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!
What did the height of technology look like in 1860? You are standing next to it if you visit the Huntsville Depot. Railroads sprung up around the United States in the early 1830s and by 1860 there was over 31,000 miles of track.
The Huntsville Depot became the most important place in town when it was finished in 1860. The Memphis and Charleston Railroad linked rural farmers to global cotton markets and provided local townspeople with goods from around the nation and world. Yet railroad travel was not for the faint of heart. Hot cinders from the locomotive often drifted back and caught clothing on fire. Sometimes sections of rail would come lose and bend upward; creating a metal spear that impaled the bottom of the next train and killing unsuspecting passengers.
Railroads also changed the fabric of American life. Before trains the speed of life was a horse walking or a sailboat sailing. The loudest sound was often the local church bell and pollution was minimal. Few people worried about clock time and instead used the sun as their guide. This all changed with railroads. Americans were suddenly confronted with loud steam whistles, belching smoke stacks, and rail speeds up to twenty five miles an hour. One newspaper reporter worried that those speeds could rip the skin off of a human face and warned passengers to keep their heads inside the car. This of course all changed but for towns like Huntsville the depot became a new meeting spot, center of commerce, and place to set your watch as trains passed by.
Today the Huntsville Depot serves as a museum but if you stand there long enough we promise you will see a train go by on what is still a busy route on the Norfolk Southern Railway.