Huntsville, Alabama

Huntsville, Alabama
—  City  —
Clockwise from top: Big Spring Park, the Old Times Building, the Madison County Courthouse, the Von Braun Center, and Governor's Drive
Nickname(s): "Rocket City"
Coordinates: 34°42′49″N 86°35′10″W / 34.71361°N 86.58611°W / 34.71361; -86.58611Coordinates: 34°42′49″N 86°35′10″W / 34.71361°N 86.58611°W / 34.71361; -86.58611
Country United States
State Alabama
Counties Madison, Limestone
Established (Twickenham) December 23, 1809[1]
Incorporated (Town of Huntsville) December 9, 1811[2]
 - Type Mayor-council
 - Mayor Tommy Battle
 - City 210 sq mi (543.9 km2)
 - Land 209.6 sq mi (542.86 km2)
 - Water 0.4 sq mi (0.6 km2)
Elevation 600 ft (193 m)
Population (2010)[3]
 - City 180,105
 - Density 857.6/sq mi (331.14/km2)
 Metro 417,593
Time zone CST (UTC-6)
 - Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP codes 35801–35816, 35824, 35893-35899
Area code(s) 256, 938
FIPS code 01-37000
GNIS feature ID 0151827

Huntsville is a city located primarily in Madison County in the central part of the far northern region of the U.S. state of Alabama. Huntsville is the county seat of Madison County.[4] The city extends west into neighboring Limestone County. Huntsville's population was 180,105 as of the 2010 Census. The Huntsville Metropolitan Area's population was 417,593.[5] Huntsville is the fourth-largest city in Alabama and the largest city in the four-county Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Area, which in 2008 had a total population of 545,770.

John Hunt first settled in the location in 1805. It was named Twickenham after Alexander Pope's English home at the request of LeRoy Pope.[6] However, the town was renamed "Huntsville" on November 25, 1811 after its first settler.[6] It has grown across nearby hills and along the Tennessee River, adding textile mills, then munitions factories, to become a major city, including NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and the United States Army Aviation and Missile Command nearby at the Redstone Arsenal. The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Huntsville to its "America's Dozen Distinctive Destinations for 2010" list.[7]



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.

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 this period, the name was changed to Huntsville to honor John Hunt, who had been forced to move to other land south of the new city.[8]

Both John Hunt and Leroy Pope were Freemasons and charter members of Helion Lodge#1.[9]

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 Montgomery as the permanent location.

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.

Civil War

Bird's Eye View of 1871 Huntsville, Alabama

Huntsville initially opposed secession from the Union in 1861, but provided many men for the Confederacy's efforts. 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.

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.

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

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).

Lily Flagg broke the world record for butter production in 1892, spawning an elaborate party wherein her Huntsville-resident owner General Samuel H. Moore painted his house butter yellow and arranged for electric lights for the dance floor.[10] An area south of Huntsville was named Lily Flagg before 1906.[11][12] This area was later annexed into the city.

Great Depression 1930s

During the 1930s, industry declined in Huntsville due to the Great Depression. Huntsville became known as the Watercress Capital of the World[13] because of its abundant harvest in the area. Madison County led Alabama in cotton production during this time.[13]

World War II

By 1940, Huntsville was still a small, quiet town with a population of about 13,000 inhabitants. This quickly changed in early 1941 when 35,000 acres (140 km2) of land adjoining the southwest area of the city was selected by the U.S. Army for building three chemical munitions facilities: the Huntsville Arsenal, the Redstone Ordnance Plant (soon redesignated Redstone Arsenal), and the Gulf Chemical Warfare Depot. These operated throughout World War II, with combined personnel approaching 20,000.[14]

Missile Development

At the end of the war in 1945, the munitions facilities were no longer needed. They were combined with the designation Redstone Arsenal (RSA) and a considerable political and business effort was made in attempts to attract new tenants. One significant start involved manufacturing the Keller automobile, but this closed with only 18 vehicles built. With the encouragement of Senator John Sparkman. the U.S. Army Air Force considered it for a major testing facility, but then selected another site. Redstone Arsenal was then prepared for disposal, but, again with assistance from Senator Sparkman, it was selected for the Army’s rocket and missile development.[15]

(l–r:) RSA commander Maj. Gen. John Medaris, Wernher von Braun, and RSA deputy commander Brig. Gen. Holger Toftoy in the 1950s

In 1950, about 1,000 personnel were transferred from Fort Bliss, Texas, to Redstone Arsenal to form the Ordnance Guided Missile Center (OGMC). Central to this was a group of German scientists and engineers led by Wernher von Braun that had originally been brought to America by Colonel Holger Toftoy under Operation Paperclip. As the Korean War started, the OGMC was given the mission to develop what eventually became the Redstone Rocket. This rocket set the stage for America’s space program, as well as major Army missile programs, to be centered in Huntsville. Toftoy, then a Brigadier General, commanded OGMC and the overall Redstone Arsenal. In early 1956, the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) under Major General John Medaris was formed.[16]

Space Flight

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

The city is nicknamed "The Rocket City" for its close history with U.S. space missions. On January 31, 1958, ABMA placed America's first satellite, Explorer I, into orbit using a Jupiter C launch vehicle, a descendant of the Redstone. This brought national attention to Redstone Arsenal and Huntsville, with widespread recognition of this being a major center for high technology.

On July 1, 1960, 4,670 civilian employees, associated buildings and equipment, and 1,840 acres (7.4 km2) of land transferred from ABMA to form NASA's George C. Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC). Wernher von Braun was MSFC's initial Director. On September 8, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower formally dedicated the MSFC.[17]

During the 1960s, the major mission of MSFC was in developing the Saturn boosters used by NASA in the Apollo Lunar Landing Program. For this, MSFC greatly increased its employees, and many new companies joined the Huntsville industrial community. The Cummings Research Park was developed just north of Redstone Arsenal to partially accommodate this industrial growth, and has now became the second largest research park of this type in America.

Huntsville's economy was nearly crippled and growth almost came to a standstill in the 1970s following the closure of the Apollo program. However, the emergence of the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station, and a wide variety of advanced research in space sciences led to a resurgence in NASA-related activities that has continued into the 21st century. In addition, new Army organizations have emerged at Redstone Arsenal, particularly in the ever-expanding field of missile defense.


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

Huntsville is located at 34°42′N 86°35′W / 34.7°N 86.583°W / 34.7; -86.583 (34.7, -86.6).[18] The city has a total area of 202 square miles (520 km2).[19] Recent annexations have moved Huntsville's area into Limestone County a total of 21.5 square miles (56 km2), or 13,885 acres (5,619 ha).[20]

Situated in the Tennessee River valley, several plateaus and large hills partially surround Huntsville. These plateaus are associated with the Cumberland Plateau, and are locally called "mountains". Monte Sano Mountain (Italian 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.

Big Spring International Park

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


The city is bounded by the following places:


Huntsville has a humid subtropical climate (Köppen climate classification Cfa). It experiences hot, humid summers and generally mild winters, with average high temperatures ranging from 89.4 °F (31.9 °C) in the summer to 48.9 °F (9.4 °C) during winter.

Some years, Huntsville experiences tornadoes during the spring and fall. On April 27, 2011, one of the largest tornado outbreaks in history, the April 25–28, 2011 tornado outbreak, affected the Northern Alabama Area. During this event, an EF5 tornado that tracked near the Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant destroyed many transmission towers and caused a multi-day power outage for the majority of North Alabama. Significant Damage from that same tornado was also taken in the Anderson Hills subdivision and in Harvest, Alabama. In total, nine people were killed in Madison County alone and many others injured.[21] Other significant tornado events include the Super Outbreak in 1974, the November 1989 Tornado Outbreak that killed 21 and injured almost 500, and the Anderson Hills Tornado that killed one and caused extensive damage in 1995.[22][23] On January 21, 2010, Huntsville experienced a rare mid-winter tornado. It registered EF2 on the Enhanced Fujita scale scale and did only moderate damage but received extensive media coverage as it was not rain-wrapped and thus easily photographed.[24]

Since Huntsville is nearly 300 miles (480 km) inland, hurricanes are rarely experienced with their full force; however, many weakened tropical storms cross the area after a U.S. Gulf Coast landfall. While most winters have some measurable snow, significant snow is rare in Huntsville; but there have been some anomalies, like the 1963 New Year's Eve snowstorm, when 17 in (43 cm) fell within 24 hours. Likewise, the Blizzard of 1993 and a Groundhog Day snowstorm in 1996 were substantial winter events for Huntsville. On Christmas Day 2010 Huntville recorded over 4 inches (100 mm) of snow in place, and on January 9–10, 2011 Huntsville 8.9 inches (230 mm) at the airport to over 10 inches (250 mm) in the suburbs.[25]

Climate data for Huntsville, Alabama
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F (°C) 48.9
Average low °F (°C) 30.7
Precipitation inches (mm) 5.52
Snowfall inches (cm) 1.3
humidity 56.5 73.5 71.0 70.0 70.0 72.5 73.5 76.0 74.5 74.0 70.0 70.5 75.0
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 12.1 9.8 11.9 9.9 10.3 10.0 10.4 8.3 8.4 7.0 9.8 11.0 118.9
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 1.3 .8 .2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .3 2.6
Source no. 1: NOAA[26]
Source no. 2:[27]


Historical populations
Census Pop.
1850 2,863
1860 3,634 26.9%
1870 4,907 35.0%
1880 4,977 1.4%
1890 7,995 60.6%
1900 8,068 0.9%
1910 7,611 −5.7%
1920 8,018 5.3%
1930 11,544 44.0%
1940 13,050 13.0%
1950 16,437 26.0%
1960 72,365 340.3%
1970 139,282 92.5%
1980 142,513 2.3%
1990 159,789 12.1%
2000 158,216 −1.0%
2010 180,105 13.8%

As of the census[28] of 2000, there were 158,216 people, 66,742 households, and 41,713 families residing in the city. The population density was 909.0 people per square mile (351.0/km²). There were 73,670 housing units at an average density of 423.3 per square mile (163.4/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 64.47% White, 30.21% Black or African American, 0.54% Native American, 2.22% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 0.66% from other races, and 1.84% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.04% of the population.

There were 66,742 households out of which 27.6% had children living with them, 45.5% were married couples living together, 13.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.5% were non-families. 32.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.29 and the average family size was 2.91. Same-sex couple households comprised 0.5 % of all househoulds.[29]

Huntsville has developed small ethnic communities of African immigrants, East Asians esp. Chinese American, Eastern European peoples, Latino esp. Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, Middle Eastern nationalities and Southeast Asians esp. Vietnamese and Laotian Americans in the 1990s and 2000s.[citation needed]

Demographic distribution

Age <18 18-24 25-44 45-64 65+
Distribution % 23.1 10.7 29.3 23.4 13.4

Sex ratio and income distribution

Median Age 37
Sex Ratio F:M 100:92.8
Sex Ratio age 18+ F:M 100:89.7
Median Income $41,074
Family Median Income $52,202
Male Median Income $40,003
Female Median Income $26,085
Per capita Income $24,015
Percent Below poverty 12.8
Age < 18 Below Poverty 18.7
Age 65+ Below Poverty 9.0

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): John Olshefski
  • District 4 (Southwest): Bill Kling
  • District 5 (West): Will Culver.

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

The city has boards and commissions which control everything from schools and planning to museums and downtown development.

In July 2007 then Senator Barack Obama held the first fund raiser in Alabama for his Presidential campaign in Huntsville. Obama ended up winning the Alabama Democratic Primary and Madison County by large margins in 2008.

See also: List of mayors of Huntsville, Alabama

Public safety and health

In 2007, Mayor Loretta Spencer combined the police, fire, and animal services departments to create the Department of Public Safety.[30] The former chief of police was appointed as its director. The new department has nearly 900 employees and an annual budget of $63 million.


The Huntsville Fire Department[31] has 19 engine companies, 4 ladder/rescue companies, and 2 hazardous materials companies located in 17 stations throughout the city of Huntsville. Many Huntsville firefighters are members of the regional Hazardous Materials and Heavy Rescue[32] response teams. The day-to-day operations of the department are currently carried out by the department's Fire Chief.


Huntsville Emergency Medical Services Inc.(HEMSI)[33] provides emergency services to Huntsville and surrounding Madison county. HEMSI operates 17 ALS ambulance crews, 2 BLS ambulance crews, and 1 wheel chair transport from 12 stations located in Huntsville and Madison County. HEMSI also operates 1 ALS ambulance crew at The Marshall Space Flight Center located on Redstone Arsenal.


The Huntsville Police Department[34] has 3 precincts and 1 downtown HQ, 360 sworn officers, 150 civilian personnel, and patrols an area of 194.7+ square miles (this number has grown due to recent annexations).

Police Academy

The Huntsville Police Academy[35] is one of the oldest police academies in the United States.[citation needed] As of 2009, the academy has graduated 50 basic classes and 47 lateral ones.


The main building of Huntsville Hospital


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. University of Alabama in Huntsville is a center for technology and engineering research in the area. There are 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 in the city. Cinram manufactures and distributes 20th Century Fox DVDs and Blu-ray Discs out of their Huntsville plant. Sanmina-SCI has a presence in the area. Fifty-seven Fortune 500 companies have operations in Huntsville.[37]

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.


There are several strip malls and shopping malls throughout the city. Huntsville has two enclosed malls—Madison Square Mall, built in 1984, and Parkway Place, built in 2002 on the site of the former Parkway City Mall. There is a lifestyle center called Bridge Street Town Centre, completed in 2007, in Cummings Research Park. Another mixed-use center is under construction on the former site of the Heart of Huntsville Mall. It is to be called Constellation with a scheduled completion of the first buildings in 2011.[38]

Space & Defense

Huntsville remains the center for rocket-propulsion research in NASA and the Army. The Marshall Space Flight Center has been designated to develop NASA's future Space Launch Vehicle (SLV),[39] and the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM) is responsible for developing a variety of rocket-based tactical weapons.



Huntsville is served by several U.S. Highways, including 72, 231, 431 and an Interstate highway spur, I-565, that links the two cities of Huntsville and Decatur to I-65. Alabama Highway 53 also connects the city with I-65 in Ardmore, Tennessee.

Public transit

Public transit in Huntsville is run by the city's Department of Parking and Public Transit.[40] The Huntsville Shuttle runs 11 fixed routes throughout the city, mainly around downtown and major shopping areas like Memorial Parkway and University Drive and has recently expanded some of the buses to include bike racks on the front for a trial program. A trolley makes stops at tourist attractions and shopping centers. The city runs HandiRide, a demand-response transit system for the handicapped, and RideShare, a county-wide carpooling program.


Huntsville has two active commercial rail lines. The mainline is run by Norfolk Southern, which runs from Memphis to Chattanooga, Tennessee. The original depot for this rail line, the Huntsville Depot still exists as a railroad museum, though it no longer offers passenger service.

Another rail line, formerly part of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad (L&N), successor to the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway (NC&StL), is being operated by the Huntsville and Madison County Railroad Authority (HMCRA). 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, the 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 upstream 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.

A third line, the Mercury and Chase Railroad, runs 10-mile (16 km) weekend tourist rides on part of another former NC&StL and L&N line from the North Alabama Railroad Museum's Chase Depot, located in the community of Chase, Alabama. The rail line originally connected Huntsville to NC&StL's Nashville-to-Chattanooga mainline in Decherd, Tennessee. The depot was once the smallest union station in the United States when it served the NC&StL and Memphis and Charleston Railroad, a the predecessor to the Norfolk Southern.[41]

Bicycle routes

There are a number of bicycle routes in the city.[42][43][44]


Electricity, water, and natural gas are all provided in Huntsville by Huntsville Utilities[45] (HU). HU purchases and resells power from the Tennessee Valley Authority. TVA has two plants that provide electricity to the Huntsville area- Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant in Limestone County and Guntersville Dam in Marshall County. A third, Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant in Jackson County, was built in the 1980s but was never activated. Due to the rapid growth of the region, TVA has plans to eventually activate the plant.[46]

Telephone service in Huntsville is provided by Deltacom, Inc., AT&T, Knology and Comcast. Huntsville has 2 cable providers in the city limits: Comcast and Knology (Mediacom in rural outlying areas). AT&T has announced that it will start its DSL U-verse service in the Huntsville Decatur metro area on November 1, 2010.[47]


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.

Air service

Huntsville International Airport is served by several regional and national carriers, including Delta Air Lines, US Airways, Continental, United Airlines, American Airlines, and AirTran Airways. Delivery companies have hubs in Huntsville, making flights to Europe, Asia, and Mexico.[48]

Media and communications


The Huntsville Times has been Huntsville's only daily newspaper since 1996, when the Huntsville News closed. Before then, the News was the morning paper, and the Times was the afternoon paper until 2004. The Times has a weekday circulation of 60,000, which rises to 80,000 on Sundays.

A few alternative newspapers are available in Huntsville. The Valley Planet covers arts and entertainment in the Tennessee Valley area. The Redstone Rocket is a newspaper distributed throughout Redstone Arsenal's housing area covering activities on Redstone. Speakin' Out News is a weekly newspaper focused on African Americans. El Reportero is a Spanish-language newspaper for North Alabama.


Huntsville is the 106th largest radio market in the United States.[49] Huntsville's National Weather Service forecast and warning station broadcasts as KIH20.


The Huntsville DMA serves 15 counties in North Alabama and 6 counties in Southern Middle Tennessee.

TV Stations

Movie theaters

There are 6 movie theaters located in Huntsville. They are:

Feature films shot in Huntsville

A few feature films have been shot in Huntsville, including 20 years After[50] (2008 originally named Like Moles, Like Rats in 2006),[51] Air Band (2005),[52] and Constellation (2005).[53] 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 near 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 was mentioned in the film Stranger than Fiction and was featured in a 2008 episode of Penn & Teller: B.S.! on NASA.


K–12 education

The majority of K–12 students in Huntsville attend Huntsville City Schools.[54] In the 2007–2008 school year 22,839 students attended Huntsville City Schools, 77% of all students scored at or above state and national ACT averages, and of the 1279 members of the graduating class, "approximately 92% of the students indicated that they planned to enter a post-secondary institution for further study, 43% obtained scholarship & monetary awards," and "received 2,988 scholarships totaling $33,619,040, had forty-one National Merit Scholars, three National Achievement Scholars, and two perfect ACT scores."[55]

Of the 53 schools in the Huntsville City Schools system in 2007–2008, there were:[55]

  • 25 elementary, and
  • Two K–8, which serve 10,836 students.

For grades 6–12, there are 11,696 students enrolled in the following schools:

  • Eleven middle schools (grades 6–8)
  • Seven high schools
  • Three special centers (two Schools of Choice and one Program of Choice [1B])
  • Four magnet schools (two with grades K–8 and two with grades 9–12)

The two magnet elementary schools are the Academy for Academics and Arts and the Academy for Science and Foreign Language. The three magnet middle schools are Williams Technology, The Academy for Academics and Arts, and the Academy for Science and Foreign Language, and the two magnet high schools are New Century Technology High School and Lee High School.

Approximately 21 private, parochial, and religious schools serve students in grades pre-K–12. There are several accredited private Christian schools in the city. Among them are Pope John Paul II Catholic High School,[56] Faith Christian Academy,[57] Oakwood Adventist Academy,[58] and Westminster Christian Academy. Randolph School is the only independent, private K-12 school in the city.[59]

60% of HCS teachers have at least a master's degree or better.[55]


The following was the disposition of annual funding in 2007: Instructional services - 54%, Instruction support services - 15%, Operation and maintenance - 11%, capital outlay - 8%, auxiliary services - 7%, general administrative services - 3%, and debt and other expenditures - 2%.[55]

Higher education

Huntsville's higher education institutions include:

The University of Alabama in Huntsville is the largest university serving the greater Huntsville area. The research-intensive university has more than 7,700 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 with over 1,800 students 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. The school was USCAA National Basketball Champions (2008) and the winner of the 19th and 20th Honda Campus All-Star Challenge National Championship Tournaments (2008 and 2009).

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


Historic districts

  • Twickenham Historic District was chosen as the name of the first of three of the city's historic districts. 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[69] 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.
  • Five Points Historic District,[70] 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.


The U.S. Space & Rocket Center exhibits a Saturn I (left, behind trees) and a much larger (and farther back) Saturn V mock-up along with a number of other rockets illustrating the history of United States space exploration. A simulator in the foreground was built from an adapter cone from the flight model Saturn V (not pictured).
  • US Space & Rocket Center is home to the US Space Camp and Aviation Challenge programs as well as the only Saturn V rocket designated a National Historic Landmark.
  • Alabama Constitution Village features eight reconstructed Federal style buildings, with living-museums displays downtown.[71]
  • Burritt Museum and Park, located on Monte Sano Mountain, is a regional history museum featuring a 1930s mansion, nature trails, scenic overlooks and more.[72]
  • Clay House Museum is an antebellum home built ca. 1853 and showcases decorative styles up to 1950 and an outstanding collection of Noritake Porcelain.[73]
  • Early Works Museum is a child friendly interactive museum in downtown Huntsville.[71]
  • Harrison Brothers Hardware Store established in 1879, is the oldest operating hardware store in Alabama. Though now owned and operated by the Historic Huntsville Foundation, it is still a working store, and part museum featuring skilled craftsmen who volunteer to run the store and answer questions.[74][75]
  • The Historic Huntsville Depot completed in 1860 is the oldest surviving railroad depot in Alabama and one of the oldest surviving depots in the United States.[76]
  • Huntsville Museum of Art in Big Spring International Park offers permanent displays, traveling exhibitions, and educational programs for children and adults.[77]
  • Sci-Quest is an interactive premiere hands-on museum for early childhood education, aged four through sixth grade.[78]
  • North Alabama Railroad Museum is a railroad museum with over 30 pieces of rolling stock.[79]


  • Monte Sano State Park[80] has over 2,000 acres (8.1 km2) and features hiking and bicycling trails, rustic cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, campsites, full RV hook-ups, and a recently reconstructed lodge.[81]
  • Big Spring International Park is a park in downtown Huntsville centered on a natural water body (Big Spring). The park contains the Huntsville Museum of Art. Festivals are held there, such as the Panoply Arts Festival and the Big Spring Jam. There are fish in the spring's niche. There is a waterfall and a constantly-lit gas torch.
  • Huntsville Botanical Garden features educational programs, woodland paths, broad grassy meadows and stunning floral collections.[82]
  • Land Trust of Huntsville & North Alabama is a member supported, non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of the natural heritage of the area, and has preserved more than 5,000 acres (20 km2) of open space, wildflower areas, wetlands, working farms and scenic vistas in North Alabama, including 1,000+ acres (4.0 km²) of the Monte Sano Preserve (Monte Sano Mountain), 1,000+ acres (4.0 km²) of the Blevins Gap Preserve (Huntsville & Green Mountains), and 813 acres (3.29 km2) of the Wade Mountain Preserve. Volunteers have created and maintain 33+ miles (53+ km) of public trails - all of which are within the Huntsville city limits.[83]
  • The Lydia Gold Skatepark,[84] located behind the Historic Huntsville Depot is open to the public. In 2003, it was dedicated to the late Lydia Leigh Gold (1953–1993), an area skateboarding activist in the 1980s and the former owner of “Tattooed Lady Comics and Skateboards.” Helmets are the only pad requirement. No bikes, scooters, or other wheeled vehicles are allowed – only skateboards and rollerblades are permitted.[85]


  • The Annual North Alabama International Festival[86] is held in October at the UAHuntsville Shelby Center for Science and Technology. This free family event features displays from many nations, presentations, travel/historic literature, hosts in native apparel, children’s activities, and other audio-visuals emblematic of the participating countries. In addition, there are live performances and demos, as well as an ethnic food-tasting event and international food vendors.
  • Big Spring Jam is an annual three-day music festival held on the last full weekend of September in and around Big Spring International Park in downtown Huntsville. Presented is a diversity of music including rock, country, Christian, kid-friendly, and oldies.[87]
  • The Panoply Arts Festival[88] is an annual arts festival that began on 14 May 1982. It is presented by The Arts Council[89] and is held on the last full weekend of each April in Big Spring International Park and the Von Braun Center. The festival includes performance stages featuring presentations, demonstrations, performances, competitions, and workshops to promote the arts. There are children's activities, a Global Village, strolling performers, and nightly fireworks displays. Panoply has had three record attendances in a row, averaging 100,000 for 2007, 2008, and 2009.[citation needed] The Southeast Tourism Society consistently ranks the festival among their "Top Twenty Events" and Governor Bob Riley has announced it as one of Alabama's top ten tourism events.[90]
  • Con†Stellation is an annual general-interest science fiction convention.[91] Con†Stellation (also written as Con*Stellation) has been generally held over a Friday-Sunday weekend in September each year (as of 2009).

Public golf courses

  • Becky Pierce Municipal Golf Course,[92] known locally as the "Muni", off Airport Road (named for the old airport, not near the current airport).
  • Sunset Landing Golf Club (located next to the airport)
  • Colonial Golf Course
  • Fox Run Golf Course
  • Redstone Arsenal Golf Course (Open to military ID holders)
  • Hampton Cove[93] is one of the eleven courses making up the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail; named after Hampton Cove, it features two championship 18-hole courses and one par-three course (Huntsville, AL)
  • Harvest Hills Golf Course (Harvest, AL)
  • Chriswood Golf Course (Athens, AL)
  • Southern Gayles (Athens, AL)
  • Canebrake Club[94] (Athens, AL)
  • Richland Golf Center (Huntsville, Al)

Private golf courses

  • Established in 1925, the historic Huntsville Country Club boasts a challenging 18-hole course with dining and banquet facilities located just North of downtown at 2601 Oakwood Avenue.
  • The Ledges is Huntsville's newest golf community with 18 holes, dining and banquet facilities overlooking Jones Valley.
  • Valley Hill Country Club features 27 holes in South Huntsville's Jones Valley.


The Huntsville Madison County Public Library,[95] founded in 1818, is Alabama's oldest continually operating library system. It has 12 branches throughout the county including one bookmobile. The Main Library Archives contains a wealth of historical resources, including displays of photographic collections and artifacts, has Alabama's highest materials circulation rate, and features daily public programs. The library system provides free public access Internet computers and wireless Internet access in all facilities.

Arts associations

Several arts groups have passed the 50-year mark: Huntsville Community Chorus Association; Huntsville Art League; Theatre Huntsville (through its parent company); Broadway Theatre League; Fantasy Playhouse Children’s Theatre; Rocket City Chorus; Huntsville Symphony Orchestra; and Huntsville Photographic Society among them.

The Arts Council

Founded in October 1962 as a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization, The Arts Council, Inc.[96] (TAC) includes over 100 local arts organizations and advocates. TAC sponsors the arts through five core programs:

  • Arts Education — including the “Meet the Artist” interactive, “distance learning” program at Educational Television[97] and ArtVentures summer arts camp;
  • Member services;
  • the annual Panoply Arts Festival[88]
  • Concerts in the Park, a series of “summer serenades under the stars” held at Big Spring International Park in partnership with the City[98]
  • Community Information Services, featuring “Boost Your Buzz,” an annual publicity workshop.

Each March, TAC launches a nautical-themed SEAFARE, a fundraiser anchored by a seafood buffet, music, and a silent auction. In November, TAC offers pARTy, an annual art sale/cocktail event providing a forum where regional artists exhibit their work for collectors. TAC further champions area visual artists with two galleries: art@TAC, using the walls near the company’s Von Braun Center[99] offices and the JavaGalleria, in Sam & Greg’s Pizzeria/Gelateria. TAC supports The Bench Project[100] and the strategic planning effort to support Huntsville-Madison County’s economic development goals through expanded arts and cultural opportunities known as Create Huntsville.[101]

Performing arts

  • The Huntsville Community Chorus Association[102] (HCCA) is one of Alabama's oldest performing arts organizations, with its first performance dating to December 1946 (per its website, the Mobile Opera Guild — the state's oldest — first performed in April of that year). HCCA produces choral concerts and musical theater productions. In addition, the company features its madrigal singers; "Glitz!" (a show choir); a chamber chorale; an annual summer melodrama/fundraiser; and three children's groups: the Huntsville Community Chorus (HCC) Children's Chorale (ages 3–5); the HCC Treble Chorale (ages 6ndash;8); and the HCC Youth Chorale (ages 9ndash;12).
  • Broadway Theatre League[103] was founded in 1959. BTL presents a season of national touring Broadway productions each year, a family-fun show, and additional season specials. Shows are presented in the Von Braun Center's Mark C. Smith Concert Hall. Recent productions include Mamma Mia!, A Chorus Line, The Color Purple, and An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin.
  • The Flying Monkey Arts Center[104] is in the historic Lowe Mill under the auspices of Lowe Mill ARTS and Entertainment[105] and hosts events[106] such as the traditional Cigar Box Guitar festival, the Sex Workers' Art Show, concerts, and many presentations of the Film Co-op.[107]
  • Huntsville Symphony Orchestra[108] is Alabama's oldest continuously operating professional symphony orchestra, featuring performances of classical, pops and family concerts, and music education programs in public schools.
  • Fantasy Playhouse Children's Theatre,[109] Huntsville's oldest children's theater, was founded in 1960. An all-volunteer organization, Fantasy Playhouse performs for the children of north Alabama on stage and off. Fantasy Playhouse Theater Academy, the organization's dance, music, and art school, teaches children and adults each year. Fantasy Playhouse regularly produces three plays a year with an additional play, A Christmas Carol, produced early each December.
  • Theatre Huntsville,[110] the result of a merger between the Twickenham Repertory Company (1979–1997) and Huntsville Little Theatre (1950–1997), is a 501(c)(3), non-profit, all-volunteer arts organization that presents six plays each season in the Von Braun Center Playhouse. It produces the annual "Shakespeare on the Mountain" in an outdoor venue, such as Burritt on the Mountain. Presentations range from The Foreigner and Noises Off to the occasional musical (Little Shop of Horrors and Nunsense). In addition, TH presents drama-related workshops (stage management, stage makeup, etc.), as announced.
  • Independent Musical Productions,[111] was founded in 1993 and presents at least one annual main production such as Ragtime, Civil War, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Into the Woods, RENT, and Sweeney Todd. Musicals for children and outreach programs complete the season.
  • Plays are performed at Renaissance Theatre,[112] with two stages, the MainStage (upstairs) and the Alpha Stage (downstairs), each with seating about 85. It was formerly the commissary building for the historic Lincoln Mill Village.[113][114][clarification needed]
  • Merrimack Hall Performing Arts Center[115] is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that opened in 2007, after nearly $3 million in renovations to the historic building. It was once the social center of the Merrimack Mill Village in the early 1900s. The Company Store, gymnasium, bowling alley, were all there and provided a place for socialization and recreation to all of the village's residents. Merrimack Hall now includes a 302-seat performance hall, a 3,000 square feet (280 m2) foot dance studio, and rehearsal and instructional spaces for musicians. Productions and performers include Menopause The Musical, Dixie's Tupperware Party, Billy Bob Thornton and The Boxmasters, Dionne Warwick, Lisa Loeb, Wade Robson, Claire Lynch, and the Second City Comedy Troupe.
  • Ars Nova School of the Arts[116] is a conservatory for music and performing arts. Ars Nova produces musical theatre, opera, and operetta for the local stage.
  • The Huntsville Youth Orchestra[117] was founded by Russell Gerhart, founding conductor of the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra, in 1961. The HYO is a non-profit corporation whose purpose is to “foster, promote, and provide the support necessary for students from North Alabama to experience musical education in an orchestral setting.” The organization has six ensembles: the Huntsville Youth Symphony, Sinfonia, Philharmonia, Concert Orchestra, Intermezzo Orchestra, and Novice Strings.
  • Huntsville Chamber Music Guild[118] was organized in 1952 to promote and present chamber music programs; the group seeks to present recitals in which artists are presented in works of the classical masters.

Visual arts

  • The Huntsville Museum of Art[119] opened in 1970. It purchased the largest privately owned, permanent collection of art by American women in the U.S., featuring and Anna Elizabeth Klumpke, among others.[120]
  • The Huntsville Photographic Society[121] started in 1956. A non-profit organization, the HPS is dedicated to furthering of the art and science of photography in North Alabama.
  • The Huntsville Art League[122] started in 1957, adopting the name “The Huntsville Art League and Museum Association” (HALMA). In addition to their Visiting Artists and “Limelight Artists” series, which highlight both nonresident and member artists at the home office, HAL features its members’ works at galleries located in the Jane Grote Roberts Auditorium of the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library – Main, the Heritage Club, and the halls of the Huntsville Times.

Convention center and arena

The Von Braun Center, which opened in 1975, has an arena capable of seating 10,000, a 2,000-seat concert hall, a 500-seat playhouse (~330 seats with proscenium staging), and 150,000 square feet (14,000 m2) of convention space. Both the arena and concert hall have undergone major renovations; as a result, they have been rechristened the Propst Arena and the Mark C. Smith Concert Hall, respectively.


  • The National Speleological Society[123] is headquartered in Huntsville on Cave Street.
  • The Von Braun Astronomical Society[124] has two observatories and a planetarium on 10 acres (40,000 m²) in Monte Sano State Park.


Past sports franchises


Notable natives and residents

Sister cities

Huntsville's sister cities include:


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