Monday, November 24, 2014

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

Recently I posted an item on the small town of Somerville 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. 












One of the brews from Cross-Eyed Owl Brewing in Decatur




13 comments:

  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.

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

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

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  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

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

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  5. Mr Abner is correct about Chief Cotaco, we were all taught that. Also, Cotaco-Florette road was the home of 1st courthouse in morgan county. It was close to intersection of Red Oak road.I believe the house was moved and restored?

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  6. I went to Cotaco and still live here. I have seen woodland mills on a mapbut never heard it referred that way locally. It's a beautiful place

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  7. In the beginning of your post you have it spelled Sumerville, it's actually Somerville

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    1. Thanks for your note! I've corrected the misspelling.

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  8. My father-in-law, Jim williams and his family were from the cotaco/Valhermosa Springs area. In later years he returned and opened a restaurant called Pappy Days, it is now closed and he is deceased.

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  9. I attended Cotaco High School where I played basketball in the 60's. We had a bus called Cotaco Chief that we rode.

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  10. Thanks for your comments! When did Cotaco HS close & where was it located? I notice at this page http://www.ahsfhs.org/sports/teampage.asp?Team=Cotaco which is documenting H.S. sports in Alabama that Cotaco had a football team in 1970 and 1971 and a basketball team from 1963 until 1972. Did the school close in 1972? Share some more details/memories if you wish! --A.J. Wright

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  11. The official name of the community is Woodland Mills. It is my understanding that a flour mill on the creek next to the Methodist Church you have a picture of. Cotaco is the school that was built and it seems that name eventually faded to the forefront. Some wish to have Woodland Mills to become more prevalent and that is the name to use when directing someone using GPS. Time changes everything and this community is not immune from it. Wonderful part of America with people who love their community.

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