History of HMCPL

The Huntsville-Madison County Public Library system is located in Madison County in north-central Alabama. We are a 12 branch system, not including our BookMobile and Outreach services. We serve all of Madison County. Our collection comprises more than half-a-million items, and we circulate those items more than 2 million times every year to our patrons. We provide online services, training, an extensive digital collection, public-use computers, free Wi-Fi service, meeting spaces, and much more. Our Mission: This is the public’s library. We empower individuals to create their own futures, explore the universe of ideas, and connect with our community and the world.

The Huntsville-Madison County Public Library is the oldest continuing library in the State of Alabama, founded in 1818 when Alabama was still a part of the Mississippi Territory. This timeline was built in celebration of the library's bicentennial in 2018. It is an ongoing project, with new items to be added alongside monthly festivities for the Alabama bicentennial in 2019.

1802-01-01 21:45:24

Ditto Landing

Ditto Landing was a point on the Tennessee River where John Ditto had established a trading post and ferry service in 1802.

1805-01-01 09:35:01

John Hunt

Revolutionary War veteran John Hunt, for whom Huntsville was named, settled in the land around the Big Spring. Prior to 1805, it is suspected that a combination of factors - disease, land disputes between the Choctaw and Cherokee, and pressures from the U.S. government - depopulated the area. After Hunt's settlement, the area became popularly known as Hunt's Spring.

1808-12-13 15:50:19

Madison County Founded

Madison County was created by the proclamation of Governor Robert Williams of the Mississippi Territory.

1809-12-08 15:50:19

LeRoy Pope's Twickenham

In August and September of 1809, a provision of the Federal Government allowed the sale of land at public auction. LeRoy Pope bought sixty acres of land surrounding the Big Spring at $23.00 an acre. The area was chosen as county seat by special commission. Pope called the area Twickenham, after a relative's English home. The Mississippi Territorial Legislature affirmed the town's name in December of that year. However, many residents still referred to the area as Hunt's Spring.

1811-01-01 21:45:24

Masonic Lodge

The first Masonic Lodge in Alabama was Huntsville's Lodge No. 21, chartered in 1811 by the Grand Master of Kentucky. General Andrew Jackson frequently visited this lodge. The original building, constructed in 1820, stood until 1918.

1811-11-25 00:50:20

City Incorporation

A special act of the Territorial Legislature changed the city's name from Twickenham to Huntsville in honor of the town's first settler. Although the city was incorporated in 1811, it is John Hunt's arrival in 1805 that is recognized as the official founding of the city.

1812-01-01 00:20:21

Green Bottom Inn

Green Bottom Inn was the first hostelry near Huntsville. It was located on what is now the campus of Alabama A&M University. The Inn burned down in 1931.

1812-01-01 15:23:55

First Newspaper

The Madison County Gazette, the first newspaper in the territory, began publication in 1812 and in 1816 became the Huntsville Republican.

1812-01-01 15:23:55

Green Academy Established

In 1812, town leaders established the Green Academy to provide education to local children.

1816-01-01 00:50:20

First Courthouse

LeRoy Pope donated a portion of his land for the first courthouse.

1818-06-20 13:38:47

Call for Organization

A call was published in the Alabama Republican to citizens interested in establishing a circulating library. Alabama Republican, 20 June 1818.

1818-10-29 13:38:47

Jones Library

The Huntsville Library opened for business in the law office of John Spotswood Jones.

1818-11-20 13:38:47

Constitution and Bylaws

Subscribers to the Public Library in Huntsville met at Mr. Henry Minor's office to adopt a constitution and bylaws. Alabama Republican, 21 Nov. 1818

1818-12-10 13:38:47

Library Stockholders

William Atwood purchased two shares of stock in the Huntsville Library Company. This certificate is signed by Thomas G. Percy, president, and Robert Fearn, treasurer, of the company. It is the earliest record, not only of the Huntsville Library but of any library in Alabama. The stockholders of the Huntsville Library announced that books could be checked out at the office of attorney John N.S. Jones, next door to the printing office on the street leading to Ditto’s Landing. The library would open and books delivered every Tuesday and Friday from 11:30 AM to 12:30 PM. This library was only open to men.

1819-05-01 13:38:47

James Birney takes leave of the assembly

During the assembly to forn the state of Alabama, James G. Birney gave notice that he would ask leave to incorporate the Huntsville Library Company.

1819-07-05 08:24:03

Constitutional Convention

Delegates met and prepared Alabama's new state constitution in Huntsville.

1819-12-01 08:24:03

Capital at Huntsville

Huntsville served as the temporary capital of Alabama from 1819 to 1820, when the seat of government was moved to Cahaba in Dallas County.

1819-12-01 14:00:15

Hermathenian Library

Exact dates for this incarnation of the Huntsville Library are not known.

1819-12-14 08:24:03

Alabama Becomes a State

Alabama was admitted as the 22nd state.

1820-01-01 08:24:03

Capital at Cahaba

Cahaba, now a ghost town, was the first permanent state capital form 1820 to 1825.

1821-01-01 14:00:15

Green Academy Library

The library of the Cliosophic Society of the Green Academy housed the Huntsville Library until it was burned by Union soldiers during the Civil War.

1821-12-21 21:45:24

Fearn Canal Chartered

This canal was the first navigable waterway from Huntsville to the Tennessee River. It was constructed to facilitate the transportation of cotton to market. Developers were: Thomas Fearn, LeRoy Pope, Stephen S. Ewing, Henry Cook, and Samuel Hazard.

1823-01-01 17:08:49

Public Water System

In 1823, Huntsville boasted what may have been the first public water system in the United States. The system was made up of a wooden pump, wooden storage tank, and a few hundred feet of hollowed cedar logs which carried water from the Big Spring.

1823-12-29 13:38:47

Library Received Charter

The Huntsville Library Company was granted a charter in 1823. Members were: Thomas Fearn, Samuel Hazard, John Boardman, James G. Birney, George Fearn, Miles S. Watkins, Henry Minor, and Thomas Brandon.

1826-01-01 13:26:46

Capital at Tuscaloosa

From 1826 to 1846, Tuscaloosa served as Alabama's capital.

1832-12-01 05:36:40

Huntsville Bell Factory

The oldest textile mill in the state was the Huntsville Bell Factory. Incorporated in 1832, the factory continued to run until 1885. its 3,000 spindles and 100 looms were powered by a water wheel.

1846-01-30 13:26:46

Capital at Montgomery

On January 30, 1846, the Alabama legislature announced it had voted to move the state capital to Montgomery. The first legislative session in the new capital met in December 1847.

1851-01-01 02:17:01

Huntsville Female College

Huntsville Female College was organized in 1851 under the direction of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The institution became on of the finest educators of girls from primary through college level. The school burned in 1895.

1855-01-01 05:36:40

Memphis and Charleston Railroad

In 1855 the Memphis and Charleston Railroad was completed. This would become a major target during the Civil War.

1860-01-01 19:38:22

Huntsville Depot

Huntsville Depot built. It was a stop on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad.

1862-04-11 05:39:23

Huntsville Captured

The railroad and the Madison Iron Works, a Huntsville foundry that produced artillery for the Confederate military, made Huntsville a target of the Union Army during the Civil War. On April 11, 1862, Union forces under the command of Brig. Gen. Ormsby M. Mitchell captured Huntsville and severed the Confederacy's vital east-west rail artery. The CSA artillery manufacturing machinery was removed in the wake of the federal advance. The occupation lasted until October, when Union troops marched north to Middle Tennessee.

1863-11-01 05:39:23

Federal Occupation

Federal forces returned in November 1863 and used the town as a base for the remainder of the war.

1870-01-01 15:06:42

Glenwood Cemetery

Glenwood Cemetery replaced the original slave cemetery, known as "Georgia," which was established in 1818. The Glenwood Cemetery was established in 1870 by the City of Huntsville. Distinguished African Americans buried there include veterans of American wars beginning with the Civil War, former slaves, accomplished artisans, professionals in many fields, clergymen, educators, entrepreneurs, politicians, and other leaders.

1870-03-01 13:38:47

Huntsville Literary Debating Society

The first library after the Civil War was located in the Huntsville Literary Debating Society. Organized in 1870, this library used some of the books which belonged to the old Huntsville Library and the Hermathenian Library (1819-1921).

1875-01-01 02:17:01

Alabama A&M University

Alabama A&M was founded as Huntsville Normal School by former slave, William Hooper Councill. In 1890, it was designated a land-grant institution by the federal government. The school became a junior college in 1919 and received a "Class A" rating by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in 1946. In 1969, the college became "Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University."

1891-06-01 14:00:15

Huntsville Circulating Library

The Huntsville Circulating Library began, established in the corner of Murray & Smith's bookstore. Mrs. V.A. Betts was the librarian.

1891-08-01 14:00:15

Y.M.C.A Library

The library was moved to the Y.M.C.A. on Eustis Street. The Weekly Mercury of August 1891 published a letter from Mrs. Betts, the librarian, thanking each member of the firm Murray & Smith for their deportment during the three months the library was housed there.

1895-01-01 13:38:47

Gordon Building

The library was moved from the Y.M.C.A to the Gordon Building on Franklin Street.

1895-04-01 13:41:31

Benefit Ball

A benefit ball was held at the Huntsville Hotel, during which a band was employed and a large crowd danced in the hotel dining room each night until dawn.

1897-01-01 13:41:31

1897 Board Election

By 1897, circulation had increased to such an extent that it was necessary to open the library every afternoon. At the election of the Huntsville Library Association, Miss Emma Wells was chosen president, Mrs. Felix Baldridge, vice-president, and Miss Etta Matthews was re-elected librarian. Mrs. Henry Dillard was elected in Mr. O'Shaughnessey's place as secretary-treasurer. Patrons were asked to contribute books and the board began a series of entertainments which were held twice a year as a means of securing money for new books and needed equipment.

1898-01-01 05:39:23

Camp Wheeler

During the Spanish-American War, Camp Wheeler was established to train National Guard in early 1898. It was renamed Camp Albert G. Forse after a local soldier who was killed in action. In October 1898, following service in Cuba, members of the U.S. 10th Cavalry—one of the African American units known as the "Buffalo Soldiers"—were sent to Camp Forse to recuperate. A memorial statue to these soldiers was erected at the camp's site. The camp was abandoned in 1899.

1899-01-01 13:41:31

Fire Hall library

The library was house in a room in Fire Hall, then located in the old City Hall-Market House building. Miss Emma Wells and Mrs. Arthur Owen Wilson acted as librarians without remunerations. The Library's next move was to an upstairs room in the Hundley Building on the East side of the square.

1900-01-01 15:06:42

Merrimack Mill and Village

Merrimack Mill began operation in 1900. A second mill building, added in 1903, made it one of the largest in the South. It operated until 1989.

1901-01-01 05:36:40

Electric Streetcars

In 1901, electric streetcars appeared, replacing horses and mules.

1910-01-01 19:38:22

Huntsville Daily Times

Huntsville Daily Times begins publication.

1913-11-11 13:41:31

Carnegie Library Board

The Carnegie Library Board appeared before the City Commissioners to ask that they make an appropriation for the support of a Carnegie Library.

1915-04-28 13:41:31

Carnegie Library Funded

The Carnegie Foundation accepted plans to build a new $12,500 Carnegie Library at the corner of Madison and Gate Streets. The city of Huntsville provided the property on Gate Stret and $1,500 for its yearly upkeep.

1916-02-29 13:41:31

Carnegie Library Opens

The Carnegie Library opened with less than 2,000 books. Miss Caroline Burke was the first librarian. Hours were 10:00am-12:00pm and 2:00pm-6:00pm and on Tuesday and Saturday evenings from 7:00pm-9:00pm.

1916-03-01 13:41:31

Library Board Gains Control

Mayor Lanier secures from the city commissioners full control of the library to the Library Board.

1917-06-01 13:41:31

Mattie Darwin, Librarian

In the summer of 1917, Mrs. Mattie Darwin became librarian. Under her guidance, the library grew in books, equipment, and services to the public. She also started the Historical Collection of the library and secured many of its most valuable documents.

History of HMCPL

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