Located in the southwest part of the state, Monroe County is known as the literary capital of Alabama. Pulitzer Prize–winning author Nelle Harper Lee was born and raised in the county, and a town like Monroeville served as the inspiration for her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. The county was also the home of fellow Pulitzer Prize-winner in journalism, Cynthia Tucker. Other famous writers who called Monroeville home include Mark Childress and Truman Capote. Alabama Southern Community College is the home of the Alabama Writers' Hall of Fame, and in May, in conjunction with a month-long production of To Kill a Mockingbird, the school conducts a major writer's festival celebrating the state's literary tradition. Monroe County was also home to
two Alabama governors: John Murphy and Arthur P. Bagby. The county is governed by an elected five-member commission and includes several incorporated communities.
· Founding Date: June 29, 1815
· Area: 1,025 square miles
· Population: 23,342 (2010 Census)
· Major Waterways: Alabama River
· Major Highways: U.S. 84
· County Seat: Monroeville
· Largest City: Monroeville
Monroe County was created by David Holmes, governor of Mississippi Territory, on June 29, 1815, from land acquired from the Creek Indians in the 1814 Treaty of Fort Jackson. Originally encompassing all the land ceded by the Creeks, the county amounted to a large portion of Alabama. It later was reduced in size, however, by the creation of Montgomery, Conecuh, and Wilcox counties. The county was named in honor of U.S. President James Monroe, who was then secretary of state under President James Madison. The first settlers were largely of English descent and came from Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia. Some of the earliest settlements and towns were Claiborne, Monroeville, Manistee, and Perdue Hill.
Claiborne served as the first county seat of Monroe County. In 1832, the seat was moved to the more centrally located Monroeville.
A year later, the first county courthouse burned and all records were lost. A new brick courthouse and jail were constructed
in the 1850s. In 1903, the Monroe County government built a new courthouse, and the old building became the county's first
bank. The 1903 courthouse, now known as the Old Courthouse, is part of the Monroe County Heritage Museum. The present-day
courthouse, known as the New Courthouse, was built in 1963 and continues to serve Monroe County.
Major Cities and Demographics
According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the 2010 population of Monroe County was 23,068. Of that total, 55.1 percent of
respondents identified themselves as white, 41.7 as percent African American, 1.4 percent as two or more races, 1.1 percent
as Native American, 1.1 percent as Native American, 1.0 percent as Hispanic. Monroe The largest city in the county is Monroeville,
with an estimated population of 6,519. Other significant population centers include Frisco City, Excel, Beatrice, and Vredenburgh. The median household income for Monroe County was $28,877, compared with $40,547 for the
state as a whole, and the per capita income was $17,399, compared with $22,732 for the state as a whole.
Farming was the prevailing occupation in Monroe County until well into the twentieth century. The two major crops were cotton and corn. With easy access to more than 20 river landings, the county soon became home to the largest cotton market in the state. Although farmers attempted to diversify in the early twentieth century, no other major crops proved as successful as cotton. The county's many acres of forest along the Alabama River brought the timber industry to the area, and paper mills dotted the county by the middle to late nineteenth century. In 1937, Vanity Fair opened the first apparel plant in Monroeville, and the county slowly began to shift from an agriculture-based economy to an industry-based economy. During the 1970s, the county saw its greatest industrial expansion with the opening of the Georgia-Pacific Plywood Mill, Temple-Inland Particle Board Mill, and the Alabama River Pulp-Paper Mill.
The workforce in present-day Monroe County is divided among the following occupational categories:
· Manufacturing (27.2 percent)
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (14.6 percent)
· Retail trade (10.0 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing, and utilities (8.4 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (6.7 percent)
· Construction (6.3 percent)
· Public administration (6.0 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (4.6 percent)
· Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (4.4 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (4.3 percent)
· Finance and insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (3.6 percent)
· Wholesale trade (2.7 percent)
· Information (1.1 percent)
The Monroe County school system employs approximately 560 teachers and administrators who serve more than 4,300 students in 12 primary and secondary schools. Monroe Academy, a private K–12 school located in Monroeville, employs approximately 24 teachers and administrators who serve more than 550 students. Alabama Southern Community College, a two-year institution, is located in Monroeville and offers academic and technical education programs.
Located in the southwest part of the state, Monroe County lies within the Coastal Plain physiographic section of the Atlantic Plain region. The county is comprised of approximately 1,025 square miles, making it the ninth-largest county in the state. It is bordered to the north by Wilcox County, to the east by Butler and Conecuh counties, to the south by Escambia and Baldwin counties, and to the west by Clarke County. The Gosport Sandstone, a layer of rocks underlying Claiborne in Monroe County, is known for the great number and variety of its fossils, representing more than 150 species.
The Alabama River runs along the western border of the county and is home to 144 species of fish. Tributaries of the lower Alabama River fan out across the county, offering a range of recreational opportunities and scenic views. Monroeville is the only major city in the lower basin.
U.S. Highway 84 is Monroe County's major transportation route. It runs east-west in a southerly direction across the middle
of the county. The Monroe County Airport and the Monroeville Aviation and Avionics Center are the county's two airports.
Events and Places of Interest
Monroe County offers many opportunities for recreational activities. Located in the southeast part of the county, the Claude Kelley State Park (also known as Little River State Park) covers 960 acres and includes a 25-acre lake. The park offers visitors a range of outdoor activities, including swimming, fishing, boating, picnicking, and camping. The Monroe County State Lake is a 94-acre lake located just west of Beatrice known for its bass, channel catfish, and bluegill fishing.
The Monroe County Heritage Museum encompasses several buildings in Monroeville. The 1903 Old Courthouse Museum offers permanent exhibitions on two famous Monroe County citizens: Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee. It is also the site of an annual three-week production of a stage version of To Kill a Mockingbird. Produced by the Monroe County Historical Museum with an all-volunteer cast, the play takes place in the historic Old Courthouse during the month of May. Rikard's Mill Historical Park includes a water-powered grist mill that has been in operation since 1845 and offers visitors re-enactments of folk traditions such as blacksmithing and cane-syrup making. The Alabama River Museum collections include fossils and Native American artifacts as well as a miniature replica of the Nettie Quill, a steamboat that once traveled the Alabama River.
The community of Claiborne is an abandoned town located on the Old Federal Road. It was the site of Fort Claiborne, a stockade established by Gen. Ferdinand Claiborne during the Creek War of 1813-14. The town that grew up around the fort was home to three governors, John Gayle, John Murphy, and Arthur Bagby, and was a stop on Lafayette's tour of the United States. Today, visitors can tour the James Dellet plantation and three historic cemeteries. Just south of Claiborne, visitors can tour one of the state's oldest buildings, the Perdue Hill Masonic Hall, built in 1823.
Each May, the Alabama Writers' Symposium meets at Alabama Southern Community College. Published and aspiring writers from
Monroe County and the rest of the state come together to read and critique each other's writing. The old railroad town of Peterman hosts the annual Peterman Station Arts and Crafts Show in November.
Brantley, Mary E. Early Settlers along the Old Federal Road in Monroe and Conecuh Counties, Alabama. Baltimore: Gateway Press, 1976.
The Heritage of Monroe County, Alabama. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2004.
Donna J. Siebenthaler
Published July 3, 2007
Last updated May 23, 2013