Today I decided to explore the beautiful southern historic city of Alex City, Alabama, incorporated in 1872. Unfortunately this will be a rainy day exploration but beautiful nonetheless.
According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama’s website:
Located in east central Alabama, Alexander City is the largest city in Tallapoosa County. The city’s economy was tied to cotton, and especially textiles, from the early 1900s until that industry began relocating its manufacturing facilities overseas in the latter decades of the twentieth century. Notable individuals from Alexander City include former National Football League stars Terrell Owens and Jim Phillips, as well as Joe Forehand, a former CEO of Accenture. Bill Nichols State Veterans Home in Alexander City is named for Congressman William Flynt Nichols. The city has a mayor/council form of government.
The city arose on a site formerly occupied by several Creek Indian villages. James Young established a trading post there in 1835, and the city was incorporated as Youngsville in 1872. After the Savannah and Memphis Railroad announced its intention to build a line through the town in 1873, the city’s boundaries were redrawn and it was renamed Alexander City in honor of the railroad’s president, Edward Porter Alexander. The first community-funded school was founded in 1879, and a courthouse was constructed in 1889.
Avondale Mills in Alexander City
The town’s economy was tied to agriculture, principally cotton, and the first cotton mill was constructed in 1900. A fire destroyed much of the downtown area in 1902, but later that year, local banker and businessman Benjamin Russell constructed Russell Mills to fabricate undergarments. He and his family, along with the Comers of Avondale Mills (who arrived in 1919 and bought out the Alexander City Cotton Mill) would be a major presence in Alexander City for decades. In addition to the mills, Russell established several businesses, built a church, a hospital, and a waterworks facility, and had the first telephone lines run to the city. He also established a local chamber of commerce in 1910 and served as its first president.
The city’s economy was boosted further in the early 1920s by the impoundment of the Tallapoosa River with Martin Dam, which generated electricity for the surrounding region. The resultant Lake Martin prompted growth in recreation activities, and Benjamin Russell and his family became large landowners and developers in the area. The economic benefits from the lake still help sustain the city.
Russell Mills established a hospital in 1923 and a school in 1926 and would employ 2,000 individuals by 1930; the total city population itself was only approximately 4,500 at the time. To house employees, Russell constructed a mill village on Alexander City’s western border, but it was dismantled in the 1950s after commercial residential areas were developed in the 1940s. A public airport was constructed in the early 1930s under the Works Progress Administration and named after long-time mayor Thomas C. Russell, Benjamin’s brother. Sightseeing rides and flight instruction were offered at the field, which was also used for training by pilots from Maxwell Field in Montgomery County before World War II.
The city’s population more than doubled from approximately 6,400 in 1950 to 13,100 in 1960, and the former mill village land was used to expand mill operations in the 1960s. Benjamin Russell High School was established in 1950 and Alexander City Junior College in 1965, which would then consolidate with Nunnelley State Technical College, located in Childersburg, Talladega County, to become Central Alabama Community College in 1988. A new hospital facility, Russell Medical Center, opened in 1965.
Much of Alexander City’s economic fortunes were tied to the textile and apparel industries, which have declined drastically in the United States. The city’s economic base has since become more diversified in recent years.