Stepping back in time: Your guide to Huntsville’s historic districts

single-meta-cal July 20, 2023

Huntsville’s history goes all the way back to 1805, but formally recognizing that history is more of a recent phenomenon.

The City first approved an ordinance to create locally designated “historic districts” in 1971.

According to the ordinance, Huntsville’s first historic district was designated because the area demonstrated “significance worthy of preservation for the protection of the historic character of the City.” Since then, three more locally designated districts were created to preserve the historical significance of these areas for generations to come.

“Our downtown historic districts are where some of the oldest structures in Huntsville are located,” said City Preservation Planner Katie Stamps. “Charming, walkable streets provide the perfect backdrop to experience these local treasures.”

If you’re a new resident or native seeking a look back in time, here’s your guide to Huntsville’s locally designated historic districts.

First of its kind

A pair of gates at a historic home in the Twickenham Historic District surrounded by green trees and brush.

If you stroll along Adams Street in the Twickenham Historic District, you’re likely to come across these wrought iron gates.

Huntsville’s first historic district shares its title with the City’s original name: Twickenham.

This district, created by City Council on March 23, 1972, is located close to downtown with its borders near Randolph Avenue and Lowe Avenue all the way to the westernmost gates of Maple Hill Cemetery. Classified by the National Register of Historic Places as a “living museum of architecture,” Twickenham is home to the state’s largest collection of pre-Civil War homes, many of which were seized by the Union Army from 1862-1865.

The district covers approximately one-half of the original Twickenham settlement.

‘True Victorian character’

A historic home in the Old Town Historic District with children outside selling lemonade at a stand.

Held in 2022, the Hidden Gardens of Old Town Tour allowed homeowners to showcase their lawns and home in the Old Town Historic District.

The Old Town Historic District was recognized in 1974 with many of its homes built between 1880 and 1929. It’s the only district with “true Victorian character” in its homes.

Old Town was made to cover historic homes outside the boundaries of Twickenham. Its 96 acres encompass parts of Clinton and Holmes avenues between California and Lincoln streets with Providence Classical School at its center. Architect Harvie Jones, along with homeowners Charles and Francis Rice, led the charge in creating the district. Mayor Joe W. Davis and U.S. Senator John Sparkman also assisted in the effort.

A small park was later dedicated to honor the Rice family.

The next generation

The 1910 Rice Tatum home in the Five Points Historic District.

Build in 1910, the Rice Tatum House stands as one of the shining gems of the Five Points Historic District.

A generation after the creation of Twickenham and the adjoining Old Town districts, the Five Points Historic District was born.

Recognized by the City in 1999, the district doesn’t just represent one time period. Instead, it features a gallery of how middle-class homes evolved in 20th century Huntsville. The homes in its bounds include every style, from Victorian and Bungalow to Cape Cod and Ranch.

The district converges at the intersection of Holmes Avenue, Pratt Avenue, California Street and Andrew Jackson Way, but goes all the way to Grayson Street.

Five Points was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

Atop Normal’s Hill

The gates at Alabama A&M University

Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the campus of Alabama A&M University is the only locally-designated historic district outside of downtown Huntsville.

Alabama A&M University might not be a residential area like Twickenham, Old Town or Five Points – but it’s still recognized as locally designated historic district.

The district is concentrated on “Normal’s Hill” and follows Chase Road. While many of its historic buildings were built from 1927 to the early 1960s, some structures remain from the turn of the 20th century.

Outside of its academic facilities and at the time of its designation, the district had two cemeteries, a hospital, a post office, security and utility buildings, and more.

Huntsville’s rich history is available just outside your door. Whether you’re hoping to admire the architecture or simply take a stroll on a Sunday afternoon, life is bustling in these communities.

Learn more about the Huntsville Historic Preservation Office by reaching out on Facebook and Instagram. The Historic Preservation Commission also meets on the second Monday of every month in the 1st Floor Chambers of City Hall.