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History of Huntsville, Alabama

Huntsville is located between the Tennessee River and the Tennessee border. Nicknamed "Rocket City," the history of Huntsville is intertwined with America's space program. John Hunt lived in a cabin beside a spring there in 1805. LeRoy Pope, a man of considerable wealth, followed soon afterwards, made large purchases of land, and changed the community's name from Hunt's Spring to Twickenham, the name of the London estate of the poet Alexander Pope. Local residents rejected the change and renamed it Huntsville. Huntsville became the first incorporated town in the state in 1811. Pope donated land for the first courthouse, which was built in 1816. In 1819, the leaders of the Alabama Territory gathered to appeal to the U.S. Congress to grant statehood. The 1819 constitution was written in Huntsville between July 5 and August 2. Huntsville was the state’s capital at the time it was admitted to the Union. In 1820, the capital moved to Cahawba in the first of several transitions that led eventually to Montgomery in 1846. In the years before the Civil War, Huntsville was an important cotton trading center. The Memphis & Charleston Railroad was built through Huntsville in 1855. On April 11, 1862, Union troops, guided by General Mitchell, captured Huntsville to cut the Confederacy's railroad communications. Until 1940, Huntsville was a small city with a population of 13,150. The situation changed at the beginning of World War II, when it was chosen as the site of several military manufacturing plants. Redstone Arsenal, a center for U.S. rocket research and development, was established here in 1941. Wernher von Braun, a German rocket scientist, arrived in 1950, and led development of the Redstone, Jupiter and Pershing missiles. Prior to getting the name "Rocket City," Huntsville was known as the Watercress Capital of the World, because watercress was harvested in such abundance in the area.