I have been to Fort Payne, Alabama on a number of occasions over the past few years.
The first time I
actually stopped in Fort Payne was during one of our "Longest Yard Sales" adventures. It is a beautiful
town packed with history and charm. After all these visits, I recently discovered I actually have relatives
in the area. So, my last trip to Fort Payne included a family get-together. Wow!
Fort Payne, the county seat of DeKalb County, bills itself as the "Official Sock Capital of the World." For a time beginning in 1989, Fort Payne held the world record for "Largest Cake Ever Baked", for a cake of 128,238 pounds baked to commemorate the city's centennial.
In the 19th century this was the site of Willstown, an important village of the Cherokees Nation who relocated to Tahlequah, Oklahoma during the Cherokee Trail of Tears. For a time it was the home of Sequoyah, who invented the Cherokee syllabary, enabling reading and writing in the language. The settlement was commonly called Willstown, after its headman, a red-headed mixed-race man named Will. According to Major John Norton, a more accurate transliteration would have been Titsohili. The son of a Cherokee adoptee of the Mohawk, Norton grew up among Native Americans and traveled extensively throughout the region in the early 19th century. He stayed at Willstown several times,
During the 1830s prior to Indian removal, the US Army under command of Major John Payne built a fort here that was used to intern Cherokees until relocation to Oklahoma. Their forced exile became known as the Trail of Tears.
By the 1860s, Fort Payne and the surrounding area were still sparsely settled. It had no strategic targets and was the scene of only minor skirmishes between Union and Confederate forces during the Civil War. About the time of the Second Battle of Chattanooga, a large Union force briefly entered the county, but it did not engage substantial Confederate forces.
In 1878 Fort Payne became the county seat, and in 1889 it was incorporated as a town. The community of Lebanon had served as the county seat since 1850. With the completion of rail lines between Birmingham and Chattanooga, Fort Payne began to grow, as it was on the rail line. County sentiment supported having the seat in a community served by the railroad.
In the late 1880s, Fort Payne experienced explosive growth as investors and workers from New England and the North flooded into the region to exploit coal and iron deposits discovered a few years earlier. This period is called the "Boom Days", or simply as the "Boom". Many of the notable and historic buildings in Fort Payne date from this period of economic growth, including the state's oldest standing theater, the Fort Payne Opera House; the former factory of the Hardware Manufacturing Company (today known as the W.B. Davis Mill Building, and home to a great antiques mall and deli of which I have spent a few dollars), and the Fort Payne Depot Museum, formerly the passenger station for the present-day Norfolk Southern Railway. Today it serves as a museum of local history.
Fort Payne houses the headquarters for the nearby Little River Canyon National Preserve, a 14,000 acres National Park Service facility established by Congress in 1992. The canyon itself is at Lookout Mountain outside the city limits. Another attraction based on natural resources is DeSoto State Park, a smaller facility with a lodge, restaurant, cabins, and river access areas.
The country music group Alabama is based in Fort Payne. The city also houses the group's Fan Club and Museum.
Fort Payne is within a 30-minute drive of substantial water recreational areas, notably Guntersville Lake, and Lake Weiss, an artificial lake on the Coosa River. Fort Payne is also near Mentone, a popular mountain resort area known for summer children's camps and rustic hotels, restaurants and cabins.