The town of Altoona developed around coal mines opened by W. T. Underwood, brother of U.S. Senator Oscar Underwood, in 1900. The first telephone company was established in Altoona in 1907, but it later moved to nearby Walnut Grove. By that time, the town had grown enough for its residents to pursue incorporation, and the town was granted a charter in either 1908 or 1912.
About this time, Underwood sold his mines to a group of investors from Gadsden who in turn sold them to Republic Steel. Like many mining towns, Altoona (named after the Pennsylvania city by coal miners from that area who relocated to Alabama to find work) was a boom town, boasting two banks and a population of more than 2,000 by 1916. Altoona also was situated on a branch, known as the "Mineral Line," of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad.
In 1932, the mines closed, and by 1940 Altoona's population had fallen to 998. Although some returned to the area, it never provided significant employment again. A strip mine was in operation in the area as late as 1968 but is now listed as abandoned. In 1966, the county consolidated the Altoona and Walnut Grove schools, with Altoona retaining the elementary school and Walnut Grove the high school. Altoona's residents generally commute to surrounding cities such as Huntsville, Gadsden, and Oneonta for employment.
Altoona's population according to the 2010 Census was 933. Of that number, 95.8 percent of respondents identified themselves as white, 1.8 percent as two or more races, 1.7 percent as African American, 1.1 percent as Hispanic or Latino, 0.2 percent as Native American, and 0.2 percent as Asian. The town's median household income, according to 2010 estimates, was $30,441, and the per capita income was $14,597.
According to 2010 Census estimates, the work force in Altoona was divided among the following industrial categories:
· Manufacturing (21.6 percent)
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (15.9 percent)
· Construction (15.5 percent)
· Retail trade (9.4 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (6.5 percent)
· Wholesale trade (6.1 percent)
· Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (5.3 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing and utilities (4.5 percent)
· Public administration (4.5 percent)
· Finance, insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (3.7 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (2.9 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (2.4 percent)
· Information (1.6 percent)
Schools in Altoona are part of the Etowah County School system; the town has approximately 426 students and 30 teachers in one elementary school.
State Highway 132 runs through Altoona northeast-southwest; County Road 41 dead-ends in town from the northwest.
Events and Places of Interest
Altoona holds an Altoona Day celebration in May featuring music, arts and crafts vendors, food vendors, a classic car show, and celebrity guests. Altoona also holds an annual Christmas Parade.
The Tumlin Gap Tunnel and Trestle are on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage.
Etowah County Centennial Committee. A History of Etowah County, Alabama. Birmingham, Ala.: Roberts and Sons, 1968.
Etowah County Heritage Book Committee. Heritage of Etowah County, Alabama. Clanton. Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants Inc., 1999.
James P. Kaetz
Published January 10, 2013
Last updated January 10, 2013