May is National Historic Preservation Month, and we’re celebrating with weekly posts on City Blog, Facebook Live content, special events and more.
Huntsville currently has eight historic districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Four of those districts are locally designated*:
Twickenham Historic District*
Old Town Historic District*
Five Points Historic District*
Normal Historic District*
Dallas Mill Village Historic District
Lincoln Mill Village Historic District
Lowe Mill Village Historic District
Merrimack Mill Village Historic District
In the next two years, Huntsville will have two more historic districts surveyed, intended to be listed on the National Register: McThornmor Acres and Edmonton Heights. Both of these neighborhoods were established during the mid-20th century, an extremely significant time period for Huntsville, Alabama. Let’s explore their history.
Built in the 1950s, McThornmor Acres is an ideal candidate for the National Register. The subdivision’s design reflects the goals of city planning to create a modern neighborhood for the workforce of the rocket and space program. The houses of McThornmor Acres represent the architecture of their time, including post-war ranches, split-level ranches, and mid-century contemporary. The neighborhood is remarkably intact and most homes retain their original appearance. McThornmor Acres is valuable because it is a physical link to the people and events that helped shape the City of Huntsville and the State of Alabama.
Through work initiated and guided by Donna Castellano, Executive Director of Historic Huntsville Foundation (HHF), McThornmor Acres was identified as a potential National Register district. David Schneider of Schneider Historic Preservation, LLC, was hired to complete a survey of the neighborhood and is in the final stages of preparing the National Register nomination form which will be reviewed at the Alabama National Register Review Board meeting in September 2018.
Due to the collaborative efforts of HHF, City Council Member Bill Kling, Historic Huntsville Preservation Commission (HHPC), Alabama Historical Commission (AHC) and neighborhood residents, McThornmor Acres is anticipated to be Alabama’s first Space Age Historic District.
When Edmonton Heights was constructed in 1959, Huntsville was still a segregated city. It was one of few neighborhoods in the city where African Americans were allowed to live and purchase property.
The devastation of the Urban Renewal program of the 1960s brought in displaced African American residents from the heart of downtown, and Edmonton Heights served as a refuge for many black citizens. At the heart of that refuge was Alabama A&M University (AAMU). Given the proximity of the neighborhood to AAMU, many of the residents were faculty and staff for the University. AAMU provided residents with the first African American primary school in the county (Councill Training), the first African American hospital in the county (Virginia McCormick Hospital), a public library (Carnegie Library), among other resources. Many of Huntsville’s African American citizens would not have had access to these resources if not for Edmonton Heights and AAMU. The Edmonton Heights neighborhood served as an incubator for progress providing a sense of community, identity, and unity.
As with McThornmor Acres, the effort to survey and list Edmonton Heights on the National Register involved collaboration between the Edmonton Heights Neighborhood Association, Normal Historic District Association, Historic Huntsville Foundation and City Council Member Mark Russell. With their support, the City of Huntsville was awarded a Certified Local Government grant from the AHC in March 2018 to survey Edmonton Heights.
The City will apply for a grant to prepare the National Register nomination during the 2019 CLG grant cycle.
National Register nominations help identify and convey the significance of historic neighborhoods and help place them within the broader context of state and national history. They identify the value of these historic resources, and an investment in a National Register nomination for McThornmor Acres and Edmonton Heights will pay multiple dividends for neighborhood residents and the greater Huntsville community.