Athens, Alabama

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Athens, Alabama
City of Athens
Limestone County Courthouse in Athens
Limestone County Courthouse in Athens
Location in the state of Alabama, USA
Location in the state of Alabama, USA
Coordinates: 34°47′23″N 86°58′10″W / 34.78972°N 86.96944°W / 34.78972; -86.96944[1]
Country United States
State Alabama
County Limestone
Incorporated November 19, 1818[2]
 • Type Mayor Council
 • Mayor William R. Marks[3]
 • City Council
 • Total 39.4 sq mi (102.1 km2)
 • Land 39.3 sq mi (101.9 km2)
 • Water 0.1 sq mi (0.2 km2)
Elevation 798 ft (243.1 m)
Population (2013)[5]
 • Total 24,000
 • Density 610/sq mi (240/km2)
Time zone CST (UTC-6)
 • Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP code 35611-35614-35613
Area code(s) 256, 938
FIPS code 01-02956
GNIS feature ID 0113266

Athens is a city in Limestone County, in the State of Alabama. As of the 2010 census, the population of the city is 21,897. The city is the county seat of Limestone County and is included in the Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Area.


Founded in 1818 by John Coffee, Robert Beaty, John D. Carroll, and John Read, Athens is one of the oldest incorporated cities in the State of Alabama, having been incorporated one year prior to the state's admittance to the Union in 1819. Limestone County was also created by an act of the Alabama Territorial Legislature in 1818.[2][6] The town was first called Athensonl(after whom?), but was incorporated as Athens, after the ancient city in Greece. The town's first mayor was Samuel Tanner, and the Tanner area, south of Athens, was named on his behalf.[7]

The Athens area was the home of William Wyatt Bibb, the first Governor of Alabama, and of its second Governor, his brother Thomas Bibb, who succeeded him in office when he died in a fall from his horse.[8]

Founders Hall, Athens State University.
(WPA photo 1930s).

In 1822, local residents purchased 5 acres (20,000 m2) of land and built a building to house the Athens Female Academy. The school became affiliated with the Methodist church in 1842, and was eventually renamed Athens Female College. After becoming coeducational in 1932, the school changed its name again to Athens College. After being taken over by the State of Alabama in 1974, the college was converted to a “reverse junior college,” offering the last two years of instruction for graduates of area community colleges. It is today known as Athens State University.[9]

Many homes in the central part of modern Athens date to the antebellum period, and are part of historic preservation districts.[10]

On May 2, 1862, during the Civil War, Athens was seized by Union forces under the command of Col. John Basil Turchin, a Russian émigré. After occupying the town, Turchin assembled his men and told them: "I shut my eyes for two hours. I see nothing."[11] Business were hit first, and anything of value that could be carried away were looted and anything that could not be was simply destroyed.[11] After rampaging through stores the soldiers plundered private homes.[11] A slave girl was raped.[11] The soldiers also attempted to rape a servant girl.[11] The violent behavior of the soldiers caused a pregnant woman to suffer a miscarriage and die.[11] The townpeople estimated the damage to be fifty-five thousand dollars.[11] The resulting pillage and plunder came to be known as the Rape of Athens.[12]

Athens was the home of Governor George S. Houston, Alabama’s first post-Reconstruction Democratic governor served from 1874 through 1878. Houston was noted for reducing the debts incurred to benefit private railroad speculators and others by his Reconstruction Republican predecessors.[13] During Reconstruction, Athens was the home of the Trinity School, a school founded for the children of former slaves by the American Missionary Association.[14]

Athens was traditionally a cotton and railroad town, but since the local aerospace boom of the 1950s and 1960s it has increasingly entered the orbit of nearby industry center Huntsville as the area's cotton production has steadily declined.

In 1934, Athens became the first city to get its electricity from the Tennessee Valley Authority.[citation needed]

Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Station
Nuclear Regulatory Commission photo

Athens is the home of Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant, a Tennessee Valley Authority installation first operated in 1974, that was once the world's largest nuclear plant. It provides many jobs to the area and most of the electricity for the Huntsville-Decatur Metro Area. On March 22, 1975, the Browns Ferry plant became the scene of what was, with the exception of the Three Mile Island accident, the most serious nuclear accident in United States history. A worker using a candle to check for air leaks started a fire among control wires, causing a temporary threat to operational control of the reactor (see Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant article on Unit One Fire).[15]


Athens is midway between Nashville and Birmingham on Interstate 65. Athens shares a boundary with Huntsville.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 39.4 square miles (102 km2), of which 39.3 square miles (102 km2) is land and 0.1 square miles (0.26 km2) (0.23%) is water.


The climate in this area is characterized by hot, humid summers and generally mild to cool winters. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Athens has a humid subtropical climate, abbreviated "Cfa" on climate maps. [16]

Climate data for Athens, Alabama
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 9
Average low °C (°F) −2
Average precipitation mm (inches) 122
Source: Weatherbase [17]


2000 Census data[edit]

Historical population
Census Pop.
1850 991
1870 887
1880 1,011 14.0%
1890 940 −7.0%
1900 1,010 7.4%
1910 1,715 69.8%
1920 3,323 93.8%
1930 4,233 27.4%
1940 4,342 2.6%
1950 6,309 45.3%
1960 9,330 47.9%
1970 14,360 53.9%
1980 14,558 1.4%
1990 16,901 16.1%
2000 18,967 12.2%
2010 21,897 15.4%
Est. 2013 24,000 9.6%
Sources: 1850;[18] 1870 and 1880;[19]
1900, 1910, and 1920;[20] 1930, 1940, and 1950;[21]
1960, 1970, and 1980;[22] 1990;[1] 2000 and 2010[23]

As of the census of 2000, there were 18,967 people, 7,742 households, and 5,140 families residing in the city. The population density was 482.3 people per square mile (186.2/km2). There were 8,449 housing units at an average density of 214.8 per square mile (82.9/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 77.72% European American, 18.26% Black or African American, 0.40% Native American, 0.71% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 1.92% from other races, and 0.97% from two or more races. 4.86% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 7,742 households, of which 30.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.0% were married couples living together, 13.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.6% were non-families. 31.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.37 and the average family size was 2.97.

In the city the population was spread out with 23.9% under the age of 18, 9.3% from 18 to 24, 28.4% from 25 to 44, 22.5% from 45 to 64, and 15.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 89.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85.5 males.

The median income for a household in the city of Athens was $33,980, and the median income for a family was $44,544. Males had a median income of $37,191 versus $22,748 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,315. About 13.7% of families and 16.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 21.2% of those under age 45 and 10.8% of those age 65 or over.

Health care[edit]


Intercity bus service is provided by Greyhound Lines.[25]



Notable people[edit]


  1. ^ a b "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23. 
  2. ^ a b A Digest of the Laws of the State of Alabama: Containing The Statutes and Resolutions in Force at the end of the General Assembly in January, 1823. Published by Ginn & Curtis, J. & J. Harper, Printers, New-York, 1828. Title 62. Chapter XXV. Page 803. "An Act to Incorporate the Town of Athens, in Limestone County.—Passed November 19, 1818." (Google Books)
  3. ^ Mayor's Office City of Athens Website. Retrieved 2010-12-10.
  4. ^ "City Council". City of Athens. Retrieved 4 January 2014. 
  5. ^ "Population Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2014-06-07. 
  6. ^ Alabama State Archives: Limestone County
  7. ^ Foscue, Virginia (1989). Place Names in Alabama. University of Alabama Press. ISBN 081730410X. 
  8. ^ Limestone County Historical Society: Belle Mina
  9. ^ Athens State University: History
  10. ^ City of Athens: Map of Historic Districts.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Cisco (2007), pp. 59-62[full citation needed]
  12. ^ Limestone County Historical Society: Athens Sacked
  13. ^ "George Smith Houston". Alabama Governors. Alabama Department of Archives and History. August 5, 2009. 
  14. ^ "Trinity Cistern." Limestone County Historical Society. Retrieved Nov-22-2009. Text of page: "Cistern: Last Remnant of Trinity School. Located in th[e] parking lot of the New [Clinton Street] Court House Annex. Picture of a historical marker inscribed as follows: 'This cistern is the last remnant of Trinity School located here 1865-1907. The cistern was used to store rainwater collected from the roof. No physical evidence remains of the Ross Hotel, the Chapman Quarters, and other buildings on this block, which played an important role in Athens history. Trinity, a school for the children of former slaves, was established here, on the old Richardson property, in 1865, primarily through the efforts of Miss Mary Frances Wells, the school's principal and chief proponent. Trinity Hall was built here 1881-82, as a joint effort by the American Missionary Association and local African Americans who hand made and laid the bricks for the building. It burned in 1907 and was rebuilt the following year on the old Civil War fort site west of town. ERECTED BY THE LIMESTONE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY 2005'"
  15. ^ Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Bulletin No. 75-04A: Cable Fire at Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Station
  16. ^ Climate Summary for Athens, Alabama
  17. ^ "". Weatherbase. 2013.  Retrieved on November 3, 2013.
  18. ^ The Seventh Census of the United States: 1850. Alabama. Table II. Population of Towns and Cities. U.S. Census Bureau. Original Pagination 422. PDF Pagination 10.
  19. ^ Table III. Populations of Civil Divisions Less Than Counties. Alabama. Volume 1. Statistics of the Population of the United States. Tenth Census. 1880 Census. U.S. Census Bureau. Original Pagination 96. PDF Page 9.
  20. ^ Table 51. Population of Incorporated Places 1920, 1910, and 1900 and Population of Wards of Incorporated Places Having 5,000 Inhabitants or More. Alabama. Vol 1: Population 1920. Number and distribution of inhabitants. 1920 Census. U.S. Census Bureau.
  21. ^ Table 6. Population of Counties by Minor Civil Divisions 1930 to 1950. 1950 Census. Number of Inhabitants. Alabama. U.S. Census Bureau. Original Pagination 2-14. PDF Pagination 14.
  22. ^ Table 4. Populations of County Subdivisions 1960 to 1980. 1980 Census of Population. Alabama. Volume 1: Characteristics of the Population. Chapter A. Number of Inhabitants. Issued April 1982. U.S. Census Bureau. Original Pagination "Alabama 2-13." PDF Page 16.
  23. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2011-05-14. 
  24. ^ 2013 Estimate"Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2013". Retrieved June 7, 2014. 
  25. ^ Athens, AL Greyhound Station Intercity Bus Service

External links[edit]