Ella Smith Doll Located in the east central part of the state, Randolph County was the home of Roanoke resident Ella Gantt Smith (1868-1932), inventor and manufacturer of the “Ella Smith Indestructible Doll.” The county is set amidst a landscape of hills and many lakes and river and offers many opportunities for wildlife viewing and outdoor recreation. Randolph County is governed by an elected five-member commission and includes the incorporated community of Roanoke.
- Founding Date: December 18, 1832
- Area: 585 square miles
- Population: 21,967 (2020 Census estimate)
- Major Waterways: Tallapoosa River, Chattahoochee River
- Major Highways: U.S. 431
- County Seat: Wedowee
- Largest City: Roanoke
Randolph County Courthouse The Alabama Legislature created Randolph County on December 18, 1832, from lands acquired from the Creek Indians in the 1832 Treaty of Cusseta. The county was named in honor of John Randolph (1773-1833), a statesman from Virginia. The first settlers were mostly from Georgia and the Carolinas, and some of the earliest settlements and towns included Louina (no longer in existence), Roanoke, Wedowee, and Wadley.
The first county seat was at or near Hedgeman Triplett’s Ferry (later known as Blake’s Ferry) on the Big Tallapoosa River. In 1834, the county seat was moved to Wedowee, which means “rolling water” in Muscogee. Court was held in the open air until 1836, when a log courthouse was built. Between 1839 and 1841, Wedowee was known as McDonald. A brick courthouse replaced the log structure in 1857, but it was destroyed by fire in 1896, along with all its records. In 1897, a new courthouse was built, and additions were made to the building in 1937. This courthouse burned in 1940, but most of the records were saved. A modern courthouse, built in 1941, remains in use today.
Major Cities and Demographics
Wadley Railroad Depot According to 2020 Census estimates, the population of Randolph County was 21,967. Of that total, 78.3 percent of respondents identified themselves as white, 18.8 percent as African American, 2.9 percent as Hispanic, 1.7 percent as two or more races, 0.5 as Asian, 0.5 as Native American, and 0.1 percent as Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. The largest city in Randolph County is Roanoke, with an estimated population of 5,931. The county seat Wedowee had a population of 854. Other population centers include Rock Mills, Woodland, and Wadley. The median household income was $45,141, compared with $52,035 for the state as a whole, and the per capita income for Randolph County was $24,744, compared with $28,934 for the state as a whole.
Harris Dam Sitting on the Piedmont Plateau, Randolph County has relatively poor soil but a great deal of mineral wealth. Before the Civil War, farmers focused primarily on livestock and subsistence agriculture. Cotton became an important economic commodity in the 1860s and remained so until the mid-1940s. During the 1930s and 1940s, farmers diversified into poultry and commercial vegetables. Those crops, along with cattle and forestry, remain important today. Although Randolph County sits on a great deal of mineral wealth, including gold, copper, mica, and kaolin, the high costs of mining proved prohibitive throughout the nineteenth century. Consequently, few mining operations were attempted in the twentieth century. In the late 1920s, the Alabama Power Company began acquiring land along the Tallapoosa River to build hydroelectric dams. Although there were delays in the project, activity picked up in the 1960s and 1970s and in 1983, electricity from the R. L. Harris Dam project went online.
According to 2020 Census estimates, the workforce in Randolph County was divided among the following industrial categories:
- Manufacturing (26.5 percent)
- Educational services, and health care and social assistance (20.6 percent)
- Retail trade (11.0 percent)
- Construction (7.2 percent)
- Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (5.8 percent)
- Transportation and warehousing, and utilities (5.8 percent)
- Finance and insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (4.9 percent)
- Public administration (4.5 percent)
- Other services, except public administration (4.3 percent)
- Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (3.6 percent)
- Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (3.5 percent)
- Information (1.2 percent)
- Wholesale trade (1.2 percent)
The Randolph County school system oversees six primary and secondary schools; Roanoke City Schools oversee four primary and secondary schools. The Randolph-Roanoke Area Vocational School was established in Wedowee in 1973 and offers supplemental courses to high school students and adults. Southern Union State Community College, a public two-year college with academic, technical, and health science programs, has a campus in Wadley.
Randolph County Map Comprising approximately 580 square miles, Randolph County is among Alabama’s smallest counties. The county lies in the east central part of the state in the Piedmont physiographic section. Randolph County is bordered by Georgia to the east, Cleburne County to the north, Clay County to the west, Tallapoosa County to the southeast, and Chambers County to the south.
The Tallapoosa River runs through the county and is home to 120 species of fish and 31 species of mussel. The R. L. Harris Dam forms the 10,000-acre Lake Wedowee on the Upper Tallapoosa. Both the Upper and Middle Tallapoosa tributaries offer a range of recreational opportunities and scenic views in Randolph County. A few tributaries of the Chattahoochee River wind their way through the eastern half of the county as well.
U.S. Highway 431 is Randolph County’s main transportation route. The highway runs from the northwest part of the county to the southeast part of the county. The Roanoke Municipal Airport in Roanoke is the county’s only public airport.
Events and Places of Interest
Piedmont Plateau Birding Trail in Wadley Randolph County offers a variety of recreational activities. Lake Wedowee has more than 270 miles of shoreline for bird watching, boating, fishing, hiking, and picnicking. The Tallapoosa River and its many tributaries also offer visitors the chance to fish and boat. The Piedmont Plateau Birding Trail winds through 3.6 million acres in the county. The Talladega National Forest meets the northwest boundary of Randolph County. Its 375,000 acres offer a variety of recreational activities, including hunting, hiking, camping, bird watching, and picnicking.
The Randolph County Historical Museum in Roanoke houses historical artifacts from the entire county, including Native American relics, historical documents, Civil War memorabilia, vintage clothing, and Ella Smith dolls. The Roanoke Downtown Historic District has a number of architecturally significant buildings in the Renaissance and Romanesque styles, many of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Eller, Lynda S. Randolph County: Alabama Pioneers. Lanett, Ala.: [s.n.], 1981.
- The Heritage of Randolph County, Alabama. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 1998.
- Smith, Eugenia Elizabeth. A History of Randolph County. Roanoke, Ala.: The Roanoke Leader, 1978.
- Stewart, Margaret Estelle. Alabama’s Randolph County: A History of the County and Her People. Centre, Ala.: Stewart University Press, 1992.