Before Indian removal, the area that now includes Ozark was part of the Creek Nation. The first documented white settler was John Merrick Sr., a Revolutionary War veteran, who built a cabin in 1822 on land that is now downtown Ozark. The settlement thus came to be known initially as Merricks.
In 1826, Rev. Dempsey Dowling moved to the area, and his family established the Claybank Church in 1829-30. The current structure, the second on the site, was built in 1856 and is among the oldest log structures in the region. The first municipal water plant opened in 1840 and the first school was established in 1841. Two years later, the town’s name was changed to Woodshop in honor of an important local woodworking business. The town’s name was changed to Ozark in 1855. Stories indicate that Ozark received its final name from a traveler who saw a resemblance to the hilly area of the Foothill Mountains of Arkansas.
When Dale County was established in 1824, the town of Daleville was named as county seat. The county seat was moved to Newton in 1843, but when the courthouse burned down in 1869, county officials held an election to choose a new site for the county seat. Ozark won and was incorporated as a town on Oct. 27, 1870.
That same year, Ozark’s weekly newspaper, The Southern Star, began publication and continues to the present. In 1888 the Central of Georgia Railroad completed a line connecting Eufaula, a center of shipping, to Ozark, and the Alabama Midland Railroad completed a connector line to Troy the following year. In 1914, the Mutual Cotton Oil Company, originally called the Ozark Oil Mill, began processing cotton-seed oil for commercial use. By this time, however, the boll weevil had begun to devastate cotton crops in the area, and Ozark’s agricultural output began to diversify to include livestock, peanuts and other commodities.
Agriculture remained the most important segment of Ozark’s economy until the outbreak of World War I and the establishment of Camp Rucker. Now called Fort Rucker, the installation is the home of Army Aviation and the U.S. Army Warrant Officer Career Center. The fort remains a primary driver of Ozark’s economy.
During the 1990s, Ozark opened the Dale County Agricultural Complex and the Ozark Technology Center to broaden its economy. Today, Ozark has diversified its economy with a wide range to agricultural commodities, industries, retail, services and the military.
Ozark is part of the “Wiregrass Region” so named for a grass “Aristda Stricta,” which is known for its wire-like stem and texture. The Wiregrass Region consists of southeast Alabama, western Florida and southwest Georgia.
Ozark and Dale County’s cherished heritage is kept alive through historical sites located in Ozark and throughout the county. A few of the historic sites not to miss include Claybank Church and Cemetery; Holman House; Eagle Stadium; and Dowling Museum/Ann Rudd Art Center. For more information on local historical sites, visit www.ozarkalchamber.com.
THE SOUTHERN STAR
The Southern Star, now in its 150th year of publication, is the oldest family-owned newspaper in Alabama, the oldest business in Dale County and one of the oldest in southeast Alabama. Joe H. Adams, now in his 60th year as editor, is Alabama’s longest-serving editor with the same newspaper.
The Southern Star is an award-winning newspaper with subscribers in Ozark, Dale County, many of the surrounding counties, over 90 cities and towns in Alabama and subscribers in 35 different states.