Located in the northwestern part of Alabama, Tuscumbia is the county seat of Colbert County. Incorporated in 1820 as Occocopoosa, its name was changed to Big Spring in 1821 and in 1822, to Tuscumbia. It is one of Alabama's oldest towns. It has a mayor-council form of government, with a five-member elected council. Tuscumbia is the birthplace of Helen Keller (1880-1968) and home of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.
U.S. senator and notable jurist Howell Heflin (1921-2005) grew up in Tuscumbia, and Robert Burns Lindsay (1824-1902), who served as governor from 1870 to 1872, spent much of his professional life in the city. Baseball star Henry Emmett "Heinie" Manush (1901-1972) was born in Tuscumbia.
Tuscumbia lies in the area of Alabama originally traversed by French traders. Between 1815 and 1817, permanent non-Indian settlers arrived. They found rich farmland and abundant game. In 1820, Gen. Andrew Jackson oversaw completion of a military road connecting Tennessee with Louisiana, passing through Tuscumbia along the way. It became the area's major overland transportation route. The Tennessee River provided the area with another potential transportation route, but a 43-mile stretch of shoals made the river nearly impassable. Despite this, Tuscumbia's accessible location and fertile soil allowed it to become north Alabama's farming, agriculture, and commercial center.
The 1820s and 1830s saw an increase in the number of businesses that opened in Tuscumbia. Town business leaders established a steamboat landing and lobbied for creation of a railroad line to bypass the shoals. The line, on the Tuscumbia, Courtland and Decatur (TC&D) Railroad, was completed in 1832; the TC&D Railroad experimented with the use of dry sand as a way to provide traction between the track and the engine's wheels, and this practice remains in use around the world today. Tuscumbia was also an important postal routing center between Nashville and New Orleans. By the 1840s, the town had six stores, three hotels, three cabinetmakers, two doctors, a wagon maker, a blacksmith, a horse-powered mill, and a public school.
By 1850, Tuscumbia was a major railroad hub for train traffic throughout the South. During the Civil War, this made the town a major target of the Union Army, which destroyed Tuscumbia Landing and other parts of the town. After the war, Tuscumbia experienced renewed growth. In 1872, the city voted to open Spring Commons, an area that surrounded the city and included the big spring and Spring Creek to industry. A cotton gin, an ice company, and mills were built on the land. Although it was not until the early twentieth century that Tuscumbia began to recover from the devastation of the war, the city has many historic buildings dating from the late nineteenth century; they remain as a testament to the post-Civil War recovery and growth. Tuscumbia is believed to contain the largest collection of middle-income historic homes in Alabama. Preservation and restoration of these homes and the historic commercial buildings has made Tuscumbia a popular destination for history-oriented visitors. Tuscumbia and the Shoals benefited during the automotive boom of the 1920s and from the establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Tuscumbia's population according to the 2010 Census was 8,243. Of that number, 75.9 percent identified themselves as white, 21.2 percent as black, 1.4 percent as Hispanic or Latino, 0.4 percent as Native American, 0.3 percent as Asian, and 1.7 percent as two or more races. The city's median household income was $33,277, and per capita income was $19,854.
The workforce in present-day Tuscumbia is divided among the following occupational categories:
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (23.0 percent)
· Manufacturing (15.5 percent)
· Retail trade (12.7 percent)
· Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (8.8 percent)
· Construction (7.4 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (7.2 percent)
· Wholesale trade (6.0 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services (5.4 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing and utilities (4.4 percent)
· Finance, insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (3.6 percent)
· Public administration (3.5 percent)
· Information (2.1 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (0.4 percent)
Schools in Tuscumbia are part of the Tuscumbia City school district; the town has approximately 1,348 students and 84 teachers
in one primary school (K-2), one Intermediate school (3-5), one middle school, (6-8) and one high school (9-12). The city
also has one alternative school and one career/technical school. One private school (K-12) serves 267 students with 20 teachers.
The Northwest-Shoals Community College and the University of North Alabama provide the area's post-secondary educational opportunities.
Tuscumbia lies along two major highways: U.S. 43 runs north-south and passes through the city, and U.S. 72 runs east-west and passes just south Tuscumbia. The Tennessee River lies two miles outside the city.
Events and Places of Interest
The Alabama Music Hall of Fame, located on Highway 72 in Tuscumbia, highlights the musical accomplishments of Alabamians. It is open to the public throughout the year. Ivy Green, the birthplace of Helen Keller, is open to visitors throughout the year. The Helen Keller Festival takes place each June and commemorates Helen Keller's accomplishments. Activities include a parade, an art auction, a tour of historic sites, stage entertainment, puppet shows, a variety of sports tournaments and other athletics events. Spring Park provides a beautiful setting for picnics, arts and crafts shows, and recreation.
The Colbert County Courthouse Square Historic District, the Tuscumbia Historic District, the John and Archibald Christian
House, Ivy Green, Johnson’s Woods, the Felix Norman Grundy House, The Oaks, the John Daniel Rather House, and the William
Winston House are all listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The John Daniel Rather House is also listed on the
Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage, as are the Glencoe Plantation Cemetery and Melrose.
McWilliams, John L., ed. Tuscumbia: America's First Frontier Railroad Town. Tuscumbia, Ala.: Tuscumbia Main Street Project and Preservation Incentive Project, 1989.
The Heritage of Col bert County, Alabama. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2000.
Published May 22, 2009
Last updated June 20, 2013