Huntsville is the county seat of Madison County, Alabama. Huntsville is the largest city in northern Alabama in a region of a half-million people, with the city proper having 168,132 residents (2006 estimate). Started in 1805 as Twickenham, the city was renamed to "Huntsville" (after first settler John Hunt) during the War of 1812, and has grown across nearby hills and along the Tennessee River, adding textile mills, then munitions factories, to become a major city, hosting the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and Redstone Arsenal.
Huntsville is the largest core city of the 4 county large Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Area.
As of the 2000 census, the population of Huntsville was 164,570. As of 2006 Census estimates the Huntsville Metropolitan Area had a population of 368,661 with the city proper having 168,132 residents. Huntsville, and its cross-river neighbor Decatur, combine their separate metro areas to form the Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Area, which, in 2004, had a total population of 510,088.
Huntsville is named after John Hunt, the first settler of the land around the Big Spring. However, Hunt did not properly register his claim, and the area was purchased by Leroy Pope, who imposed the name Twickenham on the area to honor the home village of his distant kinsman Alexander Pope.
Twickenham was carefully planned, with streets laid out on the northeast to southwest direction based on the Big Spring (see images below). However, due to anti-English sentiment during the War of 1812, the name was changed to Huntsville to honor John Hunt, who had been forced to move to other land south of the new city.
In 1811, Huntsville became the first incorporated town in Alabama. However, the recognized "birth" year of the city is 1805, the year of John Hunt's arrival. The city's sesquicentennial anniversary was held in 1955 and the bicentennial was celebrated in 2005.
Huntsville's quick growth was from wealth generated by the cotton and railroad industries. Many wealthy planters moved into the area from Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas. In 1819, Huntsville hosted a constitutional convention in Walker Allen's large cabinetmaking shop. The forty-four delegates meeting there wrote a constitution for the new state of Alabama. In accordance with the new state constitution, Huntsville became Alabama's first capital when the state was admitted to the Union. This was a temporary designation for one legislative session only, and the capital was then moved to another temporary location, Cahawba, until the legislature selected a permanent capital. (Today, the capital is Montgomery.)
In 1855, the Memphis and Charleston Railroad was constructed through Huntsville, becoming the first railway to link the Atlantic seacoast with the Mississippi River. Huntsville initially opposed secession from the Union in 1861, but provided many men for the state's defense when Abraham Lincoln called for an invasion of the South. The 4th Alabama Infantry Regiment, led by Col. Egbert J. Jones of Huntsville, distinguished itself at the Battle of Mannasas/Bull Run, the first major encounter of the American Civil War. The Fourth Alabama Infantry, which contained two Huntsville companies, were the first Alabama troops to fight in the war and were present at the end when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox in April 1865. Eight generals of the war were born in or near Huntsville, evenly split with four on each side.
On the morning of April 11, 1862, Union troops led by General Ormsby M. Mitchel seized Huntsville to sever the Confederacy's rail communications. The Union troops were forced to retreat some months later, but returned to Huntsville in the fall of 1863 and thereafter used the city as a base of operations for the remainder of the war. While many homes and villages in the surrounding countryside were burned in retaliation for the active guerrilla warfare in the area, Huntsville itself was spared because it housed the occupying Union Army.
After the Civil War, Huntsville became a center for cotton textile mills, such as Lincoln and Merrimack. Several of the city's present neighborhoods were built to house the mill workers.
By 1940, Huntsville was still a small quiet town with a population of only 13,150 inhabitants. This quickly changed at the onset of World War II, when Huntsville was chosen as the location of Redstone Arsenal, with its numerous munitions manufacturing plants. The Arsenal was almost closed in 1949 when it was no longer needed, but it saw new life when General H. N. Toftoy with support from Senator John Sparkman convinced the U. S. Army to choose Huntsville as the location for its missile research program. In 1950, General Toftoy brought German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun and his colleagues to Redstone Arsenal to develop what would eventually become the United States' space program.
On September 8, 1960, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower formally dedicated the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. (NASA had already activated this facility, which is located on Redstone Arsenal, on July 1 of that year.)
Huntsville is thus home to both Redstone Arsenal and the Marshall Space Flight Center, and is nicknamed "The Rocket City" for its close history with U.S. space missions. Huntsville has been important in developing space technology since the 1950s, when the German scientists headed by Dr. Wernher von Braun, brought to the United States at the end of World War II through Operation Paperclip, arrived to develop rocketry for the U.S Army. Their work included designing the Redstone ballistic missile, a variant of which, the Jupiter-C, carried the first U.S. satellite and astronauts into space. The Saturn V, utilized by the Apollo program manned Moon missions, was developed from the Redstone Arsenal. Huntsville continues to play an important role in the United States' Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs. It is estimated that 1 in 13 of Huntsville's population are employed in some engineering field of work.
Huntsville's economy was nearly crippled and growth came to a near standstill in the 1970s following the closure of the Apollo program, but the emergence of the Space Shuttle and the ever-expanding field of missile defense in the 1980s helped give Huntsville a resurgence that continues to this day. The city continues to be the center of rocket-propulsion research in the United States, and is home to large branches of many defense contractors.
Huntsville is also the location of the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM). Huntsville's contributions to United States Cold War missile armament and technology earned it a "red star" designation as a target of the Soviet Union in the event of a nuclear exchange, fourth behind only New York City, Washington, DC, and NORAD. 
Before Huntsville earned the moniker "Rocket City" and accompanying rapid growth, it was known for a time as the Watercress Capital of the World, because watercress was harvested in such abundance in the nearby area.
Huntsville is located at 34°42' North, 86°35' West (34.7, -86.6)GR1.
Huntsville is located in the Tennessee River Valley. Several mesas and large hills partially surround the city. These mesas are associated with the Cumberland Plateau, and are locally called "mountains." Monte Sano (Italian for "Mountain of Health") is the most notable, and is east of the city along with Round Top (Burritt), Huntsville, and Green Mountains. Others are Wade Mountain to the north, Rainbow Mountain to the west, and Weeden and Madkin Mountains on Redstone Arsenal in the south. Brindlee Mountain is visible in the south across the Tennessee River.
As with other areas along the Cumberland Plateau, the land around Huntsville is karst in nature. Huntsville was founded around Big Spring, which is a typical karst spring, and many caves perforate the limestone bedrock underneath the city, as is common in karst areas. The headquarters of the National Speleological Society are located in Huntsville.
The current mayor of Huntsville is Loretta Spencer, who was elected in 1996 and is the first female mayor of the city. The city has a five-member/district City Council. The current members are: District 1 (Northwest)- Richard Showers, Sr.; District 2 (East)- Mark Russell (President); District 3 (Southeast)- Sandra Moon; District 4 (Southwest)- Bill Kling; District 5 (West)- Glenn Watson. Council elections are "staggered", meaning that Districts 1 and 5 will have elections simultaneously with mayoral elections in 2008, while Districts 2, 3, and 4 will have elections in August 2010.
There are also many boards and commissions run by the city, controlling everything from schools and planning to museums and downtown development.
Huntsville's main economic influence is derived from aerospace and military technology. Redstone Arsenal, Cummings Research Park (CRP), and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center comprise the main hubs for the area's technology-driven economy. CRP is the second largest research park in the United States and the fourth largest in the world, and is over 38 years old. Huntsville is also home for commercial technology companies such as the network access company ADTRAN, computer graphics company Intergraph and software switch manufacturer Avocent. Telecommunications provider Deltacom, Inc., the free software company Digium, and copper tube manufacturer and distributor Wolverine Tube are also based in Huntsville. Sanmina-SCI also has a large presence in the area. Forty-two Fortune 500 companies have operations in Huntsville.
In 2005, Forbes Magazine named the Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Area as 6th best place in the nation for doing business, and number one in terms of the number of engineers per total employment. In 2006, Huntsville dropped to 14th; the prevalence of engineers was not considered in the 2006 ranking.
Huntsville is fast becoming a regional retail center. There are many strip malls and "power centers" throughout the city. Huntsville has two malls- Madison Square Mall, built in 1984, and Parkway Place, built in 2002 on the site of the former Parkway City Mall. An upscale lifestyle center, Bridge Street Town Centre, is under construction in Cummings Research Park and is scheduled to be complete in 2007. Another "live, work, and play" center is being constructed on the former site of the Heart of Huntsville Mall. It is to be called Constellation with ground breaking in Fall 2007 and scheduled completion by 2010. 
The Huntsville Times has been Huntsville's only daily newspaper since 1996, when the Huntsville News closed. Before then, the News was the morning paper, and the Times was the afternoon paper. After the News closed, the Times remained an afternoon paper until 2004. The Huntsville Times has a weekday circulation of 60,000, which rises to 80,000 on Sundays.
A few alternative newspapers are available in Huntsville. The Valley Planet covers entertainment in the Huntsville area. The Redstone Rocket is a newspaper distributed throughout Redstone Arsenal's housing area covering activities on Redstone. Speakin' Out News is a weekly newspaper focused on African Americans. El Reportero is a Spanish-language newspaper for North Alabama.
Numerous colleges and universities have satellite locations or extensions in Huntsville: