Known as “College City,” Marion is the county seat of Perry County and is located in the west-central part of Alabama. Marion is home to the now-defunct Judson College and Marion Military Institute and was the founding location of several other higher educational institutions in its history. The city government consists of a mayor and five-person city council.
Old Marion City Hall Formerly the territory of the Choctaw Indians, what is now Perry County became part of the Mississippi Territory and then the Alabama Territory after the Creek War of 1814-15. The city of Marion was first known as Muckle Ridge because Michael McElroy, also known as Michael Muckle, cleared one acre of land and built a cabin in the area in 1817. When more and more people began to settle in the area, McElroy sold his cabin to Anderson and Cecelia West in 1818 and moved to Mississippi. The city’s name was changed to honor Francis Marion, the famous “Swamp Fox” of the America Revolution. In 1820, Anderson West and his nephew, Solomon West, started A. West & Co., which was the first store in the town. In 1822, Anne Smith moved to Marion from North Carolina and opened the first hotel in the county.
Judson College The Marion Female Seminary was founded in 1836 by a joint-stock company. It is famous for its most notable teacher, Nicola Marschall, who is credited with designing the original Confederate flag, the “Stars and Bars,” and the Confederate uniform. A monument to Marschall stands in front of the Perry County Courthouse. The seminary closed in 1908, and the building served as the Perry County High School from 1917 to 1963. The building is now owned by the Marion Historical Society. Two years after the seminary opened, educator Milo P. Jewett, who later established Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, founded the Judson Female Institute, which would become present-day Judson College.
In 1841, Howard College (now Samford University in Birmingham) relocated from Greensboro to Marion and operated there until 1887. When it closed, Howard president James T. Murfee remained and turned the facility into the Marion Military Institute.
Marion’s earliest newspaper, the Whig Party‘s Southern Herald, was first published in 1837 by John Oswald, a Marion dentist. In 1839, Oswald changed the title to the Marion Herald and subsequently sold it to Robert E. Love, who transformed it into the political voice of area Democrats. This newspaper has evolved into the current Marion Times-Standard.
Phillips Memorial Auditorium During the 1850s, the town boasted various general stores, grocery stores, dry-goods stores, and apothecaries. In 1854, Larkin and Elizabeth Tarrant sold their land to the Marion Alabama River Transportation Company for the future construction of a railroad station, in conjunction with a project to build a railroad line from Marion to the Alabama River at Cahaba. Under a new charter, the Marion Alabama River Transportation Company, was renamed the Cahaba and Marion Railroad Company, extended the railroad from Marion to intersect the Northeastern & Southwestern Railroad. The J. L. Lockwood furniture company sold sofas, chairs, and coffins, which were sold in furniture stores at the time. In 1890, John Connor Mickleboro opened the Mickleboro Jewelry Store.
In 1867, nine former slaves from Perry County founded the Lincoln School to educate African American children in the region. Its most famous alumna was Coretta Scott King. As part of the integration process in Marion and Perry County, the Lincoln School was officially closed in May 1970.
Marion Store 1936 In 1909, the county seat was moved from Perry Ridge to Marion. Nathan Harris opened a tailoring business in 1910. His son, Max, turned the tailor shop into a general merchandise store in 1921. During the 1940s, T. I. Leverett owned the Marion Ice House, which delivered ice to businesses and private homes. Successful industries in the town have included pulpwood producers, feed companies, lumber mills, and textile manufacturers.
According to 2020 Census estimates, Marion recorded a population 3,196. Of that number, 65.8 percent identified themselves as African American, 33.6 percent as white, 2.8 percent as Hispanic or Latino, 0.3 percent as Asian, and 0.1 percent as American Indian. The city’s median household income was $24,275 and the per capita income was $11,927.
According to 2020 Census estimates, the workforce in Marion was divided among the following industrial categories
- Retail trade (32.1 percent)
- Educational services, and health care and social assistance (27.6 percent)
- Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (17.6 percent)
- Public administration (8.1 percent)
- Professional, scientific, and management, and administrative and waste management services (5.9 percent)
- Transportation and warehousing and utilities (5.2 percent)
- Wholesale trade (3.4 percent)
Marion Military Institute Anniversary Celebration Schools in Marion are part of the Perry County school district; the town has approximately 1,227 students and 77 teachers in one elementary school and one high school. Two private schools (one pre-K-12, one 9-12) have approximately 208 students and 23 teachers. Marion Military Institute is a two-year college and is one of only five military junior colleges in the nation. Prior to its closing in 2021, Judson College was Alabama’s only women’s college.
Marion is served by County Road 14, which runs east-west through the town, and County Road 5/183, which runs north-southwest.
Events and Places of Interest
Moore-Webb-Holmes Plantation Marion is home to a number of structures on the National Register of Historic Places. The Green Street Historic District, the Judson College Historic District, West Marion Historic District and the Marion Courthouse Square Historic District are listed as are Kenworthy Hall (1858-1860), the Moore-Webb-Holmes Plantation (1819), Siloam Baptist Church (1848), and many others. Reverie Historic Home (1858) is a privately owned house museum within the West Marion Historic District. The Norfolk Southern Railway Company depot, which was built between 1907 and 1910, was restored in 1998 and now serves as the headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce.
Until 2021, Judson College was home to the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame; it is now hosted by the University of West Alabama. The Lincoln Museum houses memorabilia and historic items from the Lincoln Normal School and is located on the former site of the school. Marion Military Institute is home to the Alabama Military Hall of Honor Museum, which displays portraits and artifacts related to inductees. The Mt. Tabor AME Church is home to the Coretta Scott King Memorial. Douglas-Moore Memorial Park has baseball fields, a playground, and nature walks.
Caver, Joseph. From Marion to Montgomery: The Early Years of Alabama State University, 1867-1925. Montgomery, Ala.: New South Books, 2020.
English, Bertis. Civil Wars, Civil Beings, and Civil Rights in Alabama’s Black Belt: A History of Perry County. Tuscaloosa, Ala.: University of Alabama Press, 2022.
Harris, W. Stuart. Perry County Heritage. Marion, Ala.: Perry County Historical and Preservation Society, 1991.
Perry County Heritage Book Committee. The Heritage of Perry County, Alabama. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 1999.