7 Things To Do in Decatur Alabama For Foodies, Families and History Lovers

Decatur Alabama is nicknamed the River City because the Tennessee River figures large in its existence. For a small city there are plenty of things to do in Decatur Alabama. If you are a history lover, Decatur Alabama history is a snapshot of early American life with the beautiful homes of the Old Decatur Historic District, a part of the Trail of Tears Alabama section and as the site of the Battle of Decatur during the Civil War. Children will love cooling down at the Point Mallard Water Park as well as the excellent new Cook Museum of Natural Science. You definitely won’t go hungry either with nationally reknowned Southern barbecue at the two Big Bob Gibson Decatur Alabama venues. 

Decatur Alabama History

Decatur Alabama is a small city  in Northern Alabama near Huntsville Alabama. 

Decatur Alabama history started before the city was incorporated in 1821.  The city was started near the Rhodes Ferry Landing where a Dr. Rhodes was a local landowner running a ferry crossing the Tennessee River.  

After Alabama was admitted to the USA as the 22nd state, President James Monroe ordered that a town be established at Rhodes Ferry. He also suggested the town be named after his good friend Commodore Stephen Decatur, considered one of the fathers of the US Navy, who had died the previous year in a duel a la Alexander Hamilton. 

Things to do in Decatur AL include museums, parks and history tours
Things to do in Decatur AL include museums, parks and history tours

Decatur Alabama had a steady influx of people because of the settlement of the Mississippi territories. In this area of the Tennessee River, travellers had to get off their ships because of the difficult of getting past the rapids near Muscle Shoals. Travellers would travel overland to Tuscumbia Alabama where they could get back on their vessels. Decatur further cemented its position as a crossroads In the 1830’s when the town became the end of the line for the first railroad east of the Appalachian mountains. 

Thanks to its transportation links, Decatur Alabama became a battleground during the Civil War. A reenactment of the Battle of Decatur is held annually on Labor Day weekend at Point Mallard park.

7 Cool Things To Do in Decatur Alabama

Despite being a small city, you will find plenty of interesting things to do in Decatur. Downtown Decatur Alabama has an interesting mix of stores, parks and history. Among the family-friendly things to do in Decatur Alabama, children will love Delano Park, Point Mallard Waterpark and the Cook Museum of Natural Science.

Decatur Alabama Downtown

Although small, there are some cool things to do in Decatur Alabama downtown which involve two of my favourite activities – eating and shopping. Only about half an hour away, Decatur makes a great day trip from Huntsville Alabama.

Tennessee Valley Pecan Company

We loved the Tennessee Valley Pecan Company which is a cafe and store downtown. The Tennessee Valley Pecan Company has both fresh and frozen pecan pies as well as a whole range of pecans in assorted flavours. The bags of pecans I bought got demolished by my family in no time. They also do great coffee if you are in need of a proper caffeine fix as well as the artisanal Piper and Leaf teas.

The Tennessee Valley Pecan Company has so much more than pecans ... like great coffee and Wifi
The Tennessee Valley Pecan Company has so much more than pecans … like great coffee and Wifi.

The Tennessee Valley Pecan Company has been going since 1942. They are open Monday through Saturday. The address for the Tennessee Valley Pecan Company is 806 Bank Street NE, Decatur AL 35601.

Bank Street Antiques 

Bank Street Antiques is a treasure trove of vintage and antique stuff. Helpfully there is a bench outside the store for unwilling vintage shoppers. I may have left my son sitting outside with a bag of Tennessee Valley Pecan Company cookies as a bribe.

Check out this London Tower Bridge bar set which was available at Bank Street Antiques in downtown Decatur Alabama.
Check out this London Tower Bridge bar set which was available at Bank Street Antiques in downtown Decatur Alabama.

Bank Street Antiques has several floors spread out over 12,000 s.f., There are so many nooks and crannies that you are constantly stumbling on something new. There were several things I could have bought if I didn’t worry about how to cart them home.  In the end, I opted for some great Southern advertising posters I found at Bank Street Antiques- definitely dated advertising that was a sign of the times which remind us how far we have come in attitudes.

Bank Street Art & Antiques claims to be North Alabama’s largest art and antique store.  It is open Monday through Saturday. The address is for Bank Street Art & Antiques is 818 Bank St, Decatur, AL 35601.

Old Decatur Historic District Victorian Architecture

Not far from downtown Decatur Alabama, is the Old Decatur Historic District. Many of the pre-civil war buildings in Decatur Alabama were destroyed by the Union Army during their occupation in the Civil War. There is a large collection of Victorian era homes though. 

If you are looking for things to do in Decatur AL, take a walk (or drive) through the Old Decatur historic district where you will find beautiful houses like this one.
If you are looking for things to do in Decatur AL, take a walk (or drive) through the Old Decatur historic district where you will find beautiful houses like this one.
Fun Fact!  When Old Decatur got burned, a new Decatur sprang up after the Civil War. Many of the people from New Decatur were from the North though. Needless to say, Old Decatur people and New Decatur people were NOT friends. New Decatur eventually changed its name to Albany because many of them were New Yorkers. In 1927, Decatur and Albany were merged into Decatur. 

Both the Old Decatur Historic District and the Albany Historic District are charming. The Old Decatur Historic District shows more French and British influenced homes whereas the Albany Historic District displays more American trends such as California cottage and Frank Lloyd Wright influences.

Family Friendly Tip! Have kids that don’t appreciate architecture as much as you do? Check out charming Frazier Park in the Old Decatur Historic District which has a Japanese garden or the larger Delano Park in the Albany Historic District which has extensive kids’ facilities.
Bet you didn’t think there would be a Japanese garden in the Old Decatur Historic District did you?
Bet you didn’t think there would be a Japanese garden in the Old Decatur Historic District did you?

Old Decatur Historic District For Civil War History Buffs

Decatur Alabama has set up a self-guided Civil War Walking tour in the Old Decatur historic district.

The walking tour starts at the Old State Bank at 925 Banks Street. You can’t miss the 1833 building that is a Thomas Jefferson inspired fusion of Venetian Palladian meets Roman temple. This building was only one of a handful of buildings that survived the Civil War burning by the Union Army. In fact, during the Battle of Decatur, the Union Army used the Old State Bank as their headquarters. Admission is free. 

The Civil War walking tour covers 13 blocks and has 11 historic markers. It may not sound like much of a walk but that Alabama heat and humidity is brutal. We did this tour as a semi-driving tour. The old Decatur Historic District is not busy with traffic and you can meander your way easily in a car. 

Down the street from the Old State Bank, there are a couple of other civil war related venues. There is the Morgan County Archives Civil War Exhibit located at 624 Bank Street which has a collection of historical memorabilia including some very cool photographs. The Blue and Grey Museum of North Alabama located at 723 Bank Street is considered the best Civil War Museum in the South. A small admission fee is charged. 

Of course, you can find your Confederate Soldier memorial in Decatur Alabama as well. Erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1922, the statue is located behind the Morgan County Courthouse. 

Point Mallard Water Park

Point Mallard Waterpark is the first water park in the USA to have had a wave pool. Even thought it opened in 1970, the facilities at the Point Mallard Water Park are not dated. There is plenty to keep kids occupied at Point Mallard Water Park for the entire day including, diving boards, water flumes, a lazy river and a water works area for the younger kids.

Point Mallard Water Park is very well staffed with life guards everywhere.
Point Mallard Water Park is very well staffed with life guards everywhere.

My son was delighted with the diving boards at Point Mallard water park because they are hard to come by now because of the insurance issues. There has actually been someone who died on the highest of the diving boards at Point Mallard water park but that diving board is now closed. 

I am finicky about water parks and community pools. Yet, I thought it was clean and well maintained with plenty of life guards.  There really isn’t much shady area at Point Mallard Water Park though. Make sure you  pack plenty of sunscreen. 

Situated on the banks of the Tennessee River, Point Mallard is much more than a water park though. Among its 500 acres, there is a golf course, tennis courts, indoor ice skating rink and batting cages as well as running and walking trails. We saw a setup for archery which my daughter would have loved.

Point Mallard Water Park is very well staffed with life guards everywhere.
Point Mallard Water Park is only one of the many things to do at Point Mallard.

Point Mallard marks the beginning and end of summer in Decatur Alabama in style. For Memorial Day Weekend in May, the Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic is a festival centred around 50+ local and national hot air balloons. The Alabama Jubilee Hot Air festival has been around since 1978 and is a very family-friendly event.  For Labor Day Weekend in September, there is the Battle of Decatur reenactment.

Cook Museum of Natural Science

My son could have spent the entire day at the Cook Museum of Natural Science which just opened in 2019 in a new building. He declared it the 3rd best museum he’s ever been to (Numbers 1 and 2 are the Franklin Institute and the Museum of the American Revolution both in Philadelphia). I would definitely consider this a must-see activity if you are looking for things to do in Decatur Alabama. 

The Cook Museum of Natural Science is very impressive with thousands of exhibits related to the natural sciences. It started as the private collection of Mr. Cook, who owns one of the largest pest control services in the Southeastern USA. I know there is irony somewhere there about pesticides funding a celebration of nature’s diversity.

Images from the Hubble Telescope are among the displays to explore at the Cook Museum of Natural Science.
Images from the Hubble Telescope are among the displays to explore at the Cook Museum of Natural Science.

Staffed by knowledgeable volunteers, the exhibits are interactive and interesting. I was particularly taken by the way the Cook Museum of Natural Science has simple explanations for younger kids but more detailed explanations for older kids and adults. 

There is also a great cafe (with excellent juices) and gift shop at the Cook Museum of Natural Science. The museum is located at 133 4th Avenue Decatur AL.

Big Bob Gibson Decatur AL

Big Bob Gibson Decatur Alabama has been an institution in North Alabama since 1925. They win state and world barbecue championships all of the time. And, it’s easy to see why! We thought the barbecue was excellent! 

Eating barbecue at Big Bob Gibson is one of the essential things to do in Decatur Alabama
Eating barbecue at Big Bob Gibson is one of the essential things to do in Decatur Alabama

We are probably in the minority for saying that we were underwhelmed by the White BBQ sauce that Big Bob Gibson Decatur Alabama is known for. Although I found it vinegary and watery, white barbecue sauce is super popular in North Alabama with barbecue chicken.

At Big Bob Gibsons Decatur AL, baked beans, potato salad and mac and cheese came as the sides to my barbecue feast.
At Big Bob Gibsons Decatur AL, baked beans, potato salad and mac and cheese came as the sides to my barbecue feast.

The restaurant is packed with locals but service is excellent. The portions are a healthy size but you will wolf them down because they are so tasty. They have all the standard favourites – pulled pork, beef brisket, smoked turkey, barbecue chicken and spare ribs. The baked potatoes are fully loaded and a great lunch.

There is also a drive-through option if you don’t want to wait for a table. You have a choice of two locations for Big Bob Gibson Decatur AL – 1715 6th Avenue SE and 2520 Danville Road SW.

Trail of Tears Alabama 

The land that constitutes Decatur Alabama nowadays is land that was taken by the US government from the Cherokees and sold at auction in 1820. One of the things to do in Decatur Alabama is explore a bit of the consequences of clearing Native Americans from their homeland to make way for white settlers.

All those Native Americans had to be put somewhere though. So Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced the removal of Native Americans from their native lands in the Southeastern States to reservations allocated for them in Oklahoma. Decatur is part of the Trail of Tears Alabama section. 

You can see that Decatur was a small but essential part of the Trail of Tears removal of Native Americans from other states to Oklahoma reservations.
You can see that Decatur was a small but essential part of the Trail of Tears removal of Native Americans from other states to Oklahoma reservations.

There were approximately 2300 Cherokee who were moved through Decatur on their way to Oklahoma. Native Americans who had been forced to walk to Chattanooga from their tribal lands were put on barges to travel down the Tennessee River. At Decatur, like all other travellers on the Tennessee River the Cherokee were forced to leave their vessels and travel overland to Tuscumbia. 

Rhodes Ferry Landing Park on the site of the former Rhodes Ferry is part of the Trail of Tears Alabama.
Rhodes Ferry Landing Park on the site of the former Rhodes Ferry is part of the Trail of Tears Alabama.

There is a Decatur Trial of Tears Walking Tour which is part of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. The first stop in Decatur is Rhodes Ferry Landing where the Cherokee would have disembarked from their barges. Many of the Cherokee spent the night at Decatur warehouses which usually stored cotton and other goods. The next morning they would have been loaded onto the railroad financed by the Old State Bank. There is a reconstructed Decatur Depot and Museum at 701 Railroad Street which has free admission. 

Got kids to entertain? The Rhodes Ferry Landing has a playground and kids will also love the trains at the Decatur Depot.
 

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We received free admission to Point Mallard Water Park and the Cook Museum of Natural Science, the receipt of  which has in no way affected our thoughts, opinions and/or review of these sites.

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