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.

1000-01-01 21:31:56

Mississippian Culture

The agrarian Mississippian culture covered most of the state from 1000 to 1600 AD, with one of its major centers being at the Moundville Archaeological Site in Moundville, Alabama.

1539-01-01 21:31:56

European Contact

The first fully documented of European contact in Alabama was by explorer Hernando de Soto. In 1539 he made an expedition along the Coosa, Alabama and Tombigbee rivers. Among the historical tribes of Native American people living in the area of present-day Alabama at the time of European contact were the Muskogean-speaking Alabama (Alibamu), Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Koasati, and Mobile peoples. Also in the region were the Iroquoian-speaking Cherokee, from a different family and cultural group.

1663-01-01 17:39:57

English Traders

Charles II of England included the territory of modern Alabama in the Province of Carolina, with land granted to certain of his favorites by the charters of 1663 and 1665. English traders from Carolina frequented the valley of the Alabama River as early as 1687 to trade for deerskins with the Native American peoples.

1690-01-01 07:26:49

French vs English

The French and the English competed for Indian trade in what is now the state of Alabama between roughly the 1690s and the 1750s, at which point the French and Indian War broke out. Though the French claimed the territory as their own and attempted to rule it from Fort Toulouse, English traders based out of the Carolinas infiltrated the region.

1702-01-01 17:39:57

French Settlers

In 1702, French settlers founded a settlement on the Mobile River near its mouth, constructing Fort Louis. For the next nine years this was the French seat of government of New France, or La Louisiane (Louisiana). In 1711, they abandoned Fort Louis because of repeated flooding. Settlers rebuilt a fort on higher ground known as Fort Conde. This was the start of what developed as present-day Mobile, the first permanent European settlement in Alabama. Biloxi was another early French settlement on the Gulf Coast, to the west in what is now Mississippi.

1763-01-01 07:26:49

Treaty of Paris

The 1763 Treaty of Paris resulted in France ceding its territories east of the Mississippi to England. England came into undisputed control of the region between the Chattahoochee and the Mississippi rivers, in terms of other European powers. The portion of Alabama below the 31st parallel was considered a part of British West Florida. The British defined the portion north of this line as part of the "Illinois Country"; the area west of the Appalachian Mountains was to be reserved for use by Native American tribes.

1783-01-01 07:26:49

English cession of land

By the Treaty of Versailles, September 3, 1783, Great Britain formally ceded West Florida to Spain. By the Treaty of Paris (1783), signed the same day, Britain ceded to the newly established United States all of this province north of 31°N

1787-09-09 09:13:41

Mississippi Territory forms

In 1798, U.S. Congress organized the district known as the Mississippi Territory. A strip of land 12 or 14 miles wide near the present northern boundary of Alabama and Mississippi was claimed by South Carolina. In 1787, during constitutional negotiations, South Carolina ceded this claim to the federal government. Georgia likewise claimed all the lands between the 31st and 35th parallels from its present western boundary to the Mississippi River, and did not surrender its claim until 1802. Two years later, the boundaries of Mississippi Territory were extended so as to include all of the Georgia cession.

1795-01-01 07:26:49

Treaty of Madrid

By the Treaty of Madrid in 1795, Spain ceded to the United States the lands east of the Mississippi between 31°N and 32°28'N.

1800-01-01 23:18:48

Cotton Economy

Beginning around the turn of the 19th century, development of large cotton plantations took place across the upland Black Belt after the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 made short-staple cotton profitable. Cotton added dramatically to the state's wealth. The owners' wealth depended on the labor of hundreds of thousands of enslaved African Americans, many initially transported in the domestic trade from the Upper South, which resulted in the relocation of one million workers to the South. In other parts of the state, the soil supported only subsistence farming. Most of the yeoman farmers owned few or no slaves.

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 09:13:41

U.S. Jurisdiction

In 1812, Congress added the Mobile District of West Florida to the Mississippi Territory, claiming that it was included in the Louisiana Purchase. The following year, General James Wilkinson occupied the Mobile District with a military force. The Spanish did not resist. Thus the whole area of the present state of Alabama was taken under the jurisdiction of the United States. Several powerful Native American tribes still occupied most of the land, with some formal ownership recognized by treaty with the United States.

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.

1813-08-30 09:13:41

Fort Mims massacre

The Creek tribe fell to civil war from 1813 to 1814. Violence between Creeks and Americans escalated, culminating in the Fort Mims massacre. Full-scale war between the United States and the "Red Stick" Creeks began.

1814-08-09 09:13:41

Treaty of Jackson

The Treaty of Fort Jackson ended the Creek War. By the terms of the treaty, the Creek, Red Sticks and neutral tribes, ceded about one-half of the present state of Alabama to the United States. Due to later cessions by the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw in 1816, they retained only about one-quarter of their former territories in Alabama.

1816-01-01 00:50:20

First Courthouse

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

1817-01-01 09:13:41

Alabama Territory

In 1817, the Mississippi Territory was divided. The western portion, which had attracted population more quickly, became the state of Mississippi. The eastern portion became the Alabama Territory, with St. Stephens on the Tombigbee River as its temporary seat of government.

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.

1832-03-24 21:31:56

Treaty of Cusseta

In 1832, the national government provided for the removal of the Creek via the Treaty of Cusseta. Before the removal occurred between 1834 and 1837, the state legislature organized counties in the lands to be ceded, and European-American settlers flocked in before the Native Americans had left.

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.

1837-01-01 21:31:56

Panic of 1837

One of the first problems of the new state was finance. Since the amount of money in circulation was not sufficient to meet the demands of the increasing population, a system of state banks was instituted. State bonds were issued and public lands were sold to secure capital, and the notes of the banks, loaned on security, became a medium of exchange. Prospects of an income from the banks led the legislature of 1836 to abolish all taxation for state purposes. The Panic of 1837 wiped out a large portion of the banks' assets, leaving the state poor. Next came revelations of grossly careless and corrupt management. In 1843 the banks were placed in liquidation. After disposing of all their available assets, the state assumed the remaining liabilities, for which it had pledged its faith and credit.

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.

1848-01-01 21:31:56

Alabama Platform

During the agitation over the Wilmot Proviso, which would bar slavery from territory acquired from Mexico as a result of the Mexican War (1848), William L. Yancey (States' Rights party) induced the Democratic State Convention of 1848 to adopt what was known as the "Alabama Platform". It declared that neither Congress nor the government of a territory had the right to interfere with slavery in a territory, that those who held opposite views were not Democrats, and that the Democrats of Alabama would not support a candidate for the presidency if he did not agree with them. This platform was endorsed by conventions in Florida and Virginia and by the legislatures of Georgia and Alabama.

1850-01-01 21:31:56

Southern Rights Party

Following the Congressional passage of the Compromise of 1850, which assigned certain territories as slave or free, in Alabama people began to realign politically. The States' Rights faction, joined by many Democrats, founded the Southern Rights Party, which demanded the repeal of the Compromise, advocated resistance to future encroachments, and prepared for secession. The Whigs were joined by the remaining Democrats and called themselves the "Unionists". The party unwillingly accepted the Compromise and denied that the Constitution provided for secession.

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.

1860-01-01 23:18:48

Cotton Production & Slavery

By 1860 the investment and profits in cotton production resulted in planters holding 435,000 enslaved African Americans, who made up 45% of the state's population.

1861-01-11 07:52:11


Alabama adopted the ordinances of secession from the Union with a vote of 61 to 39.

History of HMCPL

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