Tuscaloosa County History

Tuscaloosa County (2)Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, is located in West-Central Alabama in the Appalachian foothills and the Coastal Plain. It was officially created on February 6, 1818, but Creek and Choctaw Indians previously inhabited the area for several hundred years. The county and city are named after Chief Tuskaloosa, a famous Indian chief whose name is derived from the Choctaw word that translates to Black Warrior River in English.


The City of Northport became a settlement in 1813, thanks to a convenient ford in the Black Warrior River for steamboat travelers crossing the Alabama Territory. Six years later and one day before the state of Alabama was established, Tuscaloosa was named a city in 1819.


The river was extremely crucial to the area’s settlement and early growth. The population of the area expanded and business boomed because the area was a thoroughfare for hauling goods to and from the northeastern states and Mobile. Cotton warehouses were located on both sides of the river, and cotton had a big market in New England at the time. According to the City of Northport, cargo was transported by ships from New England and Europe to Northport, then by steamboat from Northport to Mobile. The port was then used for hauling numerous other goods, such as salt, sugar and rice. The city continued to grow as railroads and highways became the primary modes of transportation.


The cities grew so much that Tuscaloosa served as the state capital of Alabama from 1826 to 1847, when the capital moved to Montgomery. Most of the population fled the city as well, damaging Tuscaloosa’s economy. But, the opening of the Bryce State Hospital for the Insane a few years later brought those people back and restored the economy.


UA - 1859

University of Alabama in 1859 (Source: Steven Hippensteel)

In 1831, The University of Alabama opened its doors and began holding classes. Over the years, new programs were established, buildings were constructed, and enrollment numbers grew to 154 in 1861.


However, in 1865, in the closing stages of the Civil War, Union soldiers charged through Tuscaloosa and destroyed large parts of the region. All but seven buildings at The University’s campus were burned, and only four (President’s Mansion, The Roundhouse, Gorgas House and The Observatory) still stand today. The bridge that linked Tuscaloosa and Northport was also damaged, and the area shared fully in the South’s economic sufferings.


In the 1890s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed a series of locks and dams along the Black Warrior River, which expanded the mining and metallurgical industries of the region.


Today, the mining industry continues to play a major role in the area’s economy. Walter Energy, the world’s leading publicly-traded metallurgical coal producer for the global steel industry, owns two mines near Brookwood. The company has 1,850 employees at the mines, which ranks fifth overall in Tuscaloosa County among top employers.


On April 27, 2011, a large, violent EF4 tornado ripped through the heart of Tuscaloosa, just south of The University of Alabama and DCH Regional Medical Center. The storm killed over 50 people, injured several hundred more and destroyed 12% of the city before tracking into parts of Birmingham. The tornado was the costliest at the time in terms of damage ($2.45 billion), only to be surpassed by the Joplin, Mo., tornado less than a month later.  Donations of supplies and money were brought in from everywhere, and within a few years, most of the homes and businesses were rebuilt.


With the growth of the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa County, along with the cities of Tuscaloosa and Northport continue to be a booming place. Many major businesses from diverse industries have built and opened plants and distribution facilities across the county, including a few in the automobile manufacturing industry. The United States’ headquarters for Mercedes-Benz is located in Vance, while Michelin and BF Goodrich produce tires at a plant in the western part of Tuscaloosa.


Tuscaloosa County’s economy is not just limited to mining and manufacturing. Other industries that have a significant impact include, but are not limited to, finance, small business, healthcare, education and retail trade.



Aerial of Nucor Steel in Tuscaloosa (Source: Nucor Steel)