Huntsville: Know Your Hi(STORY)!

Huntsvillians come in many flavors; transplants, Army brats, retirees, natives and people like me; I’m a sixth-generation native. As you may know, that’s a pretty uncommon story around here. I’m such an endangered species, I guess you could call me a “Rocket City Platypus”. Come to think of it, I might insist on it. But I digress…

Even though I’ve been around these parts forever, it used to sort of be my job to know such things, and I spend a fair amount of time out enjoying all the things Huntsville has to offer, there is one thing I never quite understood; what’s with all the historical societies? Great news! I did the homework, so you don’t have to. Here’s the deal.

Historic Huntsville Foundation

Their mission statement says, “We promote the preservation of historic sites, buildings, houses and neighborhoods in Huntsville and Madison County, Alabama. From the courthouse square to rural farmhouses, historic places make our community a better place to live, work and play.” This all true. But, they’re also responsible for some fun activities you can enjoy right now.

Huntsville-Madison County Historical Society

About HMCHS: “The members of the Historical Society are dedicated to preserving the past to enrich the future through local education and preservation. Recently the Society has partnered with UAHuntsville, adding an element of youthful enthusiasm to our history.”

  • They meet each quarter at the Huntsville Public Library and always welcome visitors to attend.
  • You know those distinctive metal historic markers you see all around the county? The Historical Society does these too! As if they planned it that way, right in time for the Alabama Bicentennial this year, they turned those iconic markers into trails just for me and you! Madison County Marker Challenge

Get out there and learn your local history by visiting the Historical Markers of Madison County!

The Normal Historic District Preservation Association

Their mission: “The Normal Historic District Preservation Association (NHDPA) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to facilitate the preservation and revitalization of Alabama A&M University National Historic District and other historic artifacts of the University. The Normal Historic District is located on the campus of Alabama A&M University in Normal, Alabama. ​”

  • Keep an eye on this group! They’ve done African-American History Bus Tours and other such events in the past. I hope we see more opportunities like this soon.
Photo courtesy of NHDPA

Huntsville Pilgrimage Association

What they say: “Established in 1822 when the city of Huntsville purchased two acres of land from Leroy Pope, Maple Hill Cemetery now extends over 76 acres and houses the graves of many historic and political figures. Located in the heart of downtown Huntsville, from Wells Avenue south to McClung Avenue, it includes more than 80,000 graves. More than 1,600 grave markers have been restored to date thanks to your generous donations to the annual Cemetery Stroll and your participation in the Angels of Maple Hill Cemetery.” Maintaining the beauty and legacy of Maple Hill Cemetery is now the charge of the Huntsville Pilgrimage Association.

  • I DO NOT have favorite Huntsville events. But the Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll is TOTALLY one of my favorite Huntsville events!! If you’ve never been, you owe yourself an apology. Make it up to yourself this October.

Huntsville Historic Preservation Commission

The story: “The City of Huntsville has four locally-designated historic districts – Twickenham, Old Town, Five Points, and Alabama A&M University.” Stay tuned and look for new district additions in the coming years.

“Historic district designation means these neighborhoods are recognized by the National Park Service, the State of Alabama, and the City of Huntsville as being architecturally and/or historically significant to the community. The purpose of the Commission is to ensure these historic districts are preserved for the future.”

  • May is Preservation Month and the Commission does a fantastic #ThisPlaceMattersHSV campaign so you can learn the significance of places you pass right by each day. Look for events and announcements about this year’s festivities to kick-off on April 29th.
  • Stay tuned, because they’re currently working to finalize some cool panel-discussion events with folks actively preserving sites in our area right now.
Photo Courtesy Huntsville Historic Preservation Commission

We’ve only just scratched the surface of all these valuable organizations do to preserve and improve this home we all hold so dear. If this little bit of knowledge has piqued your interest at all, there’s no need to sit on the sidelines, they would love to have you join in the fun! Volunteer, join a board, buy a ticket, bring your friends and I’ll keep an eye out for all my Huntsvillian friends…whatever YOUR story.

Originally published at Our Valley Events.

Kickin’ It Old School: Retro Fun in the Rocket City!

Although Huntsville is known for having our eyes toward the future, our innovation, our “cultural propulsion” hurdling us forward into the new, cool and groundbreaking, we’re also down for a little nod to the past. So, you’re looking for some fun that harkens back to a simpler time? A time when we weren’t once again on a timeclock to put man on in the Moon within 5 years? (That’s a royal “we”, they don’t let me anywhere near the rockets.) If you need to step out while taking a step back in time, no worries, Huntsville has got you covered with lots of retro fun.

Let’s start with a roaring good time and the 1920s

Want all the glamour of the Prohibition Era without…well…all the actual prohibition? Then all aboard the Blue Bayou at A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard, take a seat on this re-imagined 1924 train car with your totally legal drink and some seriously good eats. Perfect for date nights, family dinners and special events. Have a little moxie, kiddo! Grab your gal or fella, get spiffy and head to the joint; it’s the bee’s knees!

Speakeasy? Yes, please-y! If you’ve yet to find The Speakeasy at Straight to Ale, then are you really even trying? It’s Huntsville, ask someone, they will tell you, walk you there and probably hold the “door” open for you. (Wow, I’m just now wondering how southerners kept real speakeasies a secret with all the politeness and all? A discussion for another time perhaps.) Anyway, The Speakeasy is cozy, serves the delicious menu from Ale’s Kitchen, hosts lots of fun events like Huntsville’s Only Drag Brunch and Taco Tuesdays & Vintage Video Game Night and is an all-around good time!

Next up, the 1950s, Daddy-O

If you’re going to “Rock Around the Clock”, do “The Twist” or “Shake, Rattle and Roll” you might as well do it with a slice of pizza in your hand. Proudly serving Huntsville since 1961, Big Ed’s Pizza plates up a love of Elvis, a shmancy new location on Pratt Avenue, the feel of a real family-owned neighborhood hub and, oh yeah, really good pizza.

More Puccini, less pepperoni? They’ve surely come a long way, but founded in 1955, the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra (HSO) is a jewel in the crown of the local arts community. The longest continually operating professional orchestra in the State of Alabama, HSO packs each season with diverse and ambitious programs, not only embracing the classics but endeavoring to speak to Huntsville’s geeky nature with it’s always fun & innovative Pops Series.

Let’s talk the 1970s. Can you dig it?

Sure, vinyl’s been around since the 40s and it’s still a popular format amongst music lovers today but, I gotta believe the 1970s had to be the heyday (at least that’s what we’re going with for my purposes here). No matter your musical style or timeframe preference, good news, Huntsville has got some conveniently located and “far out” vinyl shops. Check out Maxwell’s Music at Clinton Row and Vertical House Records at Lowe Mill ARTS and Entertainment.

If you weren’t wearing a satin jumpsuit on a packed Saturday night and “trucking” around the roller rink to the latest disco hits, you were a total drag in the 70s. These days, you can still have all the fun of wheeling about in the rotating glow of a mirror ball without the Farrah hair or Bowie style. Huntsville and Madison are keeping the roller boogie alive at Insanity Complex, Odyssey Skate Center, Roller Time and more!

Last but not least, the 1980s…TOTALLY!

Adult revelation: the hours of my life spent staring into the warm Galaga glow would have been so much better accompanied by a cold beer and a bowl of spicy chili. This dream is made reality at our beloved downtown hotspot, Pints & Pixels. With a rotating selection of all your 80s video game and pinball favorites, it’s a great way to spend a Friday night…or, a Tuesday night. Not to worry, if a frosty adult beverage isn’t your thing, Pints & Pixels is family-friendly so you can ba-bing, bing, bring the whole crew. (of yeah, I’m on that level. Gnarly, right?)

Need even more arcade options? We’ve got ‘em! Try Rocket City Arcade on University Drive or Ronnie Raygun’s Arcade at Campus 805.

Let’s face it. Love or hate them, the 80s were a touchstone for some of our greatest pop culture moments in music and film. We experienced We Are the World, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, The Breakfast Club and who could forget Ghostbusters?! In the immortal words of Ray Parker, Jr. (with a little help from Huey Lewis. The old people in the room, like me, will get that one), “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!” Particularly, when Huntsville makes them so stinking interesting. September – October of each year Huntsville Ghost Walk hosts walking tours on every Friday and Saturday through Old Town Historic District, Twickenham Historic District and Haunted Downtown. Heck, they’ve even got a Haunted Trolley.

So, that’s it for now; time travel is exhausting! Whether you’re revisiting days gone by and whetting your nostalgia whistle or discovering for the first time how the old folks used to break it down back in the day, the Rocket City has decades and decades of delights to share with you.

Originally published at Our Valley Events.

Behind the Scenes Huntsville: Places You Might Not Know We Can Totally Go!

Sure, most of our neighbors might have a security clearance of some level or another. AND, there may be running jokes about the “Stranger Things” level of “we could tell you, but then we’d have to kill you” type research being done here. BUT, none of that means you and I can’t be privy to a little inside information about some, not as secret as you thought, Rocket City goings on. Here’s a handy dandy list of some of those off limits locations where you can occasionally push the limit.

Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology

HudsonAlpha, the folks who put the DNA in Huntsville’s…well…DNA, may seem like a smart people hub in the middle of Cummings Research Park doing mysterious, magical, science-y things (and they are) but they’re not afraid to “drop some knowledge” with you and me. In this spirit, they host quarterly public tours; those scheduled for the remainder of 2019 are September 12th and December 12th. Tours begin at 10:00 a.m. in the HudsonAlpha atrium, are usually an hour to 90 minutes long and require quite a bit of standing and walking. The recommended ages for tours is 12 years old and up.  After the tour, participants can even grab a bite to eat at the cafe in the atrium which is open to the public. To register, visit:

Harrison Brothers Hardware

Our beloved Harrison Brothers Hardware started as a family-owned business and their store has operated on the downtown Huntsville courthouse square since 1897. These days, they’re less about hammer and nails and more about local goodies, art, Huntsville-centric souvenirs and so much more. Fear not though, the inside still holds every bit of the charm and nostalgia of days gone by, proudly displaying lots of nods to their storied past like the Harrison Brothers’ business desk, the old safe and even the 1907 cash register.

But, did you know that every 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month, Harrison Brothers Hardware open up the basement for a warehouse sale. You can find anything from gorgeous old doors to fireplaces mantels to window panes ready for your next Pinterest project. They’re open 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. Go check it out and then let me know what kind of repurposed masterpiece you create!

NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

Perhaps the granddaddy of all “behind the scenes” is Redstone Arsenal and Marshall Space Flight Center. Believe it or not, I’ve got not one but TWO ways for you to see some of the historic and world-changing stuff they’re doing out there.

First up, the Marshall Space Flight Center Bus Tour! Did you know, you can take a bus from the U.S. Space & Rocket Center for a tour of the MSFC facilities and it includes stops at the Historic Test Stands and the Propulsion Research and Development Laboratory. Here’s the scoop:

“The MSFC Bus Tour ticket is $20 for guests ages five and up and children ages four and under are permitted to ride free. The tour bus departs every day at 12:30 p.m. CST from the blue awning located in front of the main entrance to the USSRC. The tour is led by a trained Museum Presenter, allowing guests to sit back and relax as the presenter explains the past, present and future of Marshall Space Flight Center. Tickets must be purchased at the main ticket desk or call 256-721-7114 for pre-paid reservations. Please note that bus tour ticket sales close each day at 12 p.m. CST.”

NASA Bus Tour Rules:

  • All participants must be U.S. citizens
  • Picture I.D. (state issued driver’s license or Passport) required for anyone 16 years of age or older.
  • No large bags or backpacks
  • Bags may be subject to inspection
  • No food or drinks
  • Bathrooms are not readily available
  • No weapons allowed
  • No outstanding warrants”

A perfect way to “WOW” your friends, family and out of town guests with all your fancy insider knowledge.

This next one is for your true space aficionado, professional science nerd or just plain curious civilian; it’s a NASA Social. “What’s a NASA Social?”, you ask. Well, I am here to tell you! (No seriously, that’s why we’re here, me telling you what stuff is…I digress) A NASA Social is when NASA centers throughout the country including our own NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center, put out a call to anyone interested in learning more about their current missions to apply for upcoming hosted day events. These events occur multiple times a year and you can even set an alert to be informed when a new opportunity posts. Participants are escorted by NASA staff, given briefings by leaders or project teams and there’s usually some pretty cool NASA swag involved too. It is an application process, there are a few exclusions, rules and regulations, but not many, so go check it out: NASA Social

The Historic Homes in the Twickenham District

If you’ve found yourself driving through downtown Huntsville, passed the gorgeous historic homes in the Twickenham District, and are anything like me, you’ve thought, “I wonder what these look like inside?” Guess what? You have the opportunity to find out.

Each December, you can join in for the Annual Spirit of Christmas Past Homes and Luminary Tour.

And though a date in the new year has yet to be released, ArtsHuntsville is known for hosting their Art Tour of Homes event in January, which generally has a house or two in Twickenham featured.

Can’t wait for one of these events? Well then, good news for you! The Weeden House Museum is the only home in the district that is open as a museum and they would love to give you a tour. Guided tours are offered Wednesday-Saturday at 10:30 AM or by appointment and admission is $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for children 12 and under (cash only).

They say, curiosity killed the cat, but it doesn’t have to be any skin off your nose. So, get out there! There’s lots to see and do in the Rocket City; some of it’s just a little less obvious.

Originally published at Our Valley Events.