Courtland is a town in Lawrence County, Alabama, and is included in the Decatur Metropolitan Area, as well as the Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Area. As of the 2000 census, the population of the town is 769.
A small creek named Big Nance Creek runs through the town. The creek was named for a Cherokee Indian chief who lived in the area upon arrival of the first European settlers. The current town is reportedly located on the site of the Native American village.
Situated in the fertile Tennessee River Valley of North Alabama, Courtland was incorporated on December 13, 1819 by the Alabama territorial legislature. The town's early settlers were wealthy planters mostly from Virginia, Tennessee, the Carolinas and Georgia.
The town was named for having a federal courthouse and land office in the early 19th century.
One of the South's First Railroads - 1832
Seeking a means to ship cotton and other goods around the treacherous Muscle Shoals of the Tennessee River, area planters and merchants met at Courtland in 1831 to consider a rail line. On January 13, 1832, the 50 mile long Tuscumbia, Courtland and Decatur Railroad was chartered. Early trains were usually horse-drawn, although an English-made steam locomotive was acquired in 1834. Absorbed by the Memphis & Charleston line after 1850, the railway was largely destroyed during the Civil War. The rebuilt railroad became part of the southern system in 1898.
The Red Rovers
A volunteer military company was organized at Courtland in 1835 to aid Texas in its struggle for independence. Commanded by Dr. Jack Shackelford, a local physician, the company derived its name from the color of their home spun uniforms made by citizens of Courtland. The dye used was reportedly derived from the rich red clay abundant in the area. As their first assignment the Red Rovers were assigned to a regiment that was cut off and captured by the Mexican Army at Coleta, Texas, March 20, 1836. They surrendered on the promise of return to the U. S. On March 27, the company and others, 365 men total, were massacred at Goliad, Texas, by order of Gen. Santa Anna. Dr. Shackelford was spared and seven other Rovers were spared or escaped. Dr. Shackleford later escaped and returned to Courtland. The Goliad incident, plus the Alamo, rallied U. S. Support and guaranteed freedom for Texas.
Courtland's Early Architecture
Structures within the Courtland historic district represent over 150 years of changing tastes in building design. Several of Courtland’s earliest buildings survive to this day. The Federal-style architecture of the oldest houses suggest the community’s strong original links with Virginia and other states of the upper South. Typical early residences of frame and brick feature a gable roof with tall chimneys at each end. Sometimes weatherboarding conceals log walls underneath. Many buildings dating from the 1850s through the 1930s reflect Italianate, Victorian and neoclassical architectural influences. There are also early 20th century “bungalows”, some built of native sandstone. Courtland still counts about twenty buildings predating the Civil War (1861). During the early 19th century, an assortment of wooden, brick and log business structures surrounded the town square. Most of the old buildings on the square today (north and east sides) date from the late 19th century and early 20th century. The fronts of some of them feature characteristic Victorian detailing. At the northeast corner of the square are four 19th-century stone mounting blocks placed for the convenience of horseback riders. The blocks were also supposedly used for selling slaves during the slave period. The tall red cedars seen throughout Courtland and along the streets radiating from the square have been a feature of the landscape since early days.
The John McMahon House, a Federal style home built around 1830, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Rocky Hill Castle was an architecturally renowned plantation on the outskirts of Courtland, it was demolished in 1961.
World War II
Courtland was home to the Courtland Army Airfield (Courtland AAF) in 1944 and 1945. It was dismantled immediately after WWII and given the city of Courtland to use as an airport. Today, it is Courtland Airport.