Athens, Alabama

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Athens is a city in Limestone County, Alabama, United States. As of the 2000 census, the population of the city is 18,967. According to the 2009 U.S. Census estimates, the city had a population of 24,234.[4] The city is the county seat of Limestone County and is included in the Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Area.



Founded in 1818 by John Coffee, Robert Beaty, John D. Carroll, and John Read, Athens is one of the oldest incorporated cities in the State of Alabama, having been incorporated one year prior to the state's admittance to the Union in 1819. Limestone County was also created by an act of the Alabama Territorial Legislature in 1818.[1][5] The town was first called Athenson, then the name was then shortened to Athens, after the ancient city in Greece. The town's first mayor was Samuel Tanner, and the town just south of Athens was named on his behalf.[6]

The Athens area was the home of William Wyatt Bibb, the first Governor of Alabama, and of its second Governor, his brother Thomas Bibb, who succeeded him in office when he died in a fall from his horse.[7]

In 1822, local residents purchased 5 acres (20,000 m2) of land and built a building to house the Athens Female Academy. The school became affiliated with the Methodist church in 1842, and was eventually renamed Athens Female College. After becoming coeducational in 1932, the school changed its name again to Athens College. After being taken over by the State of Alabama in 1974, the college was converted to a “reverse junior college,” offering the last two years of instruction for graduates of area community colleges. It is today known as Athens State University.[8]

Many homes in the central part of modern Athens date to the antebellum period, and are part of historic preservation districts.[9]

On May 2, 1862, during the Civil War, Athens was seized by Union forces under the command of Col. John Basil Turchin, a Russian émigré. After occupying the town, Turchin assembled his men and told them: "I shut my eyes for two hours. I see nothing."[10] Business were hit first, and anything of value that could be carried away were looted and anything that could not be was simply destroyed.[10] After rampaging through stores the soldiers plundered private homes.[10] A slave girl was raped.[10] The soldiers also attempted to rape a servant girl.[10] The violent behavior of the soldiers caused a pregnant woman to suffer a miscarriage and die.[10] The townpeople estimated the damge to be fifty-five thousand dollars.[10] The resulting pillage and plunder came to be known as the Rape of Athens.[11]

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