A Bit of History
Arab, Alabama - The name of the town was an unintentional misspelling by the U.S. Postal Service in 1882 of the city's intended name, taken from Arad Thompson, the son of the town founder and first postmaster Stephen Tuttle Thompson.
July 11, 2015
This weekend marked the sixth anniversary of completion on construction of our home for Pam and I. We purchased the five acres near downtown on which we built, back in May of 2008 from the George R. Archer and Sarah M. Archer Living Trust. Sarah is one of the decendants of Arad Thompson. We are proud to call Arab our home.
Arab experienced some growth in the 1930's when the Whitesburg Bridge was erected to allow traffic on U.S. Highway 231 passage across the Tennessee River, just 19 miles north at the Huntsville city limits. Prior to that, people crossed the river on White's Ferry at Ditto Landing. During the 1950's, the development of Marshall Space Flight Center and Redstone Arsenal brought new-comers to the area, including Al LaGrone (the founder of Bara) who transferred from Mallory Air Force Depot in Memphis to Redstone Arsenal in December of 1956.
Although Alabama rates in the Top Ten Lowest Elevation States with a mean elevation of only 500 feet above sea level, Arab sits at 1,100 feet atop Brindley (a.k.a. Brindlee) Mountain in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountain chain. I recall Al telling me why he had lobbied Governor George Wallace to make Highway 231 a four lane coming south out of Huntsville rather than completing the four lanes north to the Tennessee state line first. Al's argument was, "Creating the twenty miles of four lanes going north would benefit Tennessee more than Alabama! Creating the twenty miles of four lanes coming south first would benefit Alabama more." Al LaGrone was right of course.
The mountainous terrain played a role, but a big part of the equation in that decision many years ago, more than likely, had to do with crossing the Tennessee River! A four lane highway would require a four lane bridge or a second two lane bridge and that was an expensive proposition (the new northbound bridge opened in June 2006, 10 years and 3 months after LaGrone's death). On top of that, as soon as you cross that Tennessee River coming south out of Huntsville, you are in Morgan County, not Madison County. Morgan County (Decatur) already had U.S. Highway 31 and I-65 which left little interest on their part to develop the Hwy. 231 corridor. The four lanes going north out of the city of Huntsville to the Tennesse state line are entirely within Madison County.
With time, Marshall Space Flight Center (named in honor of General of the Army George Marshall) and Redstone Arsenal dictated rural growth in the most natural direction, which was toward the city of Madison (west of the city of Huntsville). Eventually, like a rubber band, expansion moved east over the mountain to Hampton Cove. When out-of-town clients visit my office and inquire about Arab's slow but steady growth, I explain it this way. We are wedged in the corner of Marshall County with Morgan, Cullman and Blount County borders in very close proximity. In fact, a portion of our city is in Cullman County, not Marshall County (so named, in honor of John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States).
We don't have the things associated with a transportation hub that generally spurs business growth, like an airport, a railroad, and although we have the long awaited four lanes on Highway 231 going north, as soon as you reach our southern city limit it turns back to a two lane highway. Our state highway, Alabama 69, that connects us with Cullman and Guntersville was widened to a four lane from here to Guntersville not that many years ago. There have been plans on the drawing board to do the same from here to Cullman for more than fifteen years, but I'm doubtful that we'll see it happen in my lifetime.
So, while we aren't bursting at the seams like the city of Madison, we are making progress at our own pace. And I think most folks here are okay with that. I feel certain that our town of Arab will maintain its quaint southern charm for many years to come.