In 1831, at the enactment of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, John Coleman a Euro-American married to a Choctaw woman sold his property, that was to become Gainesville, to Colonel Moses Lewis. Colonel Lewis divided the land into lots and sold it to American settlers moving down from Virginia, and the Carolina’s. The new residents settled along Yankee Street, close to the river. By 1840 Gainesville had become the third largest town in the state of Alabama, with a population of over 4,000 residents. It had one of the first banks in the state that issued currency and became a major port, shipping 6,000 bales of cotton to Mobile each year by steamboat down the Tombigbee River. On Yankee Street, closest to the river was the American Hotel, an impressive three-story building with a lobby, restaurant, dance floor, and bar on the ground floor. Also located on Yankee Street was the Female Academy, a two-story girls’ school.
Sadly, in 1855, an accidental fire destroyed the vibrant downtown business district. The post office, mayor’s office, mill shops, department stores, a newspaper, jewelers, dress shop, livery stable, blacksmith shop, sawmill, hickory mill, lawyer’s office, doctor’s office, landing and loading dock, and warehouses were all consumed. The American Hotel was also destroyed in a fire sometime after the Civil War.
Gainesville’s location on the Tombigbee River, connecting the Tennessee River to Mobile, made it a strategic location during the Civil War (1861 – 65). Soldiers were brought to Gainesville from battlefields to be nursed in the Female Academy and housed in the hotel, school house, and homes. Over 250 of which were laid to rest in Gainesville’s Confederate Cemetery. Confederate Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest Cavalry Corps Headquartered in Gainesville and on May 9, 1865 it’s where Forrest gave his farewell address to his troops. Gainesville now hosts annual Civil War re-enactments, which are held the second weekend of March each year.
The Southern Railroad was completed through the south of the county by 1900 and by 1920 the boll weevil wiped out cotton production. After which the population of Gainesville has never recovered.
In 1978 however the Howell Heflin Lock and Dam was completed just northeast of downtown Gainesville creating a 6,400-acre reservoir known as Gainesville Lake. Not only is the reservoir effective for navigation and flood control but for recreation with ten areas accessible to the public for bank fishing. boat ramps, hunting and camping. Gainesville lake is especially well known for its largemouth bass.
Today Gainesville has approximately 36 historic sites that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with many that predate the American Civil War. The historic districts include the Gainesville Historic District and Main–Yankee Street Historic District. Individual structures include Aduston Hall, the Coffin Shop, Colgin Hill, Gibbs House, Col. Green G. Mobley House, the Park and Bandstand, and Laura Watson House. The town hosts Heritage Days every March in cooperation with the Sumter County Historical Society.
- 2010 Population estimate – 208
- 2008 Median Age – 41
- 2008 Number of Households – 77
- 2008 Median Household income – $16,071
- 2008 Per Capita – $12,957
- Population within 30 miles – 49,629
- Distance to Interstate 20 – 17.5 miles
- Distance from city to:
- Tuscaloosa – 51.5 miles
- Meridian – 53.4
- Birmingham – 105 miles
- Montgomery – 153 miles
- Mobile – 177 miles
- Huntsville – 199 miles
- New Orleans – 231 miles
- Atlanta – 246 miles
PO Box 73
Gainesville, AL 35464