Sister cities: Stephen Decatur Jr. was a popular dude

By David Talley | Published Wednesday, November 9, 2016

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Decatur residents: we’re not alone.

According to Wikipedia, there are actually 46 other cities, townships, unincorporated communities and ghost towns across the U.S. that share the name Decatur. A countless number of other places, including streets, lakes and even an island also have the name.

David Talley

David Talley

This was supposed to be a political column, either congratulating or admonishing America for its choices Tuesday, but frankly, I think we’re all tired of that talk. I’ve always found random history and geography facts interesting, so we’ll focus on this country’s last three centuries instead of its next four years.

Each of the 17 cities listed in Wikipedia’s entry on Decatur all link back to 19th-century naval hero Stephen Decatur Jr. I’d always known Decatur was a popular town name across the country and wished our city had a little more unique namesake (you know, maybe someone who at least visited Texas), but after reading a little bit about Decatur, I’m ready to quash those arguments.

Decatur joined the Navy at 19 after struggling to keep up in school. He fought in four wars – an undeclared conflict with France known as the Quasi-War, both African Barbary Wars and the War of 1812.

These wars and battles were crucial to establishing the United States’ status among other world powers after it gained independence.

Seven of the 17 listed cities are county seats and several counties even bear the name Decatur.

One of the first to take on Decatur’s name was in Alabama. Stephen Decatur Jr. died in a duel in March 1820, and the city was incorporated as Decatur within a year under direction from President James Monroe. The city is also one of the largest Decaturs, with a population of nearly 56,000. The surrounding Decatur, Ala., metropolitan area has about 150,000 residents.

Decatur, Ill., founded in 1823, has 73,000 residents and is home to two college campuses and the design and manufacturing facilities for Caterpillar Inc. It’s served by two printed newspapers and a television station.

While our town’s “Eighter from Decatur” motto may be a great way to drum up tourism, Decatur, Ga.’s, unofficial slogan “Decatur, where it’s greater,” is also pretty catchy.

Missouri is home to both Decatur and Decaturville. While Decaturville is an unincorporated community, Decatur is a designated ghost town.

Decatur Island is one of the San Juan Islands in Washington State. It’s about 3.5 square miles or about half the size of Decatur, Texas, for context. No ferry service is available, but the island is accessible by private boat or plane. It has a school for kindergarten through eighth grade and a nine-hole golf course. According to the 2000 census, about 71 people call Decatur Island home.

Our own Decatur was established as the county seat of Wise County in 1856 and named Taylorsville in honor of President Zachary Taylor, who served from 1849 to 1850 and died in office. North Texas settler Absalom Bishop rose to power as a political boss in the area, serving as Wise’s first county clerk and later a state representative to the Texas Legislature. Bishop opposed Taylor’s Whig politics and introduced a bill to change the city’s name to honor Decatur. He also designed the city’s layout to mirror the city of McKinney. He’s buried in Oaklawn Cemetery north of Decatur.

Researching my hometown and others that share its name has been an interesting task. There are 45 other Decaturs out there, and each one offers something a little different.

However, none of those listed have given me what our Decatur has. From Casa Torres salsa to adventures in the LBJ National Grasslands, our Texas town still means the most to me.

David Talley is a Messenger reporter.

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