Located in the south-central section of Alabama, Autauga County has played a significant role in the aboriginal history of the state as well as in its early political, agricultural and industrial development.
Autauga County takes its name from the Indian village, Atagi, which was the Indian word for pure water. It was located on the north side of the Alabama River, at the junction of the river and Autauga Creek, which was first called Pearl Water Creek.
The earliest settlers of the area came after the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. Originally part of Montgomery County, Autauga was created by the territorial legislature on November 21, 1818, a full year before Alabama was admitted to the Union. Thus, Autauga is a county older than the state.
The Act which created Autauga County provided that in the outset court should be held at Jackson's Mill on Autauga Creek. However, that legislation also provided that if there was a lack of necessary buildings for the holding of court at Jackson's Mill, then court could "adjourn to such other places contiguous thereto as may seem proper." Some historians say that the first court was actually held at Jackson's Mill while others say that it was held at the home of Thomas Hill.
On November 22, 1819, the territorial legislature appointed a commission to select a site for Autauga's permanent county seat. Meanwhile, the former village of Atagi had been abandoned and in 1817, white settlers had established the town of Washington on the Atagi site. This town was named for George Washington, and it was selected to be the first county seat.
Washington remained the county seat for approximately ten to thirteen years. However, as the county grew, dissatisfaction over the courthouse location also grew. Washington was located on the southern edge of the county, which was inconvenient to many citizens of the county.
On December 2, 1830, the legislature again appointed a commission to select a new seat of justice. This time the town of Kingston was chosen. It was located at the approximate center of the county. After moving the courthouse to Kingston, and the establishment of the town of Prattville in the late 1830s, Washington declined and eventually became deserted.
It was in 1833 that Daniel Pratt arrived on the scene. Acquiring land at the fall line of Autauga Creek, he established the town of Prattville and began manufacturing his cotton gins. Because of his success he was labeled the Father of Industry in Alabama; he was the first person in the state to earn a million dollars in an industrial enterprise. Pratt's gin company became the foremost producer of cotton gins in the world. Prattville is known today as the Birthplace of Industry in Alabama.
The Civil War left Autauga County virtually unscathed as no battles or skirmishes were fought on Autauga soil. There was, however, the usual deprivation that was suffered by all the South. After the war Daniel Pratt called in outstanding debts from the North that were made before the conflict. Because of this Autauga's economy recovered more quickly than did the South's in general.
In 1866 Elmore County was created in part from the eastern portion of Autauga County. Then in 1868 Chilton County was carved from parts of the northern section of old Autauga. The scene was finally set for Prattville, which had long since become the population center of the county, to become the third seat of justice. It was in that year, 1868, that the legislature named it the county seat, leaving Kingston, like its predecessor Washington, to become a ghost town.
A new courthouse in Prattville was completed in 1870. This structure, although presently vacant, may be seen at 147 South Court Street. The building is a notable example of Italianate mode as applied to civil architecture in Alabama. Prominent Prattvillian George L. Smith was the builder.
The Daniel Pratt legacy was continued after his death in 1873, by his son-in-law, Henry DeBardeleben. The city of Bessemer, the Pratt mines, the furnaces at Oxmore, and Pratt City--all in Jefferson County-are results of the Pratt influence.
Growth of the county rendered the 1870 courthouse inadequate and in 1906 a new structure was dedicated. Located one block north of the older hall of justice, the new building is Modified Richardsonian Romansque in design. A large belfry and clock tower dominates the southwest corner and the main entrances on the south and west sides of the building, feature vestibules with Syrian arches. The structure was designed by the Bruce Architectural Company of Birmingham, and Dobson & Bynum of Montgomery was the contractor.