Bank Street, home to Decatur’s oldest business district, emerged as a significant commercial hub in the mid-19th century following the construction of the Old State Bank. One of three banks authorized by Alabama’s general assembly in 1832, it was built by slaves the following year, and was one of a handful of structures to survive Decatur’s occupation by Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War. The bank building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and Bank Street itself was added to the register in 1980.
After a fire destroyed most of the buildings on Bank Street in 1877, the district gradually filled with new brick structures reflecting “Italianate, Victorian, and Commercial styles” popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A number of black-owned businesses also opened on Bank Street during this time, mostly around the Old State Bank building and on the opposite side of what is now Wilson Avenue.
Just south of the Old State Bank stood a block of buildings owned by Dr. Willis E. Sterrs, Decatur’s first African-American physician and the founder of the Cottage Home Infirmary. Dr. Sterrs opened the Magnolia Drug Store here in 1892, and his fellow black physician Dr. W.H. Sherrard later had an office in this block. Dr. Willis J. Wood also had a dentistry practice here in the 1910s above the Magnolia Drug Store. Like so many other Old Town buildings, the Sterrs block was ultimately demolished as part of “urban renewal” efforts undertaken by the city of Decatur.
Other notable black-owned businesses near Old State Bank included: Peoples Dry Goods, also owned and operated by Dr. Sterrs; a grocery store owned by Burrell W. Lemons, who served during Reconstruction as Decatur’s first black city councilman; a “rooming house and cafe” run by Alice Bridgeforth and Winnie Parker; and the S.S. Sykes furniture store (below) on the corner of Bank and Wilson Street.
A few blocks south of the Old State Bank, on the corner of Bank and Vine Street, is the Morgan County Archives. The building, once home to the Tennessee Valley Bank, was erected in 1927 and has housed the archives since 1995, when the Morgan County Commission established “a permanent repository for inactive government records.” Highlights of the collection include photographs from the Civil War era and the 1933 Scottsboro Boys trial, as well as a wealth of genealogical materials indexed by volunteers from the Morgan County Genealogical Society.
Go inside the archives to view photographs and other artifacts of Old Town's past, and click the button at the bottom of this page to return to the main menu.