Sealy’s Hot Salt Mineral Well Postcard Cottonwood is named after a lone cottonwood tree that was alive at the time the town was founded, in the early 1840s. In 1844, W. S. Wood purchased land and built a general store that spurred more settlement in the area. The post office opened around 1873.
The town incorporated in 1901, and the first school was built in the early 1900s. That structure burned, and a new one was built in 1927. That same year, after a small earthquake, a local resident discovered petroleum floating on the surface a local well. A brief oil exploration boom followed until it was determined that the substance was simply gasoline that leaked from underground storage tanks as a result of the earthquake.
Oil prospector J. R. Sealy hit a mineral hot spring during his explorations and opened Sealy’s Springs, which became a popular tourist destination because of the alleged restorative power of the mineral water. The resort remained open until it was destroyed by fire in 2001.
According to 2020 Census estimates, Cottonwood recorded a population of 1,133. Of that number, 78.1 percent of respondents identified themselves as white, 19.6 percent as African American, 1.1 percent as American Indian, 0.8 percent as two or more races, 0.8 percent as Hispanic or Latino, and 0.4 as Asian. The town’s median household income was $27,125, and the per capita income was $17,747.
According to 2020 Census estimates, the workforce in Cottonwood was divided among the following industrial categories:
- Retail trade (23.9 percent)
- Educational services and health care and social assistance (17.0 percent)
- Professional, scientific, and management, and administrative and waste management services (11.9 percent)
- Transportation and warehousing, and utilities (9.1 percent)
- Construction (7.9 percent)
- Arts, entertainment, and recreation, and accommodation and food services (7.4 percent)
- Other services, except public administration (6.1 percent)
- Manufacturing (5.3 percent)
- Wholesale trade (4.3 percent)
- Public administration (2.3 percent)
- Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extraction (1.3 percent)
- Information (1.0 percent)
Schools in Cottonwood are part of the Houston County Schools; the town has one high school.
County Roads 55 runs through the center of Cottonwood roughly north-south, and State Highway 53 runs northwest-southeast through town.
Houston County Heritage Book Committee. The Heritage of Houston County, Alabama. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2003.
Watson, Fred S. Hub of the Wiregrass: A History of Houston County, Alabama, 1903-1972. Anniston, Ala.: Higginbotham, Inc., 1972.