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Decatur is a city in Morgan and Limestone counties in the State of Alabama. The city, affectionately known as “The River City”, is located in Northern Alabama on the banks of Wheeler Lake, along the Tennessee River. It is the largest city and county seat of Morgan County. The population in 2010 census was 55,683.
Decatur is also the core city of the two-county large Decatur Metropolitan Area which had 154,233 in 2012. Combined with the Huntsville Metropolitan Area, the two create the Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Area, of which Decatur is the second largest city.
Like many southern cities in the early 19th century, Decatur’s early success was based upon its location along a river. Railroad routes and boating traffic pushed the city to the front of North Alabama’s economic atmosphere. The city rapidly grew into a large economic center within the Tennessee Valley and was a hub for travelers and cargo between Nashville and Mobile as well as Chattanooga and New Orleans. Throughout the 20th century, the city experienced steady growth, but was eclipsed as the regional economic center by a fast growing Huntsville during the space race. The city now finds its economy heavily based on manufacturing industries, cargo transit, and hi-tech industries such as General Electric, and the United Launch Alliance.
As of the census of 2000, there were 53,929 people, 21,824 households, and 14,753 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,009.7 people per square mile (389.9/km2). There were 23,950 housing units at an average density of 448.4 per square mile (173.1/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 75.50% White, 19.56% Black or African American, 0.58% Native American, 0.70% Asian, 0.13% Pacific Islander, 2.22% from other races, and 1.33% from two or more races. 5.64% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 21,824 households out of which 31.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.7% were married couples living together, 13.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.4% were non-families. 28.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.43 and the average family size was 2.99.
In the city the population was spread out with 25.4% under the age of 18, 8.8% from 18 to 24, 29.6% from 25 to 44, 23.1% from 45 to 64, and 13.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 92.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 89.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $37,192, and the median income for a family was $47,574. Males had a median income of $37,108 versus $22,471 for females. The per capita income for the city was $20,431. About 11.9% of families and 14.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 21.2% of those under age 18 and 11.1% of those age 65 or over.
Initially the area was known as “Rhodes Ferry Landing”, named for Dr. Henry W. Rhodes, an early landowner who operated a ferry that crossed the Tennessee River in the 1810s at the present-day location of Rhodes Ferry Park. The city was incorporated as Decatur in the year 1821. It was named in honor of Stephen Decatur; after he was killed in a duel in 1820, President Monroe directed that the Alabama town be named for him.
Decatur was a very important point in North Alabama during its earliest days. Decatur was the eastern terminus of the Tuscumbia, Courtland and Decatur Railroad (in the early 1830s), the first railway built west of the Appalachian Mountains. In 1850 the Tuscumbia, Courtland and Decatur Railroad was incorporated into the Memphis & Charleston Railroad.
The Tennessee River has traditionally been the northern border of the city and Morgan County, while Flint Creek and the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge on the east side of the city. The city does extend to the other side of Flint Creek and the Refuge in the Indian Hills and Burningtree subdivision areas. There is also an inlet that extends one mile (2 km) into the city limits from Wheeler Lake called Dry Branch. There is also a small portion of Decatur that extends into Limestone County north along the Highway 31 corridor to the Calhoun College area and along Hwy 20 Corridor until it reaches I-65.
The northern portion of Decatur sits on top of a short hill that overlooks the Tennessee River, this creates a very steep dropoff to the river shore at Rhodes Ferry Park. This hill allows the “Steamboat Bill” Memorial Bridge to leave the mainland at grade without any major sloping required more height to cross the river while not interfering with Decatur’s heavy barge traffic. This hill extends from the banks of the river about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) south to the 14th St./Magnolia St. intersection with 6th Avenue (US 31).
South past the 14th St. and 6th Ave. intersection, land continues to remain flat. South, and also west, past Alabama 67 there are a few minor mountains that sit within the city limits.
Decatur is located at 34°34′52″N 86°59′0″W (34.580992, −86.983392).
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 59.9 square miles (155 km2), of which, 53.4 square miles (138 km2) of it is land and 6.5 square miles (17 km2) of it (10.83%) is water.
Decatur has a humid subtropical climate (Köppen Cfa) with four distinct seasons.
Winters are generally mild, with a January daily average temperature of 40.6 °F (4.8 °C). On average, the low temperature falls to the freezing mark or below on 59 days a year, and to or below 20 °F (−7 °C) on 9.2 days. Winters usually do not produce much snow; a large amount of snow is rare within the city limits. A small, measurable amount of snow can be experienced a few times each year. In 2011, Decatur received up to 8 inches (20 cm) of snow in a single storm. It tied for the most since 1963. Summers are hot and humid with a July daily average temperature of 79.6 °F (26.4 °C). There are 51–52 days of 90 °F (32 °C)+ highs annually and 1.7 days of 100 °F (38 °C)+ highs. Thunderstorms are common during the summer months. The latter part of summer tends to be drier. Autumn, which spans from mid-September to early-December, tends to be similar to spring in terms of temperature and precipitation, although it begins relatively dry.
Occasionally, severe thunderstorms occur. These storms can produce damaging winds and large hail in addition to the usual hazards of lightning and very heavy rain. There is also the risk of Tornadoes. Severe thunderstorms can occur at any time of the year but are most common during the spring months. There is a secondary severe weather season during the Fall months. Tropical disturbances – some of which reach the Gulf Coast as Hurricanes but lose intensity as they move inland – can occasionally bring heavy rains.
The highest recorded temperature was 108 °F (42 °C) on July 28, 1952 and August 16, 1954, while the lowest recorded temperature was −19 °F (−28 °C) on January 30, 1966.
Decatur has grown to be the busiest river port on the Tennessee River. The Port of Decatur sees large amounts of barge traffic from up and down the Tennessee River, which has led to twenty Fortune 500 companies opening plants in the city.
Decatur is also known as the “Home of Meow Mix”, after the company bought a 200,000-square-foot (19,000 m2) facility in town, and now utilizes its riverfront property to ship the finished product up and down the Tennessee River.
Being part of the Huntsville-Decatur CSA, the city lies within the region having the most engineers per capita in the nation.