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A Bit of Local History and the Limestone County Archives

Before we look at the Limestone County Archives, let's look at a bit of local history.

Limestone County was founded in 1818 as part of the Alabama Territory even before Alabama became a state in 1819.

Throughout the 19th century Limestone County grew primarily as farm country and cotton producer but was also part of the industrialization that spread over all the Tennessee River Valley in those days. The first railroad west of the Appalachian Mountains was built in the 1830's in nearby Morgan County and ran from Decatur to Tuscumbia even before the locomotive was invented. The rail cars were pulled on the tracks by horses and mules.

Because of its location, the development of Athens was stimulated by traffic and commerce traveling between Nashville and Birmingham and as well as being near the Tennessee River. The Tennessee and Alabama Railroad was built in the 1850's connecting Columbia, Tennessee to Decatur, Alabama and came right through Athens.

In 1900 the population of Limestone County was over 22,000 people. In 1905, the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad built a beautiful passenger train depot in Athens, the county seat of Limestone County. There on the west side of the tracks the depot filled the block between Market Street and Washington Street - right in the heart of the lovely small city. The depot was built not only to look good, but to serve as an efficient stopping place for travelers going either north or south along the L&N line. And the depot building was built to last - and last it did.

pretty depot building along the railroad tracks
Once an L&N Passenger Depot, now the Limestone County Archives Building

The years from about 1890 to 1950 are sometimes called the Golden Age of train travel. But in the 1950's and 1960's, as the nation developed an interstate highway system, the age of railroads declined. During the late 1960's the L&N passenger depot in Athens closed. The building was sold to private interests and hosted retail businesses that opened and closed off and on for many years.

In 1980 the Limestone County Commission formed the Limestone County Department of History and

sign hanging for Limestone County Archives
Archives sign on Washington Street

Archives as the official repository of all public records of the different county departments. In 2004 the county purchased the old L&N passenger depot building and remodeled it to be the home of the Limestone County Archives.

The Archives hold public records going back before 1900 for births and death, deeds, marriages, wills, voter registration, land plats, court cases, and other things.

In August of 2023 I visited the Archives building. I enjoyed the visit very much. I was surprised to learn both how many records the archives hold and how far back the records go.

The building is beautiful on the inside, being modern and stylish at the same time.

Assistant Archivist April Davis took time to give me a quick tour and explain much of the work they do there. They work continuously to maintain the old written records and at the same time convert those records to searchable electronic format that can be catalogued for research.

old record books in the shelf
Records go back to near the 1820's

They also work to place records online so that they be search via the Internet. Go to .

old hand written records book
And of course those old records were hand written.

An organization called the Friends of the Archives (FOA) supports the Archives by maintaining a small library there and collecting material related to Limestone County. They are the publishing arm of the Archives. They also maintain the extensive photo collection.

old telephone and old telephone directories
An old telephone along with some old telephone directories

a stack of old telephone directories
Athens Alabama directory 1960, marked Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph.

As part of their public service the workers at the Archives train researchers in how to access the many records there using modern computers and readers. They have a large modern room resembling a library that they call the "Reading Room".

Room with books and tables ad chairs
The Reading Room

The Mission of the Archives is:

To procure, preserve, restore, maintain, study, and promote records, charters, manuscripts, instruments, evidence, and documents of a public or private nature that may have statistical, legal, or historical significance to Limestone County, Alabama, its government, or residents, or such documents as might be desirable to the association and to encourage public interest therein.

a magnifying glass and some old books on a table
Inside the Archives Reading Room

The people of Limestone County are fortunate to have such a large, well maintained, and functional Department of History and Archives. The building itself is classic. The operation inside the building is impressive in the amount of information contained there and how well it is made available to the public. And many of those records go back two hundred years. The Archive staff should take pride in their good work.

American flag outside a building entrance
The Limestone County Archives building

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