world came to the hotel and springs seeking relief from rheumatism, insomnia, consumption, and ailments of the skin, kidneys, stomach, and liver. The hotel closed in the 1920s and was destroyed by tornado in 1950.