Colbert County History

City of Muscle Shoals

The city of Muscle Shoals is just under one hundred years old and is one of Alabama’s fastest growing cities. The population of Muscle Shoals is about 14,000 and the city is known for excellent schools and beautiful neighborhoods. Around the world, the name, Muscle Shoals, means simply, “Music”. Music that has a definite sound, music that rocked the world, music that helped greatly shape America’s popular music, music that everyone knows, that makes people from around the world want to visit the area known as the “Hit Recording Capital of the World.”

Before Muscle Shoals became a city, automotive industrialist Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric light bulb, visited the area in the 1920s and proposed a major industrial city, tapping the Tennessee River for inexpensive hydro-electric power. Even though the automobile industrial site did not materialize, by 1923, the bright, new city of Muscle Shoals was incorporated.

Today, the city of Muscle Shoals is the commercial center for the region. It is internationally recognized for its recording industry producing the famous “Muscle Shoals Sound” since the 1960s. Annually, tens of thousands of visitors from around the world travel to Muscle Shoals to experience the birthplace of the iconic Muscle Shoals Sound. This “sound” allowed artists to find a groove like they had never experienced elsewhere. The success of the studios during the 1960s and 70s established the area as the “Hit Recording Capital of the World.”

The internationally acclaimed documentary, Muscle Shoals, tells the story of FAME and its’ founder Rick Hall. FAME has been recording and publishing music for over 50 years and releases from FAME have sold over 350 million copies worldwide.

Today, FAME accepts tours during the week and on Saturdays. Artists still record at FAME and music publishing is still completed there.

While in Muscle Shoals, you will also want to visit City Hall to see the music exhibit and the exhibit on Wilson Lock and Dam. Also, check out the music sculpture. This is a great photo opportunity.

City of Sheffield

In March 1820, a map of the town York Bluff was laid out, showing land for sale by the U.S. Land Office in Huntsville, Alabama. Several notable individuals, including Andrew Jackson, purchased land here. Although lots and acreage were sold, no settlement followed.

It was the advantages of river transportation along with other factors that led to the founding of Sheffield in 1884, on the same site. Named after Sheffield, England, it soon became a major iron producing center. Bright furnaces lit the night sky and ornate Victorian and large Craftsman style dwellings were built on wide, tree-lined avenues atop the limestone bluffs overlooking the Tennessee River.

The beauty of the river may still be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike as they visit, shop, and eat in the city of Sheffield, the center of the Shoals area. A marina, Riverfront Park, is located near the downtown area and bass, crappie, and catfish anglers are known to find trophy sized bass and monster catfish when fishing Pickwick Lake. This park boasts about one mile of water frontage as well as a “boundless” playground suitable for special needs and other children. You will also find cycling trails within the park and across a stationary boardwalk over the river, connecting to another park, Whippoorwill, that offers hiking trails and birding.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, located at 3614 Jackson Highway and later at 1000 Alabama Avenue, had hundreds of hit recordings that came out of Sheffield. Session musicians who had started at FAME in Muscle Shoals relocated to these studios and played with the Rolling Stones, Bob Segar, Rod Stewart, Paul Simon, the Staples Singers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, John Prine, Julian Lennon, Glenn Frey, Jimmy Buffett and countless others. Other famous artists like Percy Sledge and many others recorded at several other studios located in Sheffield. Elvis Presley performed several shows in Sheffield at the Recreation Center during the late 1950s, as did many other famous artists of the day. Today, a music sculpture that is an “Elvis tribute” is located in the downtown area and is a great photo opportunity.

Today, both locations of Muscle Shoals Sound Studios are open daily for public tours. The Jackson Highway location is a museum during the day and a working, recording studio in the evenings. The Alabama Avenue location, now Cypress Moon Studios, is a working studio open for tours and has a concert hall with scheduled shows.

The restored Art Deco style Ritz Theatre offers plays, films, and concerts to the community.

Today, the city of Sheffield, with a population of about 10,000, is a city that is making a comeback with buildings being renovated and occupied with restaurants and retail establishments, specialty shops and loft-style apartments.

Sheffield offers a variety of housing opportunities for their residents. Beautiful large homes are located along the bluff above Pickwick Lake. Many historic homes from the Victorian era occupy the downtown area, and several subdivisions offer beautiful homes at affordable prices. The Village, a planned community completed during World War I, offers an interesting and beautiful neighborhood of homes in a park like setting.

City of Tuscumbia

The charming city of Tuscumbia was settled in the early 1800s and named for the Chickasaw chief whose band of American Indians lived at the place they called “Cold Water.” The natural beauty of the spectacular waterfall and “Big Spring” bubbling from limestone rocks in Tuscumbia’s Spring Park in the heart of downtown provide a scenic backdrop for the community’s interesting past. A water show, set to lights and music, is performed nightly and amusements are available for children who visit the park – carousel, roller coaster and narrow gauge train.

More than 100 Antebellum buildings along with Alabama’s most historic commercial buildings and the restored Tuscumbia Railway Depot provide a backdrop for an interesting visit. Helen Keller, an international symbol of courage, was born in 1880 in Tuscumbia at her family’s home, Ivy Green. Today, the home is a national shrine and is open for tours daily.

Specialty shops and restaurants dot the downtown landscape as does the historic courthouse located in Tuscumbia. Nearby, an early 1800s mansion, Belle Mont, is available for touring. This mansion is believed to have been influenced by Palladian style architecture for which Thomas Jefferson is known.

Just outside the city of Tuscumbia, the 700+ acre Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve beckons to visitors and residents alike to hike over 15 miles of trails while viewing beautiful flora, waterfalls, and majestic trees.

Tuscumbia boasts a regional art museum, the Tennessee Valley Museum of Art, that is open Tuesday through Saturday for tours and special events. The Alabama Music Hall of Fame is located just outside the downtown area and is open everyday  for tours. The museum is dedicated to all styles of music from artists and others contributing to the state’s music heritage.

Today, the small town of Tuscumbia boasts a population of about 9,000 people who love the quaintness of the town with its many historic homes and churches. Many of these historic homes can be found on the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) in the Library of Congress. The historic district within the downtown area plus many beautiful residential subdivisions offer housing to those who wish to make their home in this quaint, beautiful town.

Town of Cherokee

Cherokee was originally part of the Chickasaw Indian Nation.

During a public auction of Chickasaw land in 1836, land was set aside for what would become the Town of Cherokee. A stagecoach road was built through the community in 1839. The Memphis and Charleston Railroad was extended through the community and a post office opened in 1856.

Several skirmishes were fought around Cherokee during the Civil War in 1862 and 1863. Union soldiers camped around the Cherokee railroad station for six days in 1863, and Confederate forces opened a supply depot in the community in 1864. Cherokee was incorporated as a town in 1891.

Cherokee is the proud home to landmarks like the Natchez Trace Parkway and the Coon Dog Cemetery add to its charm. An impressive Independence Day Celebration is held here annually, featuring a big fireworks show. Each fall, an annual cotton festival celebrates agriculture’s role in the town’s economy.

Town of Leighton

Leighton developed at the intersection of Byler Road (1819) and the Tuscumbia-Courtland Stage Road (1820) where the Jefferson/Gregg Tavern served the needs of travelers as early as 1810. Leighton was named for William Leigh, the first merchant and postmaster (1824).

LaGrange College was established 4 miles SW in 1830. The railroad from Tuscumbia to Decatur was completed in 1834 and much cotton was shipped over it. A masonic hall/union church was erected in 1837. After the battle of Town Creek, fought 4 miles east, April 28, 1863, Union Troops burned stores, homes and the college. Leighton was rebuilt and became a thriving commercial center for the surrounding area. The town was incorporated in 1891.

Main Street (County Line Road) divided Colbert and Lawrence counties until 1895 when the boundary was moved to Town Creek.

The weekly Leighton News (1890-1915) was published by F.W. McCormack. By 1910, the town had seven general merchandise stores, three groceries, five cotton buyers, two hotels, a bank, grist mill, doctors, lawyers, undertaker, druggist, livery and Justice of the Peace. The old tavern was moved in 1911 to a spot 75 yards west of this location. Colbert County High School opened in 1910 and served much of the county. Leighton Training School served the black community from 1928-1970. Other historic structures include Dr. Kumpe house (1876), King/Lyle house (1880) Leckey house (1873) Fennel house (1873) and Claude King house (1912).

Percy Sledge was born and raised in Leighton, Alabama, picking cotton in his youth and working as a young adult at the county hospital. Sledge became a major recording star, recording many major hits, including “When A Man Loves a Woman” at Quin Ivy’s NorAla Studio in Sheffield, Alabama. A historic sign marks the location of the studio on 2nd Street in Sheffield.

Town of Littleville

Capt. Benjamin F. Little, a former Confederate soldier, opened a store here after the railroad from Tuscumbia to Russellville was built in 1887. A train station and several homes were soon erected.

A rail spur provided access to nearby iron ore mines. Capt. A.H. Keller owned a sandstone quarry and summer resort called Fern Quarry near Keller Springs just north of town in the 1880s and 1890s. The stone was used in construction of a blast furnace and commercial buildings in Sheffield. In 1917, Jackson Highway (U.S. 43) was constructed along the general route of the old Jackson Military Road.

According to local lore, early settler Hezekiah Tharp’s wife Nancy was a daughter of Chickasaw Chief George Colbert (the county is named for him and his brother Levi). Ligon Springs 1 ½ miles west, was a popular summer resort in the 1870s. The water was advertised as a cure for dropsy, dyspepsia, sore eyes, kidney diseases, etc. By 1910, Littleville had a population of 30. Its merchants were J.D. Bullington, general merchandise; G.W. Hargett, lumber; M.C. Murray, general merchandise; L.O. Breitling, bakery; and C.J. Brockaway, lawyer. The town was incorporated in 1956 and Frank Bullington became the first mayor.

Unearthing the Past

Colbert County is a region of immense historical and cultural significance. Comprising six municipalities, Tuscumbia, Sheffield, Muscle Shoals, Cherokee, Leighton, and Littleville, this county is known for its rich heritage and contributions to American music. Tuscumbia is renowned as the birthplace of Helen Keller, a symbol of courage, and features the picturesque Spring Park. Sheffield gained recognition through its connection to the iconic Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, which produced hits for legendary artists. Muscle Shoals itself is celebrated as the “Hit Recording Capital of the World,” shaping the landscape of popular music.

These cities offer diverse attractions, including historic sites, museums, and the storied Natchez Trace Parkway. The region’s natural beauty and industrial history are showcased at the Old Railroad Bridge in Sheffield and the Wilson Lock and Dam in Muscle Shoals. Colbert County’s deep spiritual heritage is evident along the Rock of Ages Trail, featuring century-old churches. This county serves as a captivating destination for history enthusiasts and cultural explorers, encapsulating the perect blend of history, music, and Southern charm.

🎉🎬 Join us at Belle Mont Mansion on Saturday, Feb 17th for a special FREE event! The Colbert County Historical Landmarks Foundation is proud to present "A Conjoining of Ancient Song," a film by Willie Ruff and Yale University. Celebrate Black History Month and honor the incredible contributions of Willie Ruff - musician, educator, and Shoals citizen. Don't miss this unique opportunity! #WillieRuff #BlackHistoryMonth #ColbertCountyHistory 🎵🎞️
Don't miss your final chance to experience the Belle Mont Mansion Quilt Show! Join us one last time this Friday at 1:00 p.m. for an engaging talk with Glenn Rikard. Explore the captivating stories of historic and antique quilts that adorn the beautiful Belle Mont Mansion. 🪡🧵

Uncover the tales woven into these exquisite textiles in a historic setting like no other. ✨

📸: Belle Mont Mansion

👻✨ Venture into LaGrange Mountain, where stories of unexplained encounters mingle with tales of the paranormal.

One well-known ghost is rumored to be Peter McKinney, an Irish shoemaker known for his extravagant attire, forever searching for his partner, Mourland. Their deadly dispute ended with Mourland crushing Peter's skull with a shoemaker's tool, leaving him lifeless on the shop floor.

There's also the tale of the Petrified Lady, Annie Vinson Ford. Her story takes a curious twist after she was relocated within the cemetery and discovered to be in a petrified state. Her grave is renowned as a hotspot for paranormal activity.

And don't forget Abraham Ricks, whose final resting place boasts a towering monument crafted by an Italian sculptor in 1852. This monument stands as a testament to LaGrange Mountain's enduring legacy and is yet another eerie hotspot for ghostly encounters.

LaGrange Mountain, known as one of Alabama's most haunted locations, has intrigued paranormal investigators from across the nation. Explore (RESPECTFULLY and during daylight hours) if you dare and immerse yourself in these captivating stories! 🌄👻🏞️

📸: Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area 

Happy Labor Day Weekend from Pickwick Lake! 💙🌅

#ColbertCountyOutdoors #caughtincolbert