Elba is a city in Coffee County, Alabama. At the time of the 2000 U.S. census, its population was 4,185. Elba is the official county seat of Coffee County, though Coffee County has two County Courthouses, with the other one being located in the town of Enterprise. Such arrangements are not unusual in the United States, with Jefferson County, Alabama, also having two, and the tall, narrow, Brevard County, Florida, having four, with ones in Cocoa, Titusville, Melbourne, and Rockledge. Jackson County, Missouri has two county seats, Kansas City and Liberty, the official county seat.
The town which eventually became Elba originated near a ferry across the Pea River in the early 1830s. Originally called Bridgeville, a U.S. Post Office was established in the town by 1841. In 1851, a lottery to determine a new name for the town was held. One citizen had been reading a biography of Napoleon Bonaparte, and his suggestion of "Elba" as its name was the winner when it was drawn from a hat before any of the other suggestions. Elba became the county seat of Coffee County in 1852.
A logging railroad first reached Elba, Alabama on March 20, 1892, with the first permanent rail line arriving in October 1898. The "Dorsey Trailer Company" was constructed at the end of this railroad line, and this company manufactured the highway trailers that served on railroads and highways starting with the piggyback railroad or containerized cargo boom of the second half of the 20th century. The new railroad line ended in West Elba, where the "New Town" industrial section of the town was located. The Seaboard System Railroad ceased all railroad service to Elba, including freight service, on November 27, 1984.
The Pea River is an essential component of the history of Elba. The river was originally called the Talakatchee River by the Creek Indians (In the Creek language, talak means pea and hatchee means small river.) The Pea River frequently flooded, causing great damage to the town. The Lincoln flood of 1865, named for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in the same year, was the first to destroy the town. Another devastating flood occurred in 1929 when the river crested at a depth of early on March 15. Airplanes were used to drop supplies to the completely inundated town. There was only one death from the flood, an African-American man named "Phoe" Larkins. A child born at the Elba Hotel during this flood was named "Noah Tucker" after the biblical character Noah. Vivian Harper received the Theodore N. Vail Silver Medal for her heroic actions during the flood.
A levee was built around the town in 1930. Flood gates were erected and drainage systems improved. Floods continued, however, with especially severe inundations in 1938, 1959 and 1975. The worst flood ever recorded in Elba occurred in 1990, with a river crest of . The levee broke and Whitewater Creek overflowed into the town. Elba was completely flooded for four days, and the town was nearly destroyed. More floods struck Elba in 1994 and 1998.