A special note: This article was written in summer/fall of 2010, before
the devastation of the tornado.
Actually, we were going to the A-Day
Game in April (week before the big tornado), but got caught up in
those tornados just south of Linden, Alabama. Never made it to
T-Town that weekend.
Tuscaloosa, the county seat of Tuscaloosa County, is located on the Black Warrior River in the west central part of Alabama. It is the fifth-largest city in Alabama with an estimated population of 90,221 in 2008. Tuscaloosa is named after the Choctaw chieftain Tuskaloosa who battled and was defeated by Hernando deSoto in 1540 in the Battle of Mabila.
The area at the Fall Line shoals of what would later be known as the Black Warrior River had long been well known to the various Indian tribes whose shifting fortunes brought them to West Alabama. The river shoals at Tuscaloosa represented the southernmost site on the river that could be forded under most conditions. A network of Indian trails converged upon the place, the same network that, in the first years of the 19th century, was followed by a few intrepid white frontiersmen to the area.
The pace of white settlement increased greatly after the War of 1812. A small assortment of log cabins soon arose near the large Creek village at the fall line of the river, which the new settlers named in honor of the legendary Chief Tuskaloosa of a Muskogean-speaking tribe.
From 1826 to 1846, Tuscaloosa was the capital of Alabama. During this period, in 1831, the University of Alabama was established. The town's population and economy grew rapidly until the departure of the capital to Montgomery caused a rapid decline in population. Establishment of the Bryce State Hospital for the Insane in Tuscaloosa in the 1850s helped restore the city's fortunes.
During the Civil War following Alabama's secession from the Union, several thousand men from Tuscaloosa fought in the Confederate armies. During the last weeks of the War, a brigade of Union troops raiding the city burned the campus of the university. The larger town was also damaged in the battle and shared fully in the South's economic sufferings which followed the defeat.
The historic plaque displayed (above) on University Boulevard is in honor of the University of Alabama Corps of Cadets who defended Tuscaloosa during the Civil War.
In the 1890s the construction of a system of locks and dams on the Black Warrior River by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 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 the mental health-care facilities in the city, along with a strong national economy fueled a steady growth in Tuscaloosa.
The Tuscaloosa Train Depot is pictured at the right.
Manufacturing plants of large firms such as Michelin and JVC located in town during the latter half of the 20th century. However, it was the announcement that Mercedes-Benz would build its first automotive assembly plant in North America in Tuscaloosa County in 1993 that best personified the new era of economic prosperity for Tuscaloosa.
Tuscaloosa is known as the "Druid City" because of the numerous Water oaks planted in its downtown streets since the 1840s.
Education is a vital component of the city as Tuscaloosa is home to several colleges and schools. The University of Alabama is the dominant institution of higher learning. Enrolling approximately 27,000 students, UA has been a part of Tuscaloosa's identity since it opened its doors in 1831. Stillman College, which opened in 1875, is a historically Black liberal arts college that has approximately 1,200 students.
Additionally, Shelton State Community College, one of the largest in Alabama, is located in the city. The school enrolls around 8,000 students from all backgrounds and income levels. The majority of Shelton State students are "traditional" students. They are usually either first-time college students earning associate degrees for transfer to four-year institutions after graduation, or University of Alabama and Stillman students enrolled in entry-level classes that they cannot or do not want to take at their home institutions.
Tuscaloosa is an exciting place to live and visit. I had the pleasure of living in Tuscaloosa for a couple of years while I attended the University of Alabama. It was an exciting time (I was lucky enough to be there during Bear Bryant's last two championship years).
Tuscaloosa is known for its collegiate athletics - particularly the University of Alabama Crimson Tide football team (2009, 2011 and 2012 National Championship - 15 total). The University of Alabama also currently fields championship-caliber teams in baseball, men's basketball, women's gymnastics (2012 National Championship), and women's softball (2012 National Championship), women's golf (2012 National Championship). These teams play in athletics facilities on the university campus, including Bryant-Denny Stadium (capacity of 102,000+), Coleman Coliseum (formerly Memorial Coliseum), Sewell-Thomas Baseball Stadium, Alabama Softball Complex, and the Ol' Colony Golf Complex.
Stillman College fields teams in football, men's and women's basketball, baseball and softball, among other sports. In the past decade, Stillman has gone through a renaissance of renovations, including a new football stadium, Stillman Stadium. We will revisit Stillman College in the near future.
Tuscaloosa is also a great place to see and learn about history. Museums and historic homes are all over the city. Considering Tuscaloosa was the capital of Alabama from 1826 until 1846, it is a historic buff's paradise.