Located in Elmore County, Wetumpka was a judicial and economic stronghold before the Civil War. Selected as county seat in 1866, Wetumpka is still the economic center of Elmore County. Situated on the banks of the Coosa
River, Wetumpka provides visitors and residents with a view of the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The city has a mayor-council
form of government.
Wetumpka's history traces its roots back to the Indian, French, and British inhabitants of the area. Originally settled by the Creeks, an Indian village known as Taskigi occupied the area until the French established Fort Toulouse in 1714. Wetumpka was considered part of the French colony of Louisiana and thus was subject to French authority. As British power increased, so did tensions between England and France, resulting in the withdrawal of the French in 1763. No longer a part of Louisiana, Wetumpka was incorporated into the British province of Illinois until 1798. In 1800, the town was considered a part of the Mississippi Territory, and white settlers arrived in increasing numbers. The area came under U.S. control after forces led by Gen. Andrew Jackson defeated the Creeks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend; Jackson moved into Fort Toulouse, renovated it, and renamed it Fort Jackson.
Fort Jackson became the judicial center of the area, and court sessions were held there until 1818, when Montgomery County was created. Originally divided into eastern Wetumpka, in Coosa County, and western Wetumpka, in Autauga County, the city was incorporated in February 1834 (the east side in January 1834, the west side in February 1834). In 1836, an East Coast newspaper declared that Wetumpka (along with Chicago) was one of the most promising cities in what was then referred to as "the west." By 1841, the state government had completed a penitentiary in Wetumpka; in 1845, when the decision was made to move the state capital from Tuscaloosa, Wetumpka, and Montgomery were the top choices for the new location.
Like much of the rest of the state, Wetumpka suffered a severe economic downturn during and after the Civil War; its population
declined from 3,000 in 1875 to only 619 in 1879. Wetumpka rebuilt itself slowly throughout the early twentieth century. The
city built a new jail, established electrical power and a public water supply, replaced wooden-plank sidewalks with concrete ones, and constructed a post office. By 1931, the Bibb Graves Bridge was completed. A landmark for the town, the bridge is one of only two in Alabama that is suspended by reinforced concrete. Overcoming fires and floods, by 1950 Wetumpka was the established economic center
of the county.
Before the Civil War, Wetumpka imported and exported goods on steamboats plying the Coosa River. After the war, the city was devastated, but unlike other areas, the buildings had not been burned. Wetumpka citizens, however, were left with no money and few possessions. Many were forced to sell their land to pay taxes. Left with nothing but the soil, they had to rely primarily on agriculture. In 1897, the 5th District Agricultural School was built, establishing agriculture as the main economic resource for the city. The school, which would later become Wetumpka High School, provided free scientific instruction in agriculture. In 1906, the L&N Railroad constructed a new depot in Wetumpka, allowing goods to flow in and out of the city more easily. Growth and economic development slowed during WWI but picked up again with the construction of a post office in 1923 and the paving of a road between Montgomery and Wetumpka the following year. Progress halted again during WWII, but in 1950, the city established a planning board to develop more economic diversity and independence.
Wetumpka's population was 6,528 at the time of the 2010 Census. Of that number 67.9 percent were white, 26.1 percent African American, 3.8 percent Hispanic, 1.8 percent two or more races, 1.1 percent Asian, 0.6 percent Native American, and 0.4 percent Asian, and 0.1 percent as Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander. The city's median household income was $36,585, and per capita income was $16,868.
The workforce in present-day Wetumpka is divided among the following occupational categories:
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (19.1 percent)
· Manufacturing (13.3 percent)
· Public administration (12.0 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services (9.7 percent)
· Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (9.3 percent)
· Retail trade (8.3 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (7.2 percent)
· Construction (6.0 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing and utilities (6.0 percent)
· Finance, insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (4.2 percent)
· Wholesale trade (4.1 percent)
· Information (0.6 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (0.2 percent)
Public schools in Wetumpka are part of the Elmore County School System and include two elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school, serving approximately 3,080 students with 177 teachers. Three private schools also serve the area.
Only 12 miles from Wetumpka, Interstate 65 and Interstate 85 provide easy access to Birmingham and Atlanta, respectively. U.S. Highway 231, mainly used by commuters, runs north-south through the city. Wetumpka is also served by state highways 9, 14, and 111. The Wetumpka Municipal Airport serves general aviation.
Events and Places of Interest
Wetumpka offers numerous events and attractions for residents and visitors. Perhaps the most famous site is the Wetumpka impact crater, an 83-million-year-old, five-mile-wide meteor crater. Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson State Park offers visitors exhibits and living-history events that trace the site's 600 years of history. Open year-round, visitors can explore the French and American forts or walk to a Mississippian-period mound site. Once a month, the site hosts living history activities by re-enactors who present life during the French and American periods of the site's history.
The Elmore County Art Guild and Wetumpka Depot Players give visitors the chance to view local art and see plays. The historic Fain Theater was built in the 1930's and is no longer in service, but it was a popular movie theatre. The Museum of Black History, established by former mayor Jeanette Barrett and other black community leaders, focuses on the histories of Elmore County families, the communities in which they lived, and their churches. The museum is housed in the old Elmore County Training School, built in 1925 for African American students during segregation.
Adrienne A. Thompson
Published July 7, 2009
Last updated March 20, 2013