See Rock City

See Rock City

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Huntsville, AL

Nickname(s): "Rocket City"

Huntsville is a city in Madison and Limestone Counties in the U.S. state of Alabama, and the county seat of Madison County. Huntsville is the largest city in northern Alabama in a region of a half-million people, with the city proper having 171,327 residents (2007 estimate). Started with a single cabin in 1805, the city was incorporated six years later as Twickenham. However, it was renamed "Huntsville" (after first settler John Hunt) during the War of 1812, and it has grown across nearby hills and along the Tennessee River, adding textile mills, then munitions factories, to become a major city, hosting the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and Redstone Arsenal.

Old Madison County Court House, Court Square

As of the 2000 census, the population of Huntsville was 158,216. In 2008, the estimated population of the Huntsville Metropolitan Area was 395,645, with the city proper (in 2007) having 171,327 residents. Huntsville is the largest city in the four-county Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Area, which in 2008 had a total population of 545,770.

Huntsville, Alabama (top center), near the Tennessee border, is north of Birmingham and northeast of Decatur, across the Tennessee River flowing northwest.


First settlers

Huntsville is named after Revolutionary War veteran John Hunt, the first settler of the land around the Big Spring. However, Hunt did not properly register his claim, and the area was purchased by Leroy Pope, who imposed the name Twickenham on the area to honor the home village of his distant kinsman Alexander Pope.

First National Bank, Jefferson Street & Fountain Road

Twickenham was carefully planned, with streets laid out on the northeast to southwest direction based on the Big Spring (see images below). However, due to anti-English sentiment during the War of 1812, the name was changed to Huntsville to honor John Hunt, who had been forced to move to other land south of the new city.

Henry B. Chase House, 517 Adams Avenue

Both John Hunt and Leroy Pope were Freemasons and charter members of Helion Lodge #1.

McCracken House, Meridian Pike,

Incorporation 1811

In 1811, Huntsville became the first incorporated town in Alabama. However, the recognized "birth" year of the city is 1805, the year of John Hunt's arrival. The city's sesquicentennial anniversary was held in 1955 and the bicentennial was celebrated in 2005.

Emerging industries

Huntsville's quick growth was from wealth generated by the cotton and railroad industries. Many wealthy planters moved into the area from Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas. In 1819, Huntsville hosted a constitutional convention in Walker Allen's large cabinetmaking shop. The forty-four delegates meeting there wrote a constitution for the new state of Alabama. In accordance with the new state constitution, Huntsville became Alabama's first capital when the state was admitted to the Union. This was a temporary designation for one legislative session only, and the capital was then moved to another temporary location, Cahawba, until the legislature selected a permanent capital. (Today, the capital is Montgomery.)

Civil War

Bird's Eye View of 1871 Huntsville, Alabama.

In 1855, the Memphis and Charleston Railroad was constructed through Huntsville, becoming the first railway to link the Atlantic seacoast with the lower Mississippi River. Huntsville initially opposed secession from the Union in 1861, but provided many men for the state's defense. The 4th Alabama Infantry Regiment, led by Col. Egbert J. Jones of Huntsville, distinguished itself at the Battle of Manassas/Bull Run, the first major encounter of the American Civil War. The Fourth Alabama Infantry, which contained two Huntsville companies, were the first Alabama troops to fight in the war and were present when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox in April 1865. Eight generals of the war were born in or near Huntsville, evenly split with four on each side.

Neal House, 558 Franklin Street, Huntsville, Madison County, AL

On the morning of April 11, 1862, Union troops led by General Ormsby M. Mitchel seized Huntsville to sever the Confederacy's rail communications. The Union troops were forced to retreat some months later, but returned to Huntsville in the fall of 1863 and thereafter used the city as a base of operations for the remainder of the war. While many homes and villages in the surrounding countryside were burned in retaliation for the active guerrilla warfare in the area, Huntsville itself was spared because it housed elements of the Union Army.

After the Civil War

After the Civil War, Huntsville became a center for cotton textile mills, such as Lincoln, Dallas and Merrimack. Each mill had its own housing community that included everything the mill workers needed (schools, churches, grocery stores, theatres, and hardware stores, all within walking distance of the mill).

Child workers at Merrimac Mills in Huntsville, November 1910. Photographed by Lewis Hine.

Great Depression 1930's

During the 1930's, industry declined in Huntsville due to the Great Depression. Huntsville became known as the Watercress Capital of the World because of its abundant harvest in the area. Madison County led Alabama in cotton production during this time.

World War II

Governor Thomas Bibb House, 303 Williams Street, Huntsville, Madison County, AL

By 1940, Huntsville was still a small quiet town with a population of only 13,150 inhabitants. This quickly changed at the onset of World War II, when Huntsville was chosen as the location of Redstone Arsenal, with its numerous munitions manufacturing plants. The Arsenal was almost closed in 1949 when it was no longer needed, but it saw new life when Major General Holger Toftoy with support from Senator John Sparkman convinced the U. S. Army to choose Huntsville as the location for its missile research program. In 1950, General Toftoy brought German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun and his colleagues to Redstone Arsenal to develop what would eventually become the United States' space program.

Redstone Arsenal, Fire Station No. 3, Redstone Road between Post & Line Roads, Huntsville vicinity, Madison County, AL

Space flight

Historic rockets in Rocket Park of the US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, Alabama.

On September 8, 1960, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower formally dedicated the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. (NASA had already activated this facility, which is located on Redstone Arsenal, on July 1 of that year.)

Burritt House, 303 Eustis Avenue,

Huntsville is thus home to both Redstone Arsenal and the Marshall Space Flight Center, and is nicknamed "The Rocket City" for its close history with U.S. space missions. Huntsville has been important in developing space technology since the 1950s, when the German scientists headed by Dr. Wernher von Braun, brought to the United States at the end of World War II through Operation Paperclip, arrived to develop rocketry for the U.S. Army. Their work included designing the Redstone ballistic missile, a variant of which, the Juno I, carried the first U.S. satellite and astronauts into space.

Space Shuttle Pathfinder at Space Camp

The Saturn V, utilized by the Apollo program manned Moon missions, was developed from the Redstone Arsenal. Huntsville continues to play an important role in the United States' Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs. It is estimated that 1 in 13 of Huntsville's population are employed in some engineering field of work.

Huntsville's economy was nearly crippled and growth came to a near standstill in the 1970s following the closure of the Apollo program, but the emergence of the Space Shuttle and the ever-expanding field of missile defense in the 1980s helped give Huntsville a resurgence that continues to this day. The city continues to be the center of rocket-propulsion research in the United States, and is home to large branches of many defense contractors.

Huntsville is also the location of the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM). Huntsville's contributions to United States Cold War missile armament and technology earned it a "red star" designation as a target of the Soviet Union in the event of a nuclear exchange, fourth behind only New York City, Washington, DC, and NORAD.


Huntsville is located at 34°42' North, 86°35' West (34.7, -86.6)[5]. According to the Huntsville Times from Tuesday April 15, 2008,[6] the city now has a total area of 202 square miles (451.8 km²). Recent annexations into Limestone County have pushed Huntsville City to a total of 4.5 square miles (12 km2) inside Limestone County and officially abuts Huntsville to Athens, a city to the west.

The Big Spring, basis of street plan in Twickenham (renamed in 1812 to "Huntsville").

Huntsville is located in the Tennessee River Valley. Several mesas and large hills partially surround the city. These mesas are associated with the Cumberland Plateau, and are locally called "mountains". Monte Sano Mountain (Spanish for "Healthy Mount") is the most notable, and is east of the city along with Round Top (Burritt), Chapman, Huntsville, and Green Mountains. Others are Wade Mountain to the north, Rainbow Mountain to the west, and Weeden and Madkin Mountains on Redstone Arsenal in the south. Brindlee Mountain is visible in the south across the Tennessee River.

As with other areas along the Cumberland Plateau, the land around Huntsville is karst in nature. Huntsville was founded around the Big Spring, which is a typical karst spring, and many caves perforate the limestone bedrock underneath the city, as is common in karst areas. The headquarters of the National Speleological Society are located in Huntsville.

Politics and government

Huntsville's Administration Building, also known as City Hall

The current mayor of Huntsville is Tommy Battle, who was elected in 2008. The Deputy Mayor/City Administrator is Rex Reynolds, who also serves as the city's Public Safety Director. The city has a five-member/district City Council. The current members are:

District 1 (Northwest)- Richard Showers, Sr.
District 2 (East)- Mark Russell (President)
District 3 (Southeast)- Sandra Moon
District 4 (Southwest)- Bill Kling
District 5 (West)- Will Culver.

Council elections are "staggered", meaning that Districts 2, 3, and 4 will have elections in August 2010, while Districts 1 and 5 will have elections simultaneously with mayoral elections in 2012.

There are also many boards and commissions run by the city, controlling everything from schools and planning to museums and downtown development.

Police Academy

The Huntsville Police Academy is one of the oldest police academies in the United States. To date the Academy has completed 48 basic academies, and most recently the 47th Lateral Session. On May 8, 2006 the Huntsville Police Academy began the 47th Basic Session. Until the 47th Lateral Session, academies were held at the Old Huntsville Airport on Airport Rd. After the gradation of the 46th Session, the academy moved to the Public Safety Training Complex on Sparkman Drive, which is also home to the Huntsville Fire Academy.


Huntsville's main economic influence is derived from aerospace and military technology. Redstone Arsenal, Cummings Research Park (CRP), and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center comprise the main hubs for the area's technology-driven economy. CRP is the second largest research park in the United States and the fourth largest in the world, and is over 38 years old. Huntsville is also home for commercial technology companies such as the network access company ADTRAN, computer graphics company Intergraph and design and manufacturer of IT infrastructure Avocent. Telecommunications provider Deltacom, Inc. and copper tube manufacturer and distributor Wolverine Tube are also based in Huntsville. Cinram manufactures and distributes 20th Century Fox DVDs and Blu-ray Discs out of their Huntsville plant. Sanmina-SCI also has a large presence in the area. Forty-two Fortune 500 companies have operations in Huntsville.

Aerial view of the test area at Marshall Space Flight Center

In 2005, Forbes Magazine named the Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Area as 6th best place in the nation for doing business, and number one in terms of the number of engineers per total employment. In 2006, Huntsville dropped to 14th; the prevalence of engineers was not considered in the 2006 ranking.

Ceremony of transfer from Army to NASA July 1, 1960


Huntsville is fast becoming a regional retail center. There are many strip malls and "power centers" throughout the city. Huntsville has two malls—Madison Square Mall, built in 1984, and Parkway Place, built in 2002 on the site of the former Parkway City Mall. The city also has a lifestyle center called Bridge Street Town Centre, built in 2007, in Cummings Research Park. Another "live, work, and play" center is being constructed on the former site of the Heart of Huntsville Mall. It is to be called Constellation with ground breaking in Fall 2007 and scheduled completion by 2010.


Huntsville has two active commercial rail lines. The mainline is run by Norfolk Southern, which runs from Memphis, TN to Chattanooga.

Another rail line, formerly part of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, successor to the Nashville, Chattanooga and Saint Louis Railroad, is being operated by HMCRA (Huntsville-Madison County Railroad Authority). The line connects to the Norfolk Southern line downtown and runs 13 miles (21 km) South, passing near Ditto Landing on the Tennessee River, and terminating at Norton Switch, near Hobbs Island. This service, in continuous operation since 1894, presently hauls freight and provides transloading facilities at its downtown depot location. Until the mid-fifties, L & N provided freight and passenger service to Guntersville and points South. The rail cars were loaded onto barges at Hobbs Island. The barge tows were taken through the Guntersville Dam & Locks and discharged at Port Guntersville. Remnants of the track supporting piers still remain in the river just upstream from Hobbs Island. The service ran twice daily. L & N abandoned the line in 1984 at which time it was acquired by the newly-created HMCRA, a State Agency.

The North Alabama Railroad Museum in Chase maintains a line once owned by the Louisville and Nashville Railroad (L&N). The museum runs weekend tourist rides along a short track in Northeast Madison County. The origin of these rides was once the smallest Union Station in the United States when it served the predecessor to L&N and the predecessor to the Norfolk and Western Railroad.[citation needed]


The inland Port of Huntsville combines the Huntsville International Airport, International Intermodal Center, and Jetplex Industrial Park. The intermodal terminal transfers truck and train cargo. The port has on-site U.S. Customs and USDA inspectors and is Foreign Trade Zone No. 83.

Huntsville International Airport is served by several regional and national carriers (including Delta, Northwest, US Airways, Continental, United, and American) and offers non-stop flights to many airports across the Eastern U.S. However, Huntsville International gets its name because of its reputation as a cargo transport hub. Many delivery companies have hubs in Huntsville, making delivery flights to Europe, Asia, and Mexico.

Flight's Out Of Huntsville

Feature films shot in Huntsville

A few feature films have been shot in Huntsville, including 20 years After (2008 originally named Like Moles, Like Rats in 2006), Air Band (2005), and Constellation (2005). Portions of the film SpaceCamp (1986) were filmed at Huntsville's U.S. Space and Rocket Center at the eponymous facility. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center stood in for NASA in the 1989 movie Beyond the Stars starring Martin Sheen, Christian Slater, and Sharon Stone. Parts of Tom and Huck (1995) were filmed in Cathedral Caverns, located on the outskirts of Huntsville. Following in the motif of the "Rocket City," Columbia Pictures filmed Ravagers (1979) in The Land Trust's Historic Three Caves Quarry, at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, and on location at an antebellum home located next door to Lee High School. This cult classic starred Richard Harris, Ernest Borgnine, Ann Turkel, Art Carney and Cecily Hovanes.

Huntsville's legacy in the space program continues to draw film producers looking for background material for space-themed films. During the pre-production of the film Apollo 13 (1995), the cast and crew spent time at Space Camp and Marshall Space Flight Center preparing for their roles. Space Camp also garnered a mention in the film Stranger than Fiction and was featured in a 2008 episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit! on NASA.

Higher education

Huntsville's higher education institutions include:

Alabama A & M University,

University of Alabama in Huntsville,

Moran Hall, Oakwood University,

J.F. Drake State Technical College,

The University of Alabama in Huntsville is the largest university serving the greater Huntsville area. The research-intensive university has more than 7,200 students. Approximately half of the university’s graduates earn a degree in engineering or science, making the university one of the largest producers of engineers and physical scientists in Alabama.

Oakwood University, founded in 1896, is a Seventh-day Adventist university and a member institution of the United Negro College Fund. It is one of the nation's leading producers of successful Black applicants to medical schools. Also, the school is home to the USCAA National Basketball Champions (2008) and the winning team of the 19th Annual Honda Campus All-Star Challenge National Championship Tournament (2008).

Numerous colleges and universities have satellite locations or extensions in Huntsville:

Huntsville Regional Medical Campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine

Calhoun Community College

Calhoun Community College at Cummings Research Park

Calhoun Community College at Redstone Arsenal

Athens State University

Georgia Institute of Technology

Faulkner University

Columbia College

Virginia College

Florida Institute of Technology

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

One of two local hospitals, Huntsville Hospital also has an accredited school of radiologic technology.


Historic districts

Twickenham Historic District was chosen as the name of the first of three of the city's historic districts.

View of main elevation of 1001 Meridian St. This house was used by the manager of nearby Lincoln Mill.

11 North Broad Place, Southwest (House), Huntsville, Madison County, AL

Commercial store front building built and formerly used as the Lincoln Mill company store.

Mill worker housing for Lincoln Mill located at 115 King Ave. Note that 115 King is in the middle of a row of one-story attached dwellings.

View of main elevation of worker house located in Lowe Mill neighborhood at 2709 9th Ave.

Streetscape view of former mill worker house located at 2804 9th Ave. near Lowe Mill.

It features homes in the Federal and Greek Revival architectural styles introduced to the city by Virginia-born architect George Steele about 1818, and contains the most dense concentration of antebellum homes in Alabama. The 1819 Weeden House Museum, home of female artist and poet Howard Weeden, is open to the public, as are several others in the district.

Old Town Historic District contains a variety of styles (Federal, Greek Revival, Queen Anne, and even California cottages), with homes dating from the late 1820s through the early 1900s.

Historic American Buildings Survey W. N. Manning, Photographer, Feb. 28, 1934. FRONT VIEW.

Five Points Historic District, the newest historic district, consists predominantly of bungalows built around the turn of the 20th century, by which time Huntsville was becoming a mill town.

Notable residents and famous natives

Tallulah Bankhead, famous actress

William B. Bankhead, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1936-1940; father of Tallulah Bankhead; the local Bankhead Parkway is named in his honor
Fred "Rerun" Berry, best known as "Rerun" in the "What's Happening" television sitcom; also a member of the Locker Dancers who would appear on Soul Train during the 1970s

Bo Bice, American Idol runner-up

David B. Birney, Union Army general and son of James G. Birney

James G. Birney, Southern abolitionist leader and presidential candidate of the Liberty Party (anti-slavery) in 1840 and 1845

William Birney, Union Army general and son of James G. Birney

Michael E. Brown, noted astronomer

José Canseco, Major League slugger, played for the Huntsville Stars, where he was nicknamed "Parkway Jose" for his many home runs

Stewart Cink, PGA tour golfer

Robert E. Cramer, former Congressman representing Alabama's 5th Congressional District

Thomas Turpin Crittenden, Union Army general

Howard Cross, All-American tight end for the University Of Alabama and New York Giants

Kenneth Darby, former star running back for the University of Alabama

Dr. Julian Davidson, best known as the "Father" of Missile Defense; chairman of the board, Davidson Technologies Incorporated

Clifton Davis, Grammy Award-winner for the Jackson Five song "Never Can Say Goodbye", actor, singer and television show host

Dr. Jan Davis, former astronaut; among crew on three Space Shuttle missions in 1992, 1994, and 1997

Michael Durant, CW4 (Ret) Black Hawk Pilot, 160th Special Operations Group, New York Times bestselling author

Bobby Eaton, professional wrestler

Albert Russel Erskine, famed chairman of the Studebaker Corp.

Andrew Jackson Hamilton, appointed Union military governor of Texas (with rank of general) by Abraham Lincoln (1862) and appointed Reconstruction governor of Texas by Andrew Johnson (1865-66)

Cully Hamner, comic book artist

Heartland, country music band

John S. Hendricks, founder and chairman of the Discovery Channel

Homer Hickam, author

Hallerin Hilton Hill, award winning songwriter, talk radio host, former station manager of WOCG radio, author of "Seven Pillars of Wisdom".

Margaret Hoelzer, 2004 and 2008 Olympic swimmer

Bill Holbrook, nationally published artist of the newspaper comic strip "On the Fastrack"

Dave James, 1987 graduate of Virgil I. Grissom High School and QVC host since May 2005 - the only QVC host in program history to be voted into position by viewers during the "America's Host Search" held in 2004, beating over 4,000 contestants in the nationwide contest.

Buck Johnson, former University of Alabama and Houston Rockets basketball star

Jimmy Key, former MLB All-Star pitcher with the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees.

Clarke Lewis, was a United States Representative from Mississippi.

Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, respectfully dubbed the "dean of the Civil Rights Movement" by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is a Huntsville native, and co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. William R. Lucas, rocket scientist and former Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center

Mark McGwire, Major League slugger, got his start with the Huntsville Stars

Brian McKnight, Grammy Award-winning singer and writer

Jimmy Means, NASCAR driver

Don Mincher, born in Huntsville, major league baseball player and president of the Southern League

John Hunt Morgan, general in the Army of the Confederate States of America

Amobi Okoye, defensive lineman for the Houston Texans

Edward A. O'Neal, governor of Alabama 1882-86; he was a major and lieutenant colonel in the Army of the Confederate States of America

Chris O'Neil, 1986 Goodwill Games gold medalist in Swimming (100 meter butterfly)

John Piersma, 1996 Olympic swimmer

Brian Reynolds, game developer best known for designing Sid Meier's Civilization II

Ramzee Robinson, former star cornerback for the University of Alabama

Debby Ryan, actress best known for her role as Bailey Pickett in Disney Channel original series The Suite Life on Deck

Dred Scott, slave who fought for his freedom lived on what is now known as Oakwood University

Bryan Shelton, professional tennis player

Mark Spencer, creator of the open source Gaim instant messenger, and the Asterisk open source PBX

John Stallworth, former Pittsburgh Steelers player and 2002 inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Gabby Street, born in Huntsville, major league baseball player

Take 6, Grammy Award-winning gospel group formed in Huntsville

Harry Townes, 1914-2001, actor who appeared on Broadway, in movies, and on television

Dr. Wernher von Braun, German rocket scientist, "father of American space program"

Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder

Leroy Pope Walker, first Secretary of War of the Confederate States of America and briefly a brigadier general in the Confederate Army

Mervyn Warren, five-time Grammy-award-winning recording artist, film composer, record producer, songwriter/arranger, and an original member of Take 6

Jones M. Withers, major general in the army of the Confederate States of America

Photo's of Huntsville, AL

Memphis & Charleston Freight Depot, 330 Church Street Northwest, Huntsville, Madison County, AL

Oaks Place, 808 Maysville Road, Huntsville vicinity, Madison County, AL

Robinson-Dillworth House, 2709 Meridian Pike, Huntsville vicinity, Madison County, AL

Fearn-Garth House, 517 Franklin Street, Huntsville, Madison County, AL

Pope-Spragins House, 407 Echols Avenue, Huntsville, Madison County, AL