Huntsville…Did You Know?

By  | August 4, 2018 | Filed under: Interesting Facts, News

NOTE:  Alabama celebrates her bicentennial this year.  QCDNews presents Interesting Facts about some of North Alabama’s cities.

Huntsville is located between the Tennessee River and the Tennessee border. Nicknamed “Rocket City,” the history of Huntsville is intertwined with America’s space program.

John Hunt lived in a cabin beside a spring there in 1805. LeRoy Pope, a man of considerable wealth, followed soon afterwards, made large purchases of land, and changed the community’s name from Hunt’s Spring to Twickenham, the name of the London estate of the poet Alexander Pope. Local residents rejected the change and renamed it Huntsville.

Huntsville became the first incorporated town in the state in 1811. Pope donated land for the first courthouse, which was built in 1816. In 1819, the leaders of the Alabama Territory gathered to appeal to the U.S. Congress to grant statehood. The 1819 constitution was written in Huntsville between July 5 and August 2. Huntsville was the state’s capital at the time it was admitted to the Union.

The region that would become Madison County was located within the territories of both the Cherokees and Chickasaws Indians prior to white settlement. The abundant game around Big Spring made the site an important location for hunters.

Around the turn of the nineteenth century, the lure of rich soil and abundant game in the newly created Mississippi Territory brought illegal settlement on Native American lands, despite federal prohibitions. The Chickasaw ceded their rights to the area that July and the Cherokee ceded their lands in January 1806, and illegal settlement began in earnest.

The Madison County Gazette, the first newspaper in the territory, began publication in 1812 and in 1816 became the Huntsville Republican. By the time the courthouse was completed in 1816, it was flanked on all sides by brick storehouses, hotels, and homes. The first Masonic Lodge in Alabama was founded in Huntsville, with John Hunt being a prominent charter member, and Andrew Jackson being a frequent visitor to the lodge. General Jackson was also a frequent visitor to Huntsville’s Green Bottom Inn and race track, and when Pres. James Monroe visited the Alabama Territory in June 1819, he and his entourage stayed at the Huntsville Inn.

Huntsville’s fortunes changed dramatically after the outbreak of World War II and the establishment of the U.S. Army missile research program at Redstone Ordnance Plant in 1941 to support the U.S. war effort. The facility was renamed the Redstone Arsenal in 1943. Redstone operated largely as a chemical munitions production and stockpiling facility until 1949, when it was chosen to be the site for the U.S. Army missile research program. This decision, advocated by Alabama senator John Sparkman, brought to Huntsville an entirely new, technology-based economy that would stimulate development for the next several decades. In April 1950, German rocket engineers and their families were brought to the Redstone Arsenal to begin the U.S. rocketry program. Among these individuals was Wernher von Braun, a preeminent rocket engineer who would help guide development of the U.S. ballistic missile program and, eventually, the U.S. space program.

Huntsville’s role in space exploration technology began in 1960 with the dedication of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center at the Redstone Arsenal. Here, von Braun and other engineers developed and produced many components of the Saturn V rocket, the largest and most powerful launch vehicle ever brought to operational status, powering the Apollo Program of manned spaceflight to the Moon. During the 1960s and 1970s, many defense contractors located in Huntsville to contribute to NASA and to military projects. Following the closure of the Apollo Program, Huntsville industry shifted focus to the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station, and U.S. military technologies. In addition to the Marshall Space Flight Center and Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville is also home to the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command as well as many private companies in the Cummings Research Park.

For those interested in Huntsville’s history, the Twickenham Historic District contains the densest concentration of antebellum homes in Alabama and is home to some 60 historic structures. The 1819 Weeden House, home of artist Maria Howard Weeden, is a city-owned museum and Alabama’s oldest building open to the public. Each May, the Pilgrimage Home Tour offers visitors the opportunity to see a number of the antebellum and Victorian homes in Huntsville’s Twickenham and Old Town Historic Districts.

The historic Big Spring that formed the core of John Hunt’s pioneer village is now contained within a downtown city park, Big Spring International Park. It hosts the annual Panoply Arts Festival in April. The Huntsville Museum of Art, also located on the grounds of Big Spring Park.

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