There are lots of good reasons to travel to Huntsville, Alabama. They are developing a thriving foodie and cultural scene. They are the home to the birthplace of the American Space Program. But, there’s another reason to come to Huntsville; the history. If you are a history buff, check out this Travel Guide to Historic Huntsville, Alabama to find historic sites you don’t want to miss on your next visit.
Travel Guide To Historic Huntsville, Alabama
Before beginning your tour of Historic Sites in Huntsville, Alabama, be sure to stop by the Huntsville/Madison County Visitors Center located at 500 Church Street Northwest. Here you can find discount tickets to several of the historic attractions. Be sure to pick up a copy of The Lucky Duck Scavenger Hunt while you are there. Try to locate all 14 ducks in the downtown area. Bring your completed card back and receive a prize. This is a great way to keep the kids occupied while you sight see. But, beware, the ducks are sneaky and can be found on tops of buildings, sides of buildings or just about anywhere!
History of Huntsville, Alabama
Huntsville was founded by General John Hunt, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, who arrived and built a cabin by a spring in 1805. Still part of the Mississippi territory until 1817, other settlers began locating around the Big Spring that was home to John Hunt until a town was formed. As the city grew and prospered, legislators met here in 1819 to begin a petition for statehood. When Alabama was granted statehood, Huntsville was named the first capital. Over the years Huntsville saw many changes, but the biggest came after WWII, when Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team of Rocket Scientists located here and started work on the US Space Program. Today Huntsville is known as “Rocket City” and is home to the Marshall Space Flight Center.
Sites You Don’t Want To Miss:
1. Big Spring International Park– Located at 200 Church Street in the center of downtown, Big Spring Park is where John Hunt built his cabin and the town began. Today you’ll find a beautiful green space with a lake brimming with koi, ducks, and flocks of geese. Enjoy a stroll around the park, have a picnic or just sit and relax. The park is “International” because of gifts the city has received from other countries that decorate the park. Here you can find cherry trees and a red Japanese bridge donated by Japanese Major General Mikio Kimata. Other gifts include a Lighthouse and fog bell, donated from Norway, a bench donated by the United Kingdom and a sundial from Germany.
2. Huntsville Depot & Museum– The oldest depot in Alabama and one of the oldest in the United States, the Depot was an important location for the eastern division of the Memphis & Charleston Railroad. During the Civil War, while the town was occupied by the Union forces, it was used as a prison for Confederate soldiers. The prisoners’ graffiti can still be seen on the walls. Used as a passenger station until 1968, the site is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Depot Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 AM until 3 PM. Admission is charged. The Depot grounds are open from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM daily and are free to the public. You can catch a glimpse of the past with the historic building, including an old diner, scattered around the grounds, see the trains, or just relax and picnic in the pavilion. The Depot is located at 320 Church Street.
3. Twickenham Historic District- Named by Leroy Pope, who purchased land in 1809 and donated it to build a town, the Twickenham Historic District consists of 13 blocks of diverse architecture. The first historic district in Huntsville, this neighborhood contains the largest collection of antebellum homes in the state of Alabama. Stop by the visitors center for a free map of the area or download the free app that gives information for sites throughout the neighborhood.
4. Alabama Constitution Village– Did you know the Constitution to ratify Alabama as a state was signed in Huntsville in 1819? Alabama Constitution Village is an open-air museum with replicas of building from 19th-century life, including the vacant cabinet shop where 44 delegates gathered for arguments on statehood. Alabama Constitution Village is a living history museum, featuring eight buildings from the time period, such as the law office of Clement Comer Clay, the residence of Sheriff Stephen Neal, and John Boardman’s print shop. Note: The village is currently closed for restoration and will reopen in October of this year, but you can still walk around the outside of the village and admire the buildings. Alabama Constitution Village is located in the Twickingham Historic District.
5. The Weeden House– Built in 1819, the house was purchased by Dr. William Weeden in 1845 and owned by descendants of the family until 1956. The most famous resident of the Weeden House, Maria Howard Weeden, was born in the house in 1846 and lived there until her death in 1905. The family fortunes were lost during the Civil War so to support her family she began drawing and painting. She is most famous for her beautifully illustrated drawings of African Americans who lived in Huntsville during the early 20th century. Today the house is a museum and is open for public tours Wednesday through Saturday at 10:30 AM and 11:30 AM.
6. Monte Sano State Park– Located just outside the city of Huntsville, Monte Sano State Park sits atop a mountain on over 2000 acres. In the late 1800’s, the park was visited by people seeking relief from symptoms of diphtheria, cholera and yellow fever. The train tracks that brought people to the mountain can still be seen today. The park was opened in 1938 and today features 14 rental cottages, 11 of which were built by the CCC in the 1930s. With over 20 miles of hiking trails and 14 miles of biking trails, there is plenty to keep the outdoor adventurer busy. The park also features a playground for the kids, scenic mountain views, and the CCC museum and memorial. The park is open daily from 8:00 AM until sunset, although trails close 30 minutes before sunset. Admission is $5.00 for adults and $2.00 for kids ages four through eleven. The park is dog-friendly.
7. Harrison Brothers Hardware– Advertised as “Not a Trip to The Mall,” Harrison Brothers is Alabama’s oldest continuously operating hardware store. Opened in 1897, this was a family operated business until 1983. Not wanting to see Harrison Brothers disappear, the Historic Huntsville Foundation purchased the business and transformed it into a unique gift store. Today patrons can purchase local gourmet edibles, crafts from local, regional and national artisans, classic toys and more. The original fixtures and many of the furnishings are in place to add to the historic feel. And… Harrison Brother’s is said to be haunted. If you take one of the Huntsville Ghost Walk Tours, they all begin outside of Harrison Brothers. The building is located at 124 Southside Square in the Twickenham Historic District.
Have you ever visited Huntsville, Alabama? What is your favorite site to visit?