Words by Paige Townley
There are lots of outdoor activities to attract anyone to Decatur-Morgan County, but the area has so much more appeal beyond its many natural offerings. From its historical charm to the performing arts, there are a variety of cultural opportunities to enjoy in this north Alabama city. Here are five of our favorite ways to enjoy the arts and culture of Decatur.
Carnegie Visual Arts Center
Carnegie Visual Arts Center seeks to provide an environment that promotes learning, creating, and appreciating the visual arts. Established in 2003, the nonprofit organization has been a hub in the community for a range of opportunities through a variety of its programs, collections, and events.
The organization is housed in the historic Carnegie Library of Decatur, which was built in 1904 and is one of the 2,5000-plus libraries that were built by millionaire philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The building served as the city’s public library until 1973, eventually becoming a children’s library when the main library outgrew the space. The next 20 years saw a local church utilizing the space for its youth center, and then in 1997 the Decatur Arts Council began looking at an opportunity to turn it into an arts center. Since it opened its doors as the Carnegie Visual Arts Center 18 years ago, the nonprofit has housed a wide range of exhibits year-round for visitors of all ages to enjoy.
Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts
The grand dame of Decatur, Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts has been hosting performances for more than a century. The facility began in 1887 as a livery stable, but was eventually turned into a silent film and vaudeville playhouse in1919. In 1941, a renovation was performed that gave it the iconic art deco design that it’s known for today. By the late 1970s, the city of Decatur was able to purchase the venue, and after another renovation the Princess was once again offering its stage for artists, musicians, dancers, and actors. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 677-seat theatre has hosted touring Broadway musicals major concerts, and local performers, and today it still welcomes more than 60,000 people for events each year.
Cook Museum of Natural Science
The Cook Museum of Natural Science may be heavily focused on nature, but it’s an incredibly unique destination that provides kids and adults alike an opportunity that combines learning with hands-on fun and excitement. Situated in downtown Decatur, the science museum is home to a wide variety of animals, from different species of saltwater fish to insects and alligators, as well as a number of exhibits that get visitors excited about science.
The history of Decatur lives on in its many historic homes. There are two districts, and combined, they offer the largest concentration of Victorian era craftsmen and bungalow homes in Alabama. The Old Decatur Historic District spans more than 116 acres and feature homes in a range of styles, including French-influenced Empire period houses and Edwardian Cottage styles. The New Decatur Albany Historic District features early 20thcentury styles such as Colonial Revival, California Cottage, and Dutch Colonial. Both districts are included in the National Register of Historic Places.
Historic Railroad Depot
Railroad history runs deep in Decatur. That history actually dates back to the 1830s when the first railroad west of the Allegheny Mountains was built. As a result of that railroad, Southern Railway constructed the Decatur union passenger depot in 1905.
A restoration was performed on the depot in 2015, carefully preserving many of the depot’s original architectural elements. The original baggage cart is still on display, along with many other original artifacts.
Support and funding provided by the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area.