Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ah Huntsville!

Ah, Huntsville. How you surprised and delighted!

I am ashamed for being disappointed that you won the bid to host #SoMeT13US. You were wonderful hosts, and the story of how you energized the entire city, state and region in the voting process is inspiring.
Let me start from the center and work outward. Huntsville's downtown and courthouse square are wonderful. You're going to be seeing and hearing more about this area in the years to come. There are far too many vacant store fronts, and lots of construction on the streets - these will be short-lived I'm sure and this area is going to be a vibrant arts and entertainment district very, very soon. My one complaint, and I know that no one in Huntsville now is responsible for it, but could you possibly have chosen an uglier design for your courthouse? What an eyesore! What were they thinking back in the 70's, anyway?
I thoroughly enjoyed the Harrison Brothers hardware store - in operation for 116 years! Of course, now it's a gift shop operated by the Historic Huntsville Foundation, but they have preserved the look and feel and even the products of the old-time hardware store. They have a wonderful selection of locally produced goods and art, and best of all, they ship! I'm anxiously awaiting the pickled okra, asparagus and various sauces that I purchased.
All of downtown, and in fact, the whole community, is filled with historic markers. It is wonderful to know what happened on that particular spot, in that particular house. What a great way to tell the story of the community. And the historic neighborhoods! Twickenham, Old Town and Five Points - oh my - the earliest home I can remember seeing dates from 1814, coming up on 200 years. There is street after street of these historic homes, all marked with the dates and sometimes the names, and even a guidebook containing listings of the most historic.

They offer tours, too. How about the Huntsville Ghost Walk? Spies, lies and alibis? Civil War Bones? Mischief and Mayhem? All of these sound like great ways to experience Huntsville history.

Just to the north of the downtown is the historic Huntsville Depot, which changed hands numerous times in the Civil War. I had probably the best living-history tour I've ever had through this Depot.
The southern gentleman who guided us was wonderful. You'll want to take the guided tour when you have the chance to visit - and don't miss the civil-war era graffiti on the third floor. Nearby is the North Alabama Railroad Museum, which I didn't have time to see.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Lumberyard - an authentic 1895 lumber yard now converted to an event and wedding venue. We had a wonderful off-site party... no, no, not party... networking event there Thursday night.
East of downtown is the Maple Hill Cemetery - the Civil War Bones tour mentioned above guides you through this cemetery. It is beautiful. There is a self-guided tour available at the cemetery office and they host an annual walk during October. Two things on my list of things to see that I didn't get to were the Weeden House and Alabama Constitution Village. I guess it's a reason to go back!
Further out and up a beautiful drive around a mountain to the east is the Burritt Home on the Mountain. Dr. William Burritt donated 157 acres on the top of the mountain the community of Huntsville upon his death. The beautiful house he built overlooks breathtaking scenery down into the valley. And now for a unique Nebraska connection... the house is constructed of straw bales!
Wide window ledge is a tell-tale sign of straw-bale construction.
This is the second time on my adventures that I have encountered this most Nebraska of construction methods. The first was at the Prime Desert Woodland in Lancaster, CA. For those of you who don't know - the art of constructing homes of straw bales covered with stucco and plaster was pioneered in Nebraska around 1900.
A section of the straw left peeking through.
The historic village that they've created includes homes moved to the site from the surrounding area. They tell the story of the earliest inhabitants and their hard work in creating a life for themselves and their families.

A living history re-enactor at the History Village
The people who operate the Burritt Home on the Mountain have been ingenious in creating sustainability for the historic village - they have included an event center with an amazing view of the valley, which I am sure must be in much demand, and an education center so they can host workshops and trainings. Couple that with the delightful gift shop, and you've got a model of sustainability.
And now on to the showcase of Huntsville, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Before I went there, I was decidedly unimpressed with the thought of visiting, but the sight of the massive Saturn 3 Rocket quickly changed that. I admit I was overawed with the exhibits, the experience at the Space Camp, the rocket launch and their gift shop. It is definitely a must-see for anyone visiting Huntsville.

Our short time in Huntsville has only scratched the surface of all there is to see and do in the area, so I guess I'll have to plan a return trip!

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