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Huntsville History

First settlers

The City of Huntsville was named after the Revolutionary War veteran John Hunt.  John Hunt first settled the land around Big Spring Park.  He built a cabin around the spring in 1805.  However, Hunt did not properly register his claim at the time, and the land was purchased by Leroy Pope, who named the area Twickenham.  It was named Twickenham to honor to honor the home village of Alexander Pope who was a distant relation.  Twickenham was designed, to have streets laid out on the northeast to southwest direction in reference to the Big Spring.

During the War of 1812, anti-English resentment grew in the area and this resulted in the renaming of Twickenham to Huntsville in honor of John Hunt.

The town had quickly grown into the largest in the Alabama Territory by 1819.   The Alabama state constitution was signed in the year of 1819 where the Constitution Hall stands in downtown Huntsville.  A constitutional convention was held in Walker Allen’s cabinetmaking shop in the year 1819.  Forty-four delegates met together to create the Alabama constitution.  Huntsville served as the first Alabama state capital when the state was entered into the Union.  The capital was later moved to Montgomery.

Incorporation in 1811

Huntsville was the first town to be incorporated in Alabama.  This occurred in 1819, but, the official recognized birth of Huntsville is 1805, the year when John Hunt settled near the Big Spring Park.  Huntsville celebrated its bicentennial in 2005.

Industrial Growth

Huntsville's rapid growth was the result of money that was earned from the cotton and railroad industries.   This led to the movement of many wealthy planters from the areas of Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas. 

The Memphis and Charleston Railroad was built in 1855 which moved through Huntsville.  This linked together the Atlantic seacoast and the lower Mississippi River. 

Huntsville and the Civil War


Huntsville did not want to succeed from the Union at first in 1861. 

Huntsville was captured in the morning of April 11, 1862, by Union troops under the command of General Ormsby M. Mitchel.  Huntsville was captured in order to break the rail communications.  Union troops were forced out of the town a few months later, but were soon to return the fall of 1863.  The town then served as an operations base for the Union until the end of the war.  Many homes and villages in the surrounding areas were destroyed and burned by the Union army, but Huntsville was spared because it served as an operations base for the Union.


Huntsville and the Recovery from the Civil War

Once the Civil War ended, Huntsville developed into a center for cotton textile mills. Three prominent mills emerged: Lincoln, Dallas and Merrimack. Each mill developed into a tiny community consisting of homes, schools, churches, grocery stores, theatres, and hardware stores.   These conveniences were all within walking distance of the mills.

Huntsville and World War II and Beyond

Huntsville remained a small quiet town with a population of only 13,150 inhabitants up until 1940. A major growth spur occurred at the beginning of World War II in Huntsville.  Huntsville was selected to house the Huntsville Arsenal, which would grow into chemical and munitions manufacturing plants.  By 1949, a major offset occurred and the Arsenal was almost closed because it was not a necessity anymore.  The Arsenal was saved and brought back to life by Major General Holger Toftoy with the help of Senator John Sparkman.  The U.S. Army was convinced to use Huntsville as the location for the missile research program.  Wernher von Braun was located to Huntsville in 1950 and the U.S. space program was soon to begin.

Space flight

The Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville was officially dedicated on September 8, 1960, by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Huntsville has been nicknamed The Rocket City from its influence on the U.S. space program.  A major contribution of Huntsville was the development of the Saturn V, which was used in the Apollo missions to the Moon. 

Today, Huntsville still has a huge role in the United States' Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs. 


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