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Attalla City


Attalla City Hall is located at 420 Fourth Street, NW, Attalla, AL 35954; phone: 256-538-9986.

Beginnings [1]

The city of Attalla, located at a critical location at a gap in Big Ridge Mountain and Little Wills Valley, developed as a nexus of rail transportation during the great industrial boom in north Alabama after the Civil War. Commercial and residential areas grew up to serve developing industry and rail lines. The discovery of iron ore in the area and the location of an early hydroelectric dam on nearby Big Wills Creek by W. P. Lay, who was later with William Martin to found Alabama Power Company, fixed Attalla as a boomtown in the early 20th century.

A Native-American village known as Atale which was of considerable importance during the Creek War is thought to have been the first settlement of the site. European-American settlement began around 1830 and a community at this site was first named New Town. Local tradition holds that the settlement was later renamed Newton by Stanton, Cravath, and Stanton, the promoters of the Wills Valley Railroad who were from Newton, Massachusetts. In 1860, they began developing a rail line along the Little Wills Creek but those plans were delayed by the Civil War and its immediate aftermath. The Wills Valley Railroad joined with the North East & South West Railroad in 1868 to create the Alabama and Chattanooga Railway.

"In 1859, John S. Moragne sank what was probably the first iron ore shaft in northeast Alabama" in what was to be the city of Attalla. Moragne exported the first iron ore from the state in 1871, shipping it by rail to Wheeling, West Virginia. In the late 1880s, Attalla was noted as being the largest iron ore shipping point in the state. At first, the ore was hauled from the mines by horse drawn wagon and piled at the corner of Fifth Avenue and the Alabama Great Southern Railroad. It was probably loaded on the train by men wielding shovels, then shipped to furnaces in Chattanooga and Birmingham, and finally taken to Gadsden furnaces.

The present town was developed on land donated by W. C. Hammond in 1870 and its name was changed to Attalla when the town's post office was established, as another Alabama post office with the name Newton already existed. The founding coincided with the completion of the Alabama Chattanooga Railroad in 1870 that ran from Chattanooga to Meridian, Mississippi. "Atalla" is shown on Asher and Adams 1872 map of Georgia and Alabama. The town was officially incorporated on February 5, 1872 with 300 residents.

The area developed quickly and, by the late 1880s, it was the third largest rail center in Alabama, with 22 passenger trains entering or leaving daily, as well as 36 freight trains on a daily schedule. The city had also become the largest ore shipping point in the state. The commercial area grew up near the railroads, with groceries and dry goods readily available, and buildings providing services like tailors and banks. An article in the Attalla Herald in 1893 read, "Attalla is a city made by the railroads. It grew because it had to grow, and the railroads came because they had to, and will have to come, to get away from the mountains. It's destiny is fixed by location and it's people are alive to the fact and the active bustling town is a living example of present prosperity."

  1. David B. Schneider with Susan Enzweiler, Schneider Historic Preservation, LLC, Attalla Downtown Historic District, nomination document, 2013, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
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