Terrell Owens Located in east central Alabama, Alexander City is the largest city in Tallapoosa County. The city’s economy was tied to cotton, and especially textiles, from the early 1900s until that industry began relocating its manufacturing facilities overseas in the latter decades of the twentieth century. Notable individuals from Alexander City include former National Football League stars Terrell Owens and Jim Phillips, as well as Joe Forehand, a former CEO of Accenture. Bill Nichols State Veterans Home in Alexander City is named for Congressman William Flynt Nichols. The city has a mayor/council form of government.
The city arose on a site formerly occupied by several Creek Indian villages. James Young established a trading post there in 1835, and the city was incorporated as Youngsville in 1872. After the Savannah and Memphis Railroad announced its intention to build a line through the town in 1873, the city’s boundaries were redrawn and it was renamed Alexander City in honor of the railroad’s president, Edward Porter Alexander. The first community-funded school was founded in 1879, and a courthouse was constructed in 1889.
Avondale Mills in Alexander City The town’s economy was tied to agriculture, principally cotton, and the first cotton mill was constructed in 1900. A fire destroyed much of the downtown area in 1902, but later that year, local banker and businessman Benjamin Russell constructed Russell Mills to fabricate undergarments. He and his family, along with the Comers of Avondale Mills (who arrived in 1919 and bought out the Alexander City Cotton Mill) would be a major presence in Alexander City for decades. In addition to the mills, Russell established several businesses, built a church, a hospital, and a waterworks facility, and had the first telephone lines run to the city. He also established a local chamber of commerce in 1910 and served as its first president.
The city’s economy was boosted further in the early 1920s by the impoundment of the Tallapoosa River with Martin Dam, which generated electricity for the surrounding region. The resultant Lake Martin prompted growth in recreation activities, and Benjamin Russell and his family became large landowners and developers in the area. The economic benefits from the lake still help sustain the city.
Russell Mills established a hospital in 1923 and a school in 1926 and would employ 2,000 individuals by 1930; the total city population itself was only approximately 4,500 at the time. To house employees, Russell constructed a mill village on Alexander City’s western border, but it was dismantled in the 1950s after commercial residential areas were developed in the 1940s. A public airport was constructed in the early 1930s under the Works Progress Administration and named after long-time mayor Thomas C. Russell, Benjamin’s brother. Sightseeing rides and flight instruction were offered at the field, which was also used for training by pilots from Maxwell Field in Montgomery County before World War II.
The city’s population more than doubled from approximately 6,400 in 1950 to 13,100 in 1960, and the former mill village land was used to expand mill operations in the 1960s. Benjamin Russell High School was established in 1950 and Alexander City Junior College in 1965, which would then consolidate with Nunnelley State Technical College, located in Childersburg, Talladega County, to become Central Alabama Community College in 1988. A new hospital facility, Russell Medical Center, opened in 1965.
Much of Alexander City’s economic fortunes were tied to the textile and apparel industries, which have declined drastically in the United States. The city’s economic base has since become more diversified in recent years.
According to 2020 Census estimates, Alexander City recorded a population of 14,515. Of that number, approximately 64.3 percent of respondents identified themselves as white, 32.1 percent as African American, 5.0 percent as Hispanic, 0.8 percent as Asian, 0.4 percent as two or more races, and 0.3 percent as American Indian. The town’s median household income was $41,004, and the per capita income was $23,618.
According to 2020 Census estimates, the workforce in Alexander City was divided among the following industrial categories:
- Educational services, and health care and social assistance (24.4 percent)
- Manufacturing (21.6 percent)
- Retail trade (13.2 percent)
- Arts, entertainment, and recreation, and accommodation and food services (8.6 percent)
- Other services, except public administration (6.3 percent)
- Construction (5.6 percent)
- Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (4.7 percent)
- Wholesale trade (4.7 percent)
- Finance and insurance, and real estate and rental and leasing (4.1 percent)
- Public administration (3.6 percent)
- Transportation and warehousing, and utilities (2.1 percent)
- Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (0.9 percent)
- Information (0.2 percent)
Public education is administered by the Alexander City Board of Education, which oversees three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. There are also two religious schools in the city. Central Alabama Community College has a campus in Alexander City.
U.S. Highway 280 and State Road 38, via State Road 22, all run through the city. The Thomas C. Russell airport is a city-owned public facility two miles southwest of downtown, on the west side of U.S. 280. The Norfolk Southern Corporation operates a rail line through the city.
Events and Places of Interest
Reuben Herzfeld House Alexander City has held its Jazzfest since 1990. The event takes place in the city and at nearby Lake Martin on consecutive days in June. The city also sponsors a Homestead Festival in April, a Fourth of July fireworks show at Lake Martin, an Oktoberfest, and a Christmas parade. The Charles E. Bailey Sr. Sportplex features baseball, softball, and soccer fields, a track, playground, an outdoor pool, football stadium, and a walking trail. In addition, the city operates another outdoor pool, tennis courts, and maintains several local parks. Lake Martin remains a major recreational attraction.
Alexander City boasts five historic districts, which, along with the A. J. Coley and Emma E. Thomas House and the Reuben Herzfeld House, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Coley-Joiner House, the Old Elkahatchee Creek Bridge, and the Fred Walker Young House are listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage.
- The Heritage of Tallapoosa County, Alabama. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2000.