A BRIEF HISTORY OF FLORENCE, ALABAMA
The area of present-day Lauderdale County and Florence was originally part of the Chickasaw Nation, which ceded its lands to the federal government in several treaties during the early nineteenth century. Shortly after the last Chickasaw treaty was signed, the federal government held the first land sale in the area. The Cypress Land Company purchased the land that Florence now occupies, anticipating that it would become a major commercial town because of its location on a hill overlooking the Tennessee River.
General John Coffee, a partner in the Cypress Land Company with future U.S. president Andrew Jackson, James Jackson, future Senator of Alabama, and Judge John McKinley, future U.S. Supreme Court Associate Judge among others, commissioned Italian engineer Ferdinand Sannoner to survey the land in 1818. Coffee was so pleased with Sannoner's work that he asked the surveyor to name the town; he chose Florence, his home in Italy. The city of Florence was established on March 12, 1818, and immediately took its place as the county seat, but it was not incorporated officially until nearly a decade later in 1826. Although the city did become an industrial, agricultural and commercial center, it did not flourish to the extent the founders in the Cypress Land Company had anticipated.
The first land sale to the public was held in July 1818, with another sale in 1823. Records show that 180 people acquired lots after the two sales. General Andrew Jackson was among those 180 people. The city attracted settlers because they believed that its elevation helped ensure against some diseases that occurred in lower elevations along the river. Before long, Florence had become one of the first textile centers in the Southeast. However, the town suffered greatly during the Civil War as it repeatedly changed hands between Union and Confederate forces, leaving nearly all its industrial base destroyed along with parts of the city.
By 1887, more than 20 years after the Civil War's end, the town had begun to flourish once again, with the population increasing in that period from 1,600 to 6,000. Also, the relocation of La Grange College (now the University of North Alabama) from Colbert County to Florence in 1885 played an important role in the city's economic development, and quickly positioned the city as an educational center. Today, Florence remains one of the largest and most progressive cities in North Alabama, and is host to numerous art, music and historically related events.