Before settlers came to the area that is now Atmore, the Creek Indians inhabited the forests by settling along the creeks and rivers. The development of this area began in the 1860s following the Civil War as the Mobile and Great Northern railroad extended its line south to the Tensaw River near Mobile. Workers who moved through the area laying track for the railroad were drawn by the rich farmland and abundance of timber. Agriculture and timber are still major factors in Atmore’s economy today.
The first structure in what is Atmore was a small shed built along the railroad at which supplies were left for William Larkin Williams who had a logging operation ten miles down in Florida. In 1866 the site was first called Williams Station, just a supply stop along the railroad.
By the 1870s there were several buildings; a railroad station, a store containing the post office, and one dwelling. Late in 1870 the first sawmill was put into operation. However, it was the sawmill built by William Marshall Carney in 1876 that sparked the growth of the community. Recognizing the potential of this area which abounded in cypress ponds and forests, legend says Carney hitched a mule to a boat and set claim to most of the area. Because of his many contributions to the growth of the community Mr. Carney is often called “the father of Atmore”.
By 1885 with a population of 195, Williams Station had enough residents to take an interest in politics. A polling place was provided and votes were cast in a county election.
The W.M. Carney Mill Company was in full swing attracting settlers from Wilcox and Monroe counties who came to work in both the lumber and turpentine industries. During this time the social life of Atmore centered around its early churches.
As the community grew, several leading citizens advanced the argument that the name Williams Station was not suitable for a thriving municipality of two hotels and a few stores. Carney was the most popular name, but there was already a small village just west of the town named Carney. In 1897 the name was changed to Atmore in honor of C.P. Atmore, the General Ticket Agent on the Louisville Nashville Railroad which now stretched to Mobile.
The 1900s were a time of growth for Atmore, with the town being incorporated in 1907. Over the next decade the area gained telephone services, electricity, a new water system and its first hospital. A second railroad opened in 1914 to connect the town to Pensacola and the coal fields located near Birmingham.
Throughout the early twentieth century, Atmore’s main agricultural output focused on cotton, potatoes and corn. Later on, cotton was phased out to make room for more profitable crops like soybeans and wheat. Other additions in the later half of the 1900s included a natural gas plant, chemical company and carpet manufacturer. In 1985, the first of several casinos was opened by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
Today, Atmore is essentially a manufacturing town, with roughly one-fifth of its population employed in the industry. It’s also home to the only tribe of indigenous people federally recognized in the state of Alabama, the Creek Indians, and their government headquarters.
Atmore is continuing to become a revitalized town with the help of passionate citizens and visionary leaders. Currently, the resurrection of the historic Strand Theater is in-progress, along with a boom of emerging businesses to help the city grow.