Decatur is the largest city and county seat of Morgan County in the U.S. state of Alabama. The city, known as "The River City", is located in Northern Alabama on banks of Wheeler Lake, along the Tennessee River. The estimated population in 2006 was 55,778.
Decatur is also the core city of the two-county large Decatur Metropolitan Area which had 149,269 in 2006. Combined with the Huntsville Metropolitan Area, the two create the Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Area, of which, Decatur is the second largest city.
Initially the area was known as Rhodes Ferry, named after a ferry that crossed the Tennessee River in the 1810s at the present-day location of Rhodes Ferry Park. The city was incorporated as Albany in the year 1821. It was named in honor of Stephen Decatur; after he was killed in a duel in 1820, President Monroe directed that the Alabama town be named for him.
Decatur was a very important point in North Alabama during its earliest days. Decatur was the eastern terminus of the Decatur-Courtland-Tuscumbia Railroad (in the late 1820s and early 1830s), the first railway built west of the Appalachian Mountains.
Because of its location on the strategic Memphis & Charleston Railroad, Decatur was the site of several encounters during the American Civil War. All but three buildings were burned down during the 1864 Battle of Decatur, when Decatur was referred to as A Tough Nut To Crack. The three that remained are the Old State Bank, Dancy-Polk House, and the Rhea-McEntire House.
During the Confederate occupation of Decatur, the plans for the Battle of Shiloh were mapped out within the Rhea-McEntire House. These activities made the house one of the most historic buildings in Decatur.
New Decatur was a city that rose out of the ashes of former Decatur west of the railroad tracks. New Decatur was founded in 1887 and incorporated in 1889 across the tracks from Albany. In the early 1900s the two cities melded to form one City of Decatur. There is a noticeable difference between the two sides of town. The cities developed differently at different times, and still to this day have somewhat different cultures. Eastern portions of Decatur tend to act more suburban and traditional, while western portions tend to look more metropolitan and contemporary.
The Old State Bank, on the edge of downtown, is the oldest bank building in the State of Alabama, at 173 years old. The first wave pool in the United States was built here and is still in operation at the Point Mallard Aquatic Center. Decatur has the largest Victorian era home district in the state of Alabama. Decatur is also home to Alabama's oldest opera house, the (Cotaco Opera House), which still stands on Johnston Street.
In the past its industries included repair shops of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, car works, engine works, engine works, tannery, bottling plants, and manufacturers of lumber, sashes and blinds, fertilizers, cigars, flour, cottonseed oil, and various other products.
As of the censusGR2 of 2000, there were 53,929 people, 21,824 households, and 14,753 families residing in the city. The population density was 389.9/km² (1,009.7/mi²). There were 23,950 housing units at an average density of 173.1/km² (448.4/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 75.50% White, 19.56% Black or African American, 0.58% Native American, 0.70% Asian, 0.13% Pacific Islander, 2.22% from other races, and 1.33% from two or more races. 5.64% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 21,824 households out of which 31.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.7% were married couples living together, 13.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.4% were non-families. 28.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.43 and the average family size was 2.99.
In the city the population was spread out with 25.4% under the age of 18, 8.8% from 18 to 24, 29.6% from 25 to 44, 23.1% from 45 to 64, and 13.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 92.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 89.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $37,192, and the median income for a family was $47,574. Males had a median income of $37,108 versus $22,471 for females. The per capita income for the city was $20,431. About 11.9% of families and 14.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 21.2% of those under age 18 and 11.1% of those age 65 or over.
Decatur has grown to be the busiest river port on the Tennessee River. The Port of Decatur sees large amounts of barge traffic from up and down the Tennessee River, which has led to twenty Fortune 500 companies opening plants in the city.
Decatur is also known as the "Home of Meow Mix", after the company bought a 200,000 square foot facility in town, and now utilizes its riverfront property to ship the finished product up and down the Tennessee River.
The future is bright for Decatur's economy. Being part of the Huntsville-Decatur CSA, the city lies within the region having the most engineers per person in the nation. This makes for one of, if not the most, educated regions in Alabama, thus stimulating the economy and growth of the city and region.
A recent BRAC Base realignment will bring a population, conservatively estimated at 5,000–10,000 people (not including their families), to the area surrounding Redstone Arsenal.
Approval of the United Launch Alliance combined Lockheed-Martin and Boeing's rocket manufacturing contracts to a central location at the plant in Decatur. All satellite launching rockets used by the U.S. government will be built in Decatur. This approval brought over 230 new jobs to the Decatur area. The ULA plant utilizes the Tennessee River to ship the rockets to Cape Canaveral.
Shopping locations are expected to increase in coming years after the approval of a 32 (possible) store shopping center named "The Crossings of Decatur," which will be located at the corner of Beltline Road and 6th Avenue.
In 2002, the City of Decatur was recognized as one of the top 50 cities in the United States for manufacturing expansion.
Tourism is a major part of Decatur's economy. Hundreds of thousands of people from in and out of town, and from many other countries and territories, attend some of the premier festivals in the South.
The Alabama Jubilee, begun in 1977, is the oldest hot air balloon race south of the Kentucky Derby's Great Balloon Race (from 1973). With visiting populations rising into 75,000, people crowd around numerous seven-story tall inflating balloons. Because of the Alabama Jubilee, Decatur has been named "The Ballooning Capital of Alabama" by the Alabama State Legislature.
The Spirit of America Festival is one of the largest free 4th of July festivals in the south. More than 65,000 people arrive in Decatur to watch annual celebrations and the Miss Point Mallard Beauty Pageant.
Riverfest is a celebration sponsored by the Decatur Jaycees. Set at Rhodes Ferry Park, along the beautiful Tennessee River, barbecuers come from all over the country to try their luck at beating Big Bob Gibson's Barbecue, the seven-time world champion winner.
Another big celebration in Decatur and North Alabama, the Racking Horse World Celebration, attracts numerous horses from around the world to compete in the largest racking horse competition. Set in the Racking Horse World Celebration Arena, the celebration draws up to 75,000 fans and competitors each year.
The Decatur City School System is well regarded throughout the nation. Both of the city's high schools (Decatur High School and Austin High School) have been awarded the Safe Schools Award for the past two years that it has been presented in the State of Alabama. The two schools are the only ones in the state to have won this award both years. With the addition of the International Baccalaureate Program to Austin and Decatur High Schools, Decatur has become the first Alabama school system north of Birmingham and one of five in the state to offer the honors program for juniors and seniors (as of July 2006).
However, both Austin and Decatur failed to make adequate yearly progress in 2006 as mandated in the No Child Left Behind Act. The state said Austin's 86 percent graduation rate was four points too low.
Decatur High missed in two categories: percent of special education students the system tested in reading and percent tested in math. The graduate rate was 76 percent. However, the graduation rate is unreliable since students who move to different schools are considered "dropouts" and this drastically distorts the figures of how many students actually graduate.
The only institution of higher education located within the Decatur city limits is Calhoun Community College. It has three campuses; the main campus is in Decatur.