Wedowee is a small town, population 818, located in east-central Alabama’s Piedmont Upland, part of the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The county seat of Randolph County, Wedowee was an important center of political activity in the eastern part of the state during the nineteenth century. It has a mayor/council form of government.
Wedowee Archaeological evidence indicates that Native Americans lived near Wedowee Creek as early as 6,000 BC. Wedowee takes its name from a Creek Indian chief whose town was located adjacent to the small stream that also bears his name. Wedowee, meaning “old water” in the Muscogean language, was originally settled in the early 1830s and became the county seat of Randolph County by 1835. The first post office in Randolph County was established there on April 12, 1837, and the first courthouse, built of logs, was in use by 1836. The courthouse was rebuilt in 1897 after a devastating fire. Another fire in 1940, in which few records were lost, resulted in a third construction.
Wedowee’s earliest settlers were attracted to the area for a variety of reasons. Early writers on the town reported on the purity of the area’s streams and rivers, its fertile soils, and significant deposits of gold, copper, iron and mica, a reflection of the county’s unique geography. Located in the foothills of the Appalachians, the area around Wedowee has rolling hills with a number of streams and ponds. Its climate is temperate with a regular annual rainfall of 54 inches. Good soil, long summers, plenty of water, and an abundance of other natural resources welcomed the county’s early pioneers who settled the land, primarily as farmers.
Traveling Library Many citizens of Wedowee entered the Civil War on the side of the Union. Known as Tories, they bitterly opposed secession. After the Civil War, during the period of Reconstruction, Wedowee Tory William H. Smith became the first Republican governor of Alabama in July 1868. During his administration, Randolph County, along with several surrounding counties, fell deep into fiscal debt. This resulted in Randolph County losing its right to govern itself. Within a decade, however, the state relieved the county of its debt, thereby ending a difficult period in the area’s history.
Wedowee witnessed significant political turbulence during Reconstruction. African American residents were terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan, which was active during the late 1860s and 1870s in response to perceived threats to white rule. Continued financial strains and severe drought during the late 1870s and early 1880s magnified the political strife between voters and politicians and between Democrats and Republicans, who were in the majority. Political sentiments were important in the development of the several newspapers established in Wedowee and Randolph County. The American Eagle, a Know-Nothing newspaper that arose during the debate over the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, was first published in January 1856. Additional papers, including The Journal (1870s), The Randolph Toiler (also known as The Reformer or The Clipper, 1894–1899), The Randolph Star (1902–ca. 1915) and The Randolph Press, were also published in Wedowee. These papers offered political commentary, advertising, and social news to the inhabitants of Randolph and surrounding counties.
Lonnie White Bridge Throughout the twentieth century, Wedowee remained a small agricultural community. Recent growth has come as a result of Lake Wedowee, created by the impoundment of the Big and Little Tallapoosa Rivers by the R. L. Harris Dam. Lake visitors come from areas such as Atlanta and Newnan, Georgia, and have made a substantial impact on the town’s economy. New businesses, factories, and merchants have located inside the city limits, many in order to accommodate the influx of county residents. Lake Wedowee and Mount Cheaha, Alabama’s highest peak, attract large numbers of sports and outdoors enthusiasts to the Wedowee area.
Randolph County Courthouse On August 6, 1994, Wedowee gained national attention when an unknown arsonist set fire to the high school. This act was the culmination of events that began when the white principal told students he would cancel the prom if interracial couples planned to attend. Allegations of a racial slur made by the principal to one of the students led to a variety of charges and countercharges by the administration, local citizens, and students. These events were magnified by the intense scrutiny of the media and the continued provocation by special interest groups. Although the sensational nature of this episode focused national attention on Wedowee’s racial tensions, the underlying problems are typical of many small communities in Alabama with diverse populations.
According to 2020 Census estimates, the population of Wedowee was 854. Of that number, 61.5 percent identified themselves as white, 35.8 percent as African American, 6.2 percent as Hispanic, and 2.7 percent as two or more races. The town’s median household income was $32,438 and the per capita income was $20,029.
The workforce in Wedowee, according to 2020 Census estimates, was divided among the following industrial categories:
- Manufacturing (29.4 percent)
- Educational services, and health care and social assistance (19.4 percent)
- Retail trade (12.3 percent)
- Public administration (9.9 percent)
- Transportation and warehousing and utilities (9.9 percent)
- Other services, except public administration (9.1 percent)
- Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (4.4 percent)
- Finance, insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (3.6 percent)
- Construction (1.2 percent)
- Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services (0.8 percent)
Schools in Wedowee are overseen by the Randolph County School System. The city has one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school. The Randolph-Roanoke Career Technology Center provides high school students with technology training toward careers in various fields. There is also a private K-12 school.
U.S. Highway 431 runs north-south through the center of Wedowee, and State Highway 48 runs east-west through the town. Roanoke Municipal Airport is located 16 miles to the southeast.
Events and Places of Interest
Lake Wedowee Harris Reservoir, known by residents as Lake Wedowee, offers boating and fishing, and adjacent Flat Rock Park has picnic, hiking, and swimming facilities. The Wedowee Kiwanis Park is a wooded preserve that offers numerous habitats for birdwatchers. The park is a stop on the Piedmont Plateau Birding Trail and also hosts the East Alabama Tractor Exhibition several times a year. The Perry House (c. 1837) is listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage, and historic First Cemetery is the resting place of some of Wedowee’s founding residents. Wedowee hosts a Christmas Parade each December and an arts and crafts festival featuring local and regional artists, Art on the Median, on the second Saturday of June.
Bartlett, Walter J., and John B. Stevenson. “A History of Randolph County (1832–1882). In The Heritage of Randolph County, Alabama, eds. Fay Young et al. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 1998.
Weathers, B. F. “Early Days in Randolph County.” In Historical Records of Randolph County, Alabama (1832-1900), ed. Marilyn Davis Barefield. Easley, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1985.