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Home > Huntsville in the 40s & 50s > Notes on the History of Huntsville

A Brief History of Huntsville

(Compiled from a booklet published by the Huntsville Industrial Expansion Committee during the 1960s)

Huntsville's origin is credited to John Hunt, a veteran of the Revolutionary War. He came to Alabama from Tennessee in 1805 when Alabama was still a portion of the Mississippi Territory that the Indians called Ah-la-bama. John Hunt built his log cabin in the beautiful wooded valley just above the "Big Spring" thus founding the town that would bear his name.

Other pioneers, attracted by the rich bottom lands, also settled around the "Big Spring" making it the nucleus of a thriving town. Madison County was created by the proclamation of Governor Robert Williams of the Mississippi Territory on December 13, 1808. A provision was made by the Federal Government to have the land sold at public auction during August and September of 1809.

Sixty acres of the land surrounding the "Big Spring" were purchased by LeRoy Pope, a planter of the Broad River area in Georgia, for twenty-three dollars an acre. This area was chosen as the county seat by a special commission. The town was first named Twickenham, as requested by LeRoy Pope, after Alexander Pope's English home. A special act of the Territorial Legislature on November 25, 1811, changed the city's name from Twickenham to Huntsville in honor of the town's first settler. Huntsville originally contained sixty acres divided into two-acre blocks each subdivided into four lots. LeRoy Pope donated a portion of this land for the first courthouse, which was erected in 1816.

The growth rate began to increase rapidly. In 1812, a city newspaper was established. Stores became numerous around the square; a public school was organized and built, as well as a library, an imposing bank building, and the first Presbyterian Church in the state.

In 1823, Huntsville boasted what may have been the first public water system in America. The system was made up of a wooden pump, wooden storage tank, and a few hundred feet of hollowed cedar logs which carried water from the "Big Spring."

The influx of people and their record of accomplishments made Huntsville's importance grow in the Mississippi Territory. In 1819, Alabama was made a state, and Huntsville was chosen as the first Capital.

The Civil War and Reconstruction period brought hard times to these progressive pioneers. By the turn of the century, emphasis was placed on industry and the scars of the Civil War began to heal. Huntsville again set the pace by opening the doors to the first textile mill in Alabama. In time, ten textile mills were located in Madison County.

Huntsville expanded with the event of World War I, but industry declined during the depression in the 1930s. During these years Huntsville was famed as the "Watercress Capital of the World," and Madison County was Alabama's leader in cotton production.

Just before the United States entered World War II, Huntsville Arsenal was constructed adjacent to the city to manufacture chemical artillery shells. A few months later, another plant was constructed to assemble explosives for the shells. During the peak of World War II production, the two arsenals—Huntsville and Redstone—employed about 20,000 persons.

During the immediate post-war period, arsenal activities were sharply curtailed. In 1950, the Army transferred its small group of missile experts to Huntsville from Fort Bliss, Texas. The group included Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team.

In 1958, the Army team from Redstone Arsenal put aloft a Jupiter C missile. As a result, the complete U. S. Army missile development and training program and the space vehicle center for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration were firmly established in Huntsville.

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