The city of Fort Payne occupies an area ceded to the U.S. by the Cherokee Indians. The Treaty of Echota, signed in 1835 stipulated that the Indians were to leave the ceded lands by May 26, 1838. Some however, were reluctant to leave. Early in 1838, General Winfield Scott, following instructions from the president, ordered the forced removal of the Indians who still remained. Captain John G. Payne arrived in Fort Payne, then know as Willstown, in February 1838 and approved a site for an Indian stockade near Big Springs. In March, Captain James H. Rogers, commanding 20 men and 2 officers, garrisoned at Big Spring and built the stockade which he named Fort Payne in honor of his friend, Captain Payne. The Cherokees were rounded up and held in the stockade until they began their forced march west, the famous Trail of Tears. In the early 1820’s Sequoyah, the Cherokee Indian who is celebrated as an illiterate genius who endowed a whole tribe with learning, moved from the Overhill town of Tuskegee in Tennessee. Sequoyah is the only man in history to conceive and perfect in its entirety an alphabet or syllabary. It was while living in Willstown that he finished the alphabet that took him 12 years. Within a few months almost all of the Cherokee nation could read and write. Born to a Cherokee mother and a German father, he fought beside Sam Houston and Andrew Jackson as a young warrior against the hostile Creek Indians in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in the War of 1812. In 1838 Sequoyah walked with his people in the Trail of Tears. The chimney from this fort still stands hear 4th Street SE near the railroad tracks.
However, the area’s history began before then. In 1832 the American Board of Missions sent Reverend Ard Hoyt to form the Wills Town Mission. The purpose of this mission was to educate Cherokee Indians on Christianity. The mission was operated until the Indian Removal in 1838.
At this time the aforementioned fort housed Indians who refused to move – they were later forcibly moved along the Trail of Tears.
In 1885 coal & iron are discovered in Lookout Mountain, and the “Boom Days” followed. Investors flocked from the North and transformed the small town of Fort Payne into a thriving city. In 1891 the Fort Payne Depot (still stands as a museum) was built to encourage and accommodate growth.
Unfortunately, though, in 1893 the coal and iron returns started diminishing, and a richer vein was discovered in Red Mountain near Birmingham, Alabama. This prevented Fort Payne from growing much more until the hosiery industry developed in the 1900s.
Visionary V.I. Prewett helped take the hosiery industry to an entirely new level. At one point over 5,000 people were employed by the hosiery industry in Fort Payne and surrounding areas before hosiery companies began moving to and outsourcing to cheap-labor areas like China and Latin America.
In modern history Fort Payne is most well known for being the home of country music super-group ALABAMA.