History of Western Civilization and Selected Local Histories

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Last updated 08/26/2011

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

The river shoals at Tuscaloosa represented the southernmost site on the river which could be forded under most conditions. This site of the future City of Tuscaloosa on the "Fall Line" of the Black Warrior River had long been well known to the various Indian tribes whose shifting fortunes brought them to West Alabama. The pace of white settlement increased greatly after the War of 1812, and a small assortment of log cabins soon arose near the large Creek Indian village at the Fall Line of the river.

In honor of the legendary "Black Warrior", a great chief who had had a fateful encounter with explorer Hernando DeSoto centuries before somewhere in Southwest Alabama, the settlers named the place Tuscaloosa (from the Choctaw words "tushka" meaning warrior and "lusa" meaning black). In 1817, Alabama became a territory, and on December 13, 1819, the territorial legislature incorporated the town of Tuscaloosa, exactly one day before Congress admitted Alabama to the Union as a state. Thus, the City of Tuscaloosa is one day older than the State of Alabama.

From 1826 to 1846 Tuscaloosa was the state capital of Alabama. During this period, in 1831, the University of Alabama was established. These developments, together with the region's growing economy, raised the number of the town's inhabitants to 4,250 by 1845, but after the departure of the capital to Montgomery, population fell to 1,950 in 1850. Establishment of the Bryce State Hospital for the Insane in Tuscaloosa in the 1850's helped restore the City's fortunes. Tuscaloosa shared fully in the South's economic sufferings which followed the defeat in the Civil War.

The construction of a system of locks and dams on the Black Warrior River by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1890's opened up an inexpensive link to the Gulf seaport of Mobile, stimulating especially the mining and metallurgical industries of the region. By the advent of the 20th Century, the growth of the University of Alabama and a strong national economy fueled a steady growth in Tuscaloosa which continued unabated for 100 years.

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