Located on a peninsula surrounded by Lake Guntersville, Guntersville is the county seat of Marshall County. It has a mayor/city council form of government.
Downtown Guntersville Guntersville’s name derives from John Gunter, one of the first European settlers in the area, who arrived in 1785 and married a Cherokee woman. Gunter also was the great-grandfather of humorist Will Rogers. The town was originally called Gunter’s Landing and was part of a large land cession agreed upon between the federal government and the Cherokees in the 1835 Treaty of New Echota. Three years later, Gunter’s Landing served as an embarkation point on the infamous Trail of Tears, in which Cherokees and Creeks in the region were removed from eastern states to what is now Oklahoma.
Col. Montgomery Gilbreath House After a series of contentious and sometimes confusing elections between 1838 and 1847, during which the county seat was moved several times, a final election narrowed the choices to Warrenton and Gunter’s Landing. Gunter’s Landing was incorporated in 1848, in part to define its boundaries for the county seat election. After a spirited campaign by both towns, Gunter’s Landing won the election in part because of votes from soldiers returning from the Mexican War. The town’s name was changed to Guntersville in 1854, and it soon became a busy port town for ships plying the Tennessee River.
Although its citizens were lukewarm about secession, Guntersville suffered significant damage during the Civil War, being partially burned from Union shelling from the Tennessee River in July 1862. All but seven buildings were destroyed.
Guntersville, ca. 1930s After the war, Guntersville recovered fairly quickly because of its riverside location. The first streetlights were installed in 1885 and the first telephone line in 1889. The Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railway (later the Louisville and Nashville), running between Guntersville and Gadsden, arrived in town in 1892 and brought further growth. In the 1930s, the Tennessee Valley Authority located a dam on the river just below Guntersville, and jobs related to its construction brought further prosperity to the area as well as low-cost electricity to the town. The dam created Lake Guntersville and left the town sitting on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by water. As a result, it has become a recreational destination.
According to 2020 Census estimates, Guntersville recorded a population of 8,531. Of that number, 80.4 percent identified themselves as white, 12.4 percent as African American, 5.9 percent as two or more races, 2.8 percent as Hispanic, 0.9 percent as Asian, and 0.1 percent as Native American. The city’s median household income was $50,142 and the per capita income was $29,995.
According to 2020 Census estimates, the workforce in Guntersville was divided among the following industrial categories:
- Educational services, and health care and social assistance (20.2 percent)
- Manufacturing (18.4 percent)
- Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (13.8 percent)
- Retail trade (9.6 percent)
- Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (9.1 percent)
- Construction (6.1 percent)
- Transportation and warehousing and utilities (5.5 percent)
- Other services, except public administration (4.9 percent)
- Finance, insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (4.3 percent)
- Public administration (3.6 percent)
- Wholesale trade (2.1 percent)
- Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (1.4 percent)
- Information (1.1 percent)
Schools in Guntersville are part of the Guntersville City School District; the city has two elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school.
Guntersville is intersected by U.S. Highway 431 and State Highway 69. It also is served by the Guntersville Municipal Airport–Joe Starnes Field with one runway. The Louisville & Nashville Railroad also runs a freight line to the city.
Events and Places of Interest
Guntersville Lake Guntersville offers a variety of recreational opportunities, the most prominent being 69,000-acre Lake Guntersville and Lake Guntersville State Park on the Tennessee River. The lake offers boating, fishing, skiing, and swimming, as well as 950 miles of shoreline. The lake has hosted numerous Bassmaster fishing tournaments. Cathedral Caverns State Park is located just north of town. The area also features four golf courses: Broken Arrow, Gunter’s Landing, Lake Guntersville State Park, and Stoney Mountain.
The town itself has an Olympic-size swimming pool and numerous other athletic venues, including baseball, softball, and tennis, as well as several city parks located on the lake. The Whole Backstage Community Theater offers plays throughout the year, and the Guntersville Museum and Cultural Center has permanent exhibits and collections featuring Native American artifacts and art by local and regional artists and also hosts traveling exhibitions. It is housed in a historic Armory building, constructed by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s for Company E of the 167th Infantry Division.
Marshall County Heritage Book Committee. The Heritage of Marshall County, Alabama. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2000.