Monday, November 24, 2014

What's in Cotaco? And What Does it Mean?

Recently I posted an item on the small town of Sumerville in Morgan County and its historic court house. On that same stretch of Alabama Highway 36 is another small community named Cotaco. Going west on Alabama 36 just past the Valhermosso Springs post office is a small green "Cotaco" sign that marks a boundary of the unincorporated area. I don't think there is a similar sign coming east.

As seen in the photos below, some businesses and a church include "Cotaco" in their names. Off Alabama 36, down Cotaco School Road, is the Cotaco School; scroll down to the bottom of the website "About" page for the "Legend of Cotaco School." Also in the area is Cotaco-Florette Road and Cotaco Creek, which begins in Marshall County and flows into the Tennessee River. Way over in Decatur there is even the Cotaco Opera House, apparently the first opera house constructed in Alabama. 

William A. Read's Indian Place Names in Alabama [1937] notes that a Cherokee village probably existed in the area and that "Cotaco" is perhaps a corruption of a Cherokee word for swamp or thicket. The Alabama Territorial legislature in 1818 named what is now Morgan County as Cotaco County; the name was changed in 1821.  

I checked some Alabama highway maps from the 1920s until the present and none had Cotaco marked. Yet small places can have much larger resonances through Alabama history.

This business is no longer operating, but the church and grocery below definitely are. 


  1. I take a back road route from I-65 over to US 431 that goes through Eva (which isn't the most direct way, but it is pretty). Part of the route goes along a stretch of road called Cotaco-Florette Road, which runs between Florette and what Google calls Woodland Mills. Driving along the stretch, one can feel that it's a pretty old road. There are a couple of miles of it north of Florette that are tree-lined. Not a lot of folks along there, and it honestly feels kinda spooky.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I'll have to drive that road one day soon!

  3. I lived in Cotaco from 1963 - 1972 and went to Cotaco School (at that time grades 1-12).

  4. I grew up around Cotaco Creek and attended Cotaco School before A.P. Brewer was built and they combined the five local schools to make one. I was always told that Cotaco was named after Chief Cotaco who was the Cherokee chief in the area

    1. Thanks for your comment. Please share other memories of Cotaco if you wish!