Farmers looking for fertile land settled almost as soon as Thomas Freeman began surveying the Tennessee River Valley in what now is Madison County. Cheap land and slavery made instant millionaires out of many early settlers in North Alabama.
As the cotton frontier grew so did the demand for more services and representation. The town of Twickenham became Huntsville and Huntsville became an outpost on the western frontier. Situated next to a constant water source and blessed with abundant natural resources, Huntsville thrived in the early nineteenth century. With the Tennessee River to the north and the Natchez Trace to the west, the growing town became an important center of trade and politics. In 1818 one resident proudly noted “the land around Huntsville . . . is rich and beautiful as you can imagine, and the appearance of wealth would baffle belief.”
Impending statehood meant that Alabama needed to have a state constitution. Huntsville became the most logical place to hold a constitutional convention because of its size and location. On July 5, 1819, forty-four delegates from around the Alabama Territory converged on what is now Constitution Village but then was Walker Allen’s cabinet shop. By August a new constitution had been ratified and in December the state of Alabama swore William Bibb in as its first governor on this corner lot in downtown Huntsville. A year later the state capital moved south to Cahaba and eventually to Montgomery.
As you stand at Constitution Village think about how these early state delegates worked to create a better life through compromise and taking into account larger issues that influenced all Alabamians. Now imagine doing it on the second floor of a hot building in the heat of summer wearing long pants, shirtsleeves, and heavy jackets! The “good old days” don’t sound so good!
// This year begins a three-year celebration of the upcoming Alabama Bicentennial in 2019. For three years, we will celebrate Alabama Places (2017), Alabama People (2018), and Alabama Stories (2019). To help celebrate, Dr. John Kvach (History Professor at UAH) has written several blog posts about several different locations on our North Alabama Geocaching Passport. The passport can be found at www.northalabama.org/explore/north-alabama-passport. Happy reading and hunting for those geocaches! //