Huntsville, Alabama

Huntsville, Alabama
City of Huntsville

Clockwise from top: Big Spring Park, the Old Times Building, the Madison County Courthouse, the Von Braun Center, and Governors Drive
Nickname(s): "Rocket City"
Motto: "Star of Alabama"
Huntsville, Alabama

Location in the United States

Coordinates: 34°43′48″N 86°35′6″W / 34.73000°N 86.58500°W / 34.73000; -86.58500Coordinates: 34°43′48″N 86°35′6″W / 34.73000°N 86.58500°W / 34.73000; -86.58500
Country  United States
State  Alabama
Counties Madison, Limestone
Established (Twickenham) December 23, 1809[1]
Incorporated (town) December 9, 1811[2][3]
Incorporated (city) February 24, 1860[4]
Founded by LeRoy Pope
Named for John Hunt
  Type Mayor–Council
  Mayor Tommy Battle (R)
  Council Huntsville City Council
  City 554 km2 (215 sq mi)
  Land 541.4 km2 (209.6 sq mi)
  Water 3.5 km2 (0.4 sq mi)
Elevation 183 m (600 ft)
Population (2010)[5]
  City 180,105
  Estimate (2015)[6] 190,582
  Rank US: 125th
  Density 331.14/km2 (857.6/sq mi)
  Urban 286,692 (US: 132nd)
  Metro 441,086 (US: 118th)
Demonym(s) Huntsvillian
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
Website City of Huntsville

Huntsville is a city located primarily in Madison County in the central part of the far northern region of Alabama. Huntsville is the county seat of Madison County.[7] The city extends west into neighboring Limestone County.[8] Huntsville's population was 180,105 as of the 2010 census.[5] Huntsville is the fourth-largest city in Alabama and the largest city in the five-county Huntsville-Decatur-Albertville, AL Combined Statistical Area, which at the 2013 census estimate had a total population of 683,871.[9] The Huntsville Metropolitan Area's population was 417,593 in 2010[10] to become the 2nd largest in Alabama.[11] Huntsville metro's population reached 441,000 by 2014.[12]

It grew across nearby hills north of the Tennessee River, adding textile mills, then munitions factories, 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.[13]


First settlers

The first settlers of the area were Muscogee-speaking people.[14] The Chickasaw traditionally claim to have settled around 1300 after coming east across the Mississippi. A combination of factors, including depopulation due to disease, land disputes between the Choctaw and Cherokee, and pressures from the United States government had largely depopulated the area prior to Revolutionary War veteran John Hunt's arrival and settlement in the land around the Big Spring in 1805. The 1805 Treaty with the Chickasaws and the Cherokee Treaty of Washington of 1806 ceded native claims to the United States Government. The area was subsequently purchased by LeRoy Pope, who named the area Twickenham after the home village of his distant kinsman Alexander Pope.[15]

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

Twickenham was carefully planned, with streets laid out on the northeast to southwest direction based on the Big Spring. However, due to anti-British 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.[16]

Both John Hunt and LeRoy Pope were Freemasons and charter members of Helion Lodge #1, the oldest Lodge in Alabama.[17]


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 44 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 Cahawba, then to Tuscaloosa, and finally to Montgomery.

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 in order to sever the Confederacy's rail communications and gain access to the Memphis & Charleston Railroad. Huntsville was the control point for the Western Division of the Memphis &Charleston,[18] and by controlling this railroad the Union had a direct connection to Charleston South Carolina.

During the first occupation, the Union officers occupied many of the larger homes in the city while the other men camped on the outskirts. In the initial occupation, the Union troops searched for both Confederate troops hiding in the town and weapons. After they had established themselves, the occupying federals did not burn or pillage the city of Huntsville, though towns around it were sometimes targeted. Treatment toward the town was actually civil.[19]

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.

After the Civil War

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

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).

Dairy cow 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.[20] An area south of Huntsville was named Lily Flagg before 1906.[21][22] 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[23] because of its abundant harvest in the area. Madison County led Alabama in cotton production during this time.[23]

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.[24]

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.[25]

RSA commander Maj. Gen. John Medaris, Wernher von Braun, and RSA deputy commander Brig. Gen. Holger Toftoy (l−r:) 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.[25]

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 association with U.S. space missions. On January 31, 1958, ABMA placed America's first satellite, Explorer 1, 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, President Dwight D. Eisenhower formally dedicated the MSFC.[26]

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.


There are over 25 biotechnology firms in Huntsville due to the Huntsville Biotech Initiative.[27] The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is the centerpiece of the 150-acre Cummings Research Park Biotech Campus, part of the 4,000-acre Cummings Research Park which is second only to the North Carolina's Research Triangle Park in land area. The non-profit HudsonAlpha Institute has contributed genomics and genetics work to the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE). For-profit business ventures within the Biotech Campus focus on areas like infectious disease diagnostics, immune responses to disease and cancer, protein crystallization, lab-on-a-chip technologies and improved agricultural technologies. The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) created a doctoral program in biotechnology to help develop scientists to support Hudson Alpha in addition to the emerging biotechnology economy in Huntsville. In addition, the university's strategic plan has biotechnology as one of its emerging thrusts for future education and research.[28]


Looking west, a view of Huntsville from atop Chapman Mountain. From south to north (left to right), Downtown Huntsville, Interstate 565, U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the Madison County Jail, University Drive, and Memorial Parkway are all visible.

Huntsville is located at 34°42′N 86°35′W / 34.700°N 86.583°W / 34.700; -86.583 (34.7, -86.6).[29] The city has a total area of 210.0 square miles (543.9 km2).[30] Huntsville has grown through recent annexations west into Limestone County, a total of 21.5 square miles (56 km2), or 13,885 acres (5,619 ha).[31]

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 (Spanish for "Mountain of Health") is the most notable, and is east of the city along with Round Top (Burritt), Chapman, Huntsville, and Green mountains.[32] Others are Wade Mountain to the north, Rainbow Mountain to the west, and Weeden and Madkin mountains on Redstone Arsenal in the south. Brindley Mountain is visible in the south across the Tennessee River.

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 National Speleological Society is headquartered in Huntsville.


The city is primarily surrounded by unincorporated land; the following incorporated areas border parts of the city:[33]

The Huntsville city limits expanded west to wrap around and in 2011 fully surrounded the neighboring city of Madison.[33]

Several unincorporated communities also border Huntsville, including:


A view of South Huntsville from atop Monte Sano Mountain

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 near 90 °F (32.2 °C) in the summer to 49 °F (9.4 °C) during winter.

Huntsville is near the center of a large area of the U.S. mid-South that has maximum precipitation in the winter and spring, not summer. Average yearly precipitation is over 54 inches. On average, the wettest single month is December, but Huntsville experiences a prolonged slightly wetter season from November to May. The relatively drier months are from August to October. Much of Huntsville's precipitation is delivered by thunderstorms. Thunderstorms are most frequent during the summer but the most severe storms occur during the spring and late fall. These storms can deliver large hail, damaging straight line winds and tornadoes. Huntsville lies in a region colloquially known as Dixie Alley, an area more prone to violent, long track tornadoes than most other parts of the US.[35][36]

On April 27, 2011, the largest tornado outbreak on record, the 2011 Super Outbreak, affected northern Alabama. 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.[37] Other significant tornado events include the Super Outbreak in April 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.[38][39] On January 21, 2010, Huntsville experienced a rare mid-winter tornado. It registered EF2 on the Enhanced Fujita scale and did only moderate damage but received extensive media coverage as it was not rain-wrapped and thus easily photographed.[40]

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, heavy snow is rare in Huntsville. However, there have been some unusually heavy snowstorms, like the New Year's Eve 1963 snowstorm, when 17 in (43 cm) fell within 24 hours. Likewise, the Blizzard of 1993 and the Groundhog Day snowstorm in February 1996 were substantial winter events for Huntsville. On Christmas Day 2010 Huntsville recorded over 4 inches (10 cm) of snow, and on January 9–10, 2011 it received from 8.9 inches (23 cm) at the airport to over 10 inches (25 cm) in the suburbs.[41]

Climate data for Huntsville, Alabama (1981–2010 normals, extremes – 1907-present)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 79
Average high °F (°C) 50.1
Daily mean °F (°C) 41.5
Average low °F (°C) 31.0
Record low °F (°C) −11
Average precipitation inches (mm) 4.88
Average snowfall inches (cm) 1.3
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 10.7 10.4 10.6 10.1 10.2 10.1 10.5 8.5 7.5 7.7 9.4 10.8 116.4
Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 0.9 0.6 0.3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.4 2.2
Average relative 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
Source #1: NOAA[42]
Source #2:[43]


Historical population
Census Pop.
Est. 2015190,582[44]5.8%
U.S. Decennial Census[45]
2014 Estimate[46]

As of the census 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. Non-Hispanic Whites were 58% of the population in 2010,[47] compared to 86.9% in 1970.[48]

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 households.

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 180,105 people, 77,033 households, and 45,416 families residing in the city. The population density was 857.6 people per square mile (332.7/km2). There were 84,949 housing units at an average density of 405.3 per square mile (156.9/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 60.3% White, 31.2% Black or African American, 0.6% Native American, 2.4% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 2.9% from other races, and 2.5% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.8% of the population.

There were 77,033 households out of which 24.9% had children living with them, 40.1% were married couples living together, 14.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 41.0% were non-families. 34.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.25 and the average family size was 2.91.

Demographic distribution

Age <18 18-24 25-44 45-64 65+
|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 first elected in 2008 and then re-elected in 2012. The City Administrator is John Hamilton, who replaced Rex Reynolds on January 1, 2014 when Reynolds retired.[49] The city has a five-member/district City Council. The current members are:

Council elections are "staggered", meaning that Districts 2, 3, and 4 had elections in August 2014, while Districts 1 and 5 will have elections simultaneously with mayoral elections in 2016.

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. However, in the general election, John McCain carried Madison County with 57% of the vote.

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.[50] 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 and Rescue[51] On a daily basis the department staffs and coordinates nineteen engine companies, five ladder trucks, four rescue trucks, along with a Special Operations Division that includes Hazardous Materials Units, Technical Rescue Units, and several specialized support units. Huntsville Fire & Rescue also has Fire Investigations, emergency response dispatch, logistics, and training divisions, all of which are diverse, innovative and efficient. Many Huntsville firefighters are members of the regional Hazardous Materials and Heavy Rescue[52] 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)[53] 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[54] has 3 precincts and 1 downtown HQ, 400 sworn officers, 150 civilian personnel, and patrols an area of 194.7+ square miles (this number has grown due to recent annexations).

Police Academy

In operation since 1965, the Huntsville Police Academy[55] is one of the oldest police academies in the United States. As of 2014, the academy has graduated 53 basic classes and 7 lateral classes.[56]


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. 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. is based 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.[58]

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.

Space and 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 System (SLS),[59] and the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM) is responsible for developing a variety of rocket-based tactical weapons.



The Saturn V replica at the US Space and Rocket Center stands as a prominent landmark near mile 15 on Interstate 565.

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. Major roadways include University Drive, Governors Drive, Airport Road, Memorial Parkway and Research Park Blvd.

Cited as "Restore Our Roads", the city of Huntsville, between 2014 and 2019, will perform about $383 million worth of road construction to improve the transportation infrastructure.[60] Some of the funds for the road work comes from an increase in sales tax,[61] while others come from various sources including the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program.[62] Major road projects include:

Additional road projects include reconstructing the Holmes Avenue over Pinhook Creek, widening Zierdt, Martin and Winchester Roads, widening Old Madison Pike from Cummings Research Park to the city of Madison, relocating and widening Church Street north of Downtown, relocating Wynn Drive to allow an extension of the Calhoun Community College campus, various improvements along US 431 north of Hampton Cove, creating a new Downtown Gateway with the extension of Harvard Road from Governors Drive to Williams Avenue to create a direct connection to Downtown, and extending Weatherly Road to the new Grissom High School.

Public transit

Public transit in Huntsville is run by the city's Department of Parking and Public Transit.[63] 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-1950s, 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. Their collection includes one of the oldest diesel locomotives in existence (1926). 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, the predecessor to the Norfolk Southern.[64]

Air service

The Huntsville International Airport is served by several regional and national carriers, including Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and American Airlines. Delivery companies have hubs in Huntsville, making flights to Europe, Asia, and Mexico.[65] The airport has the highest average fares in US as of June 2014.[66]


The inland Port of Huntsville combines the Huntsville International Airport, International Intermodal Center, and Jetplex Industrial Park for truck, train and air transport. The intermodal terminal transfers truck and train cargo to aircraft. The port has on-site U.S. Customs and USDA inspectors. The port is Foreign Trade Zone No. 83.

Bicycle routes

There are several bicycle routes in the city,[67][68][69] but access to these routes can be limited.


Electricity, water, and natural gas are all provided in Huntsville by Huntsville Utilities (HU).[70] 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. TVA plans to eventually activate the plant.[71]

Telephone service in Huntsville is provided by Deltacom, Inc., AT&T, WOW!, and Comcast. Comcast and WOW! are the two cable providers in the Huntsville city limits. Mediacom operates in rural outlying areas. AT&T announced the start of its DSL U-verse service in the Huntsville-Decatur metro area in November 2010.[72]

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. Both papers were owned by the Newhouse chain.[73]

In May 2012, Advance Publications, owner of the Times, announced that the Times would become part of a new company called the Alabama Media Group,[74] along with the other three newspapers and two websites owned by Advance. As part of the change, the newspapers moved to a three-day publication schedule, with print editions available only on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. The Huntsville Times and its sister papers publish news and information 7 days a week on[75]

A few alternative newspapers are available in Huntsville. The Valley Planet[76] covers arts and entertainment in the Tennessee Valley area. The Redstone Rocket[77] is a newspaper distributed throughout Redstone Arsenal's housing area covering activities on Redstone. Speakin' Out News[78] is a weekly newspaper focused on African Americans. El Reportero is a Spanish-language newspaper for North Alabama.


No'Ala Huntsville is a lifestyle magazine, which is published six times annually.[79]


Huntsville is the 106th largest radio market in the United States.[80] Station KIH20 broadcasts the National Weather Service's forecasts and warnings for the Huntsville area.


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

TV Stations


A few feature films have been shot in Huntsville, including 20 Years After[81] (2008, originally released as Like Moles, Like Rats),[82] Air Band (2005),[83] and Constellation (2005).[84] 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. 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.

There are 7 movie theaters located in Huntsville.


K–12 education

The majority of K–12 students in Huntsville attend Huntsville City Schools.[85] 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."[86]

Of the 53 schools in the Huntsville City Schools system in 2007–2008, there were:[86]

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

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 Lee High School and New Century Technology 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 Saint John Paul II Catholic High School,[87] Faith Christian Academy,[88] Oakwood Adventist Academy,[89] Whitesburg Christian Academy, and Westminster Christian Academy. Randolph School is the only independent, private K-12 school in the city.[90]

60% of HCS teachers have at least a master's degree or better.[86]


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%.[86]

Higher education

Huntsville's higher education institutions are:

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. UAHuntsville has been ranked by the Carnegie Foundation as a very high research institution, placing it among the top 75 public research universities in the nation. UAHuntsville is also ranked as a Tier 1 national university by U.S. News & World Report.

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



Big Spring International Park

There are 57 parks within the city limits of Huntsville.[112] In 2013 for the fifth time in seven years, Huntsville was named a 'Playful City USA' by KaBOOM! (non-profit organization) for their efforts to provide a variety of play opportunities for children that included after school programs and parks within walking distance of home.[113]


Public golf courses

Private golf courses


The Huntsville-Madison County Public Library,[136] founded in late October 1818, is Alabama's oldest continually operating library system. It has 12 branches throughout the county including one bookmobile. The Huntsville branches are the Bailey Cove Branch Library, Bessie K. Russell Branch Library, Downtown Huntsville Library, Eleanor E. Murphy Branch Library, Oscar Mason Branch Library, and Showers Center Library. The Downtown Huntsville 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;[137] Huntsville Art League; Theatre Huntsville (through its parent company);[138] Broadway Theatre League;[139] Fantasy Playhouse Children's Theatre;[138] Rocket City Chorus; Huntsville Symphony Orchestra;[140] and Huntsville Photographic Society among them.

Arts Council

Founded in October 1962 as a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization, the Arts Council, Inc.[141] (TAC) includes over 100 local arts organizations and advocates. TAC sponsors the arts through five core programs:

TAC promotes the visual arts with two galleries: art@TAC, using the walls near the company's Von Braun Center[144] offices and the JavaGalleria. TAC supports The Bench Project[145] and the strategic planning effort to support Huntsville-Madison County's economic development goals through expanded arts and cultural opportunities known as Create Huntsville.[146]

Performing arts

Visual arts

Convention center and arena

The Von Braun Center, which originally opened in 1975 as the Von Braun Civic Center, 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.

Local breweries

Comedy and other entertainment

Huntsville is home to a number of comedy shows, including:



Current sports franchises

Past sports franchises


Notable people

Sister cities

Huntsville's sister cities include:


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