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Did You Know … ?
- Huntsville has the largest collection of antebellum homes in Alabama.
- Actress Tallulah Bankhead was born in Huntsville in 1902.
- Huntsville was originally called Twickenham.
- The city’s Museum of Art houses America’s largest collection of art by American women.
- Alabama’s constitution was written in Huntsville, the same year the state’s first brewery opened there (1819).
Huntsville, sprawled at the foot of a mountain in northern Alabama, is best known these days for its association with space technology and, especially, manned space flight. Research that led to manned flights to the moon began in Huntsville not long after World War II. Tourists can get a big eyeful of space-related artifacts — if one can call rockets and space shuttles artifacts. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is one of the most comprehensive museums focused on America’s manned space flight program.
Space is a key theme here — Huntsville is dubbed the Rocket City — but a tourist can hang a visit to the Alabama city on several hooks, including, besides the space race, the 19th century architecture and history or sports and outdoor activities.
Founded in 1805, Huntsville was Alabama’s first settlement of English speakers. Visitors can reach back almost to the founding at the Alabama Constitution Village, a reconstruction of Huntsville as it looked in 1819 when the state’s constitution was written there.
The city is richer with antebellum houses than many other southern cities because the Union Army quickly captured Huntsville’s railroad depot (and hence the city) during the Civil War, eliminating the battles that might have brought great destruction. Guides nevertheless have plenty to talk about during the Huntsville Ghost Tour.
Huntsville has several in-city parks, access to the Tennessee River and an abundance of golf courses. It also is near state parks and nature preserves where lovers of the outdoors can cycle, hike, watch for birds and other wildlife or carry a picnic basket for a relaxing afternoon.
For spectator sports, choices include collegiate sports (Alabama A&M and University of Alabama Huntsville), as well as auto racing, baseball, football, hockey, soccer, plus the Dixie Derby Girls and the Huntsville Tigers of the Independent Women’s Football League.
As for the sciences, the space center is the top attraction. The seriously interested visitor can spend hours there and consider the Space Camp learning experience as well.
Finally, theater, the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra, the Huntsville Museum of Art and other cultural diversions add variety to the itinerary.
Things to do for Venturers
- Enroll in space camp where you get some idea of life in space by using simulators such as the 1/6th gravity chair; participate in activities such as designing robots in a lab; conduct experiments, and finally command a simulated space shuttle mission. This is open to all ages.
- The name says it all. Spend your most active hours at the Insanity Skate Park, for skateboarding and aggressive inline skating.
- Ditto for Shakalaka Extreme Air Sports, a 26,000-square-foot trampoline arena.
- Sign up for an art class at the Huntsville Museum of Art. Save time to appreciate the museum’s extensive collection, too.
- Pitch a tent or rent a cabin in Monte Santo State Park; explore the mountaintop trails there.
- Choose your spectator sport. Aside from the collegiate and league sports, consider the Dixie Derby Girls or drag racing at the Huntsville Dragway.
Things to do for Centrics
- Put the U.S. Space and Rocket Center on your itinerary. It displays some 1,500 artifacts from the U.S. spaceflight program including the original Saturn V rocket and the Pathfinder orbiter.
- Go ice skating at the Benton H. Wilcoxon Municipal Ice Complex.
- Hike or cycle on the public trails in any of these three nature preserves: Blevins Gap, Monte Santo and Wade Mountain.
- Help dip candles, or make a copy of the Alabama Republican in the print shop at the Alabama Constitution Village. Put the Historic Huntsville Depot on the itinerary, too, for the story of the railroad and its significance in the Civil War.
- Take a ghost walk in Huntsville or in next-door Madison.
- Pick up the relevant brochure at the local tourist information office and stalk birds (with binoculars) in any of the more than 50 sites on the North Alabama Birding Trail. Bald eagles sometimes winter at Lake Guntersville State Park.
Things to do for Authentics
- Take the kids to the Earthworks Children’s Museum, the South’s largest hand-on history museum. Sci-Quest, Hands-on Science Center is a good alternative and good for kids of all ages.
- Set aside time for leisurely strolls in one or more of Huntsville’s historic neighborhoods. Look for the replica of the Salem Witch House and the three Sears and Roebuck “kit” houses, as well as stunning antebellum mansions.
- Get out the camera for a visit to the Huntsville Botanical Garden, with spectacular floral displays plus the country’s largest open-air butterfly house.
- Ride on the Mercury and Chase Railroad, which is available seasonally. Or, ride in an authentic Venetian gondola on the Tennessee River. Or, take a trolley tour of downtown Huntsville.
- To tour the inside of an antebellum home, head to the 1819 Weeden House in the Twickenham Historic District. It is the only home from the era open for tours.
- Play golf by day. Choose a stage play or other stage production for the evening.
For more information, consult the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau at www.huntsville.org