The first settlers came to Tuscaloosa sometime in 1816. With the division of the Mississippi Territory on March 1, 1817, the Alabama Territory was established. William Wyatt Bibb was appointed as the first Governor of the Alabama Territory. The first territorial legislation met at St. Stephens, which was the temporary capital, on January 19, 1818. Through this legislative meeting Tuscaloosa County was established on February 7, 1818.
On August 20, 1818, John Smith was appointed as the Sheriff of Tuscaloosa while Alabama was still considered a territory. The total population of Tuscaloosa by November of that year was 3,138. The first elected Sheriff of Tuscaloosa County, after Alabama was made a State, was John Hodge in 1819.
There have been several court houses during the history of Tuscaloosa and records regarding all of them are scarce. It is believed, however, that the first courthouse was located on the corner of what was Broad street and 22nd avenue, the present location of the U.S. Post Office. In 1821 the Court House was housed in the Masonic Hall belonging to Rising Virture Lodge No. 4. During that time, the county paid $80.00 monthly rental for use of the Lodge.
The first jail was constructed in 1818 by John Baker for $138.00, plus $10.00 for the lock. A seemingly measly price compared to today's standards. In 1822 the people of Tuscaloosa voted to move the courthouse and jail to Newtown, the section known today as West End . The jail was located on what is now 5th Street and 34th Avenue and consisted of nothing more than a large brick edifice. In 1826 the courthouse was moved back to Tuscaloosa proper and had a temporary location before being placed at Greensboro Avenue and 7th Street, where Spiller Furniture is now. The location of the jail during this time is difficult to determine.
In 1856, the building once used to house out of state legislators, when Tuscaloosa was the State Capitol, was remodeled. The original construction cost was $8,029.40. It was located at the intersection of 6th Street and 28th Avenue. This building (Pictured Right) served as the jail between 1856 and 1890. Afterward it was used as a boarding house, VFW lodge and is now used for American Studies with the Tuscaloosa City Schools where it still stands today. A new jail was built in 1890 putting the county jail and courthouse on the same lot. The courthouse contained three stories and a clock tower on top. The third story was used as a Masonic Hall. On October 8, 1909 a new jail contract was signed. The new jail was three stories with an execution room on the second floor. An iron ring was in the ceiling to which the executioner's rope was tied and a trap door dropped into an office below. Only two executions took place in that jail.
Since the establishment of Tuscaloosa in 1816, 39 different men have held the Office of Sheriff beginning with John Smith. Some of their pictures appear in this section. Each one brought his own style of law enforcement to Tuscaloosa County in an effort to maintain law and order. Only one Sheriff has lost his life in the line of duty, Sheriff Palmer M. Watts was killed by Doc Bigham on August 15, 1918. Doc Bigham was the last person hanged in Tuscaloosa County.
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