LaFayette, the county seat for Chambers County, was named to honor the American Revolutionary War hero, French general Marquis de Lafayette. Located in east-central Alabama on the ridge that divides the Chattahoochee and Tallapoosa river basins, LaFayette has been the home of such notable people as senators Thomas Heflin and Claude Pepper, southern humorist Johnson Jones Hooper, and boxing heavyweight champion Joe Louis. The city is situated on the southern edge of the Piedmont Plateau and is known for its agricultural history and beautiful historic buildings. LaFayette has a mayor-council form of government. Elections are non-partisan, with the mayor and council members serving four-year terms.
After the 1832 Treaty of Cusseta and the creation of Chambers County from lands once controlled by the Creek Indian Nation, newly elected Chambers County officials had to decide where to locate the county seat. Thomas Russell, a courthouse commissioner, suggested a place as near as possible to the center of the county. Court officials agreed, the proposed site was soon cleared and plotted. Lots were auctioned in October 1833, with proceeds from the sale financing the construction of a permanent courthouse and jail. The town was first called Chambersville, but by the time of incorporation on January 7, 1835, the town name had been changed to LaFayette.
The antebellum town grew quickly as both a center for agricultural trade and legal proceedings. Businesses and hotels were built near the public square around the courthouse, establishing the historic commercial center of LaFayette. Johnson Jones Hooper, noted southern humorist, began his literary career as the editor of LaFayette's East Alabamian newspaper. Hooper, who helped conduct the 1840 Census for neighboring Tallapoosa County, used his experiences with frontier families as inspiration for his stories and descriptions of memorable characters in his Simon Suggs stories, which first appeared in the East Alabamian in 1844.
Although the destruction of the Civil War largely passed over LaFayette, the town still struggled during Reconstruction. With the resumption of the cotton trade and the extension of the railroad through LaFayette in the 1870s, the town once again prospered. During the next 50 years, the town expanded to include, along with its many businesses, an opera house, an electric generating plant, a cotton mill, and a bank. Today, LaFayette retains many of its historic structures in the courthouse square and surrounding streets. In the late 1980s, the Chambers County courthouse and downtown LaFayette served as a set for the film Mississippi Burning.
Economic Development and Employment
Economic development in LaFayette has historically depended heavily upon the prosperity of the farmers in the surrounding country, with its economic success resting on the yields and prices of its major export, cotton. Agriculture-related industries such as grist and flour mills arrived after the Reconstruction Era, culminating with the 1920 construction of the LaFayette Cotton Mill.
LaFayette's economic fortunes fell sharply during the Great Depression as the cotton mill closed and agricultural efforts in the area shifted from cotton to livestock husbandry and forestry. LaFayette has struggled since that time to diversify its economy beyond agriculture, textiles, and government jobs. In 1979, county officials created the Chambers County Industrial Development Authority, which allowed the town to strengthen its infrastructure and recruit new industries to the area. The LaFayette Industrial Park, located at the intersections of highways 431 and 50, has approximately 800 acres available for development. A majority of working-age residents of LaFayette commute to other towns for employment.
The workforce in present-day LaFayette is divided among the following occupational categories:
· Manufacturing (35.7 percent)
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (24.8 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing and utilities (13.7 percent)
· Retail trade (11.0 percent)
· Construction (7.7 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (1.9 percent)
· Public administration (1.7 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (1.4 percent)
· Wholesale trade (1.2 percent)
· Finance, insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (0.9 percent)
LaFayette’s population at the time of the 2010 Census was 3,003. Of that number, 68.8 percent identified themselves as African American, 29.3 percent as white, 1.9 percent as Hispanic, 0.4 percent as Asian, 0.7 percent as two or more races, and 0.1 percent as Native American. The city's median household income was $26,319, and per capita income was $12,149.
The Chambers County School System serves the city of LaFayette. Within the city limits, there is one elementary school, one middle school, one high school, and one technical school. For the 2006/07 school year, Chambers County Schools enrolled 4,267 students and employed 275 teachers.
Two highways intersect in LaFayette: U.S. Highway 431, a north-south artery, and Alabama State Highway 50, an east-west route. LaFayette is 12 miles away from Interstate 85 and is convenient to three major urban centers: Atlanta, 98 miles northeast; Birmingham, 134 miles northwest; and Montgomery 95 miles southwest.
Events and Places of Interest
LaFayette's wide streets, historic buildings, and ancient trees attract both tourists and casual travelers alike. The Chambers County Museum, located in the former Central of Georgia Railroad depot, displays a variety of exhibits relating to the history of LaFayette and Chambers County. The museum features exhibits on the Civil War, boxing champion Joe Louis (who was born near LaFayette in 1914), Creek Indians, the river ferry Tallapoosa Queen, and a number of artifacts representing the agricultural and artistic heritage of the region. LaFayette Day, an annual event to benefit the Valley Haven School, is held on the Courthouse Square and features live entertainment, barbecue, arts and crafts, and a car show.
LaFayette is located near several major impoundments, including West Point Lake in Georgia, 15 minutes to the east and Alabama's
Lake Martin, 30 minutes to the west. In addition to these major lakes, LaFayette has fishing opportunities at the 90-acre City Lake and
the 183-acre Chambers County Lake. The forests and pastures surrounding LaFayette, with their abundant deer and turkey, are
known for their excellent hunting opportunities.
The Heritage of Chambers County Alabama. Clanton, Ala: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 1999.
Orr, Nell Hart. A History of LaFayette, Alabama, 1833-1933. Alabama Polytechnic Institute, Master's thesis, 1950.
Published October 17, 2009
Last updated November 25, 2013