Have you ever found yourself driving around Huntsville and wondered, "What is the story behind that name?" If so, you'll enjoy a few of my findings as I set out to answer that very question. Let me warn you: I have greatly abbreviated the full stories. I could write an exhaustive post on each place, but for the sake of brevity, this is simply an overview to answer the question quickly.

Optimist Park - DO NOT USE - Blog only

Image Credit: Eric Forest of HSV Photo

Optimist Park

703 Oakwood Avenue NW

It was love at first sight. I was doing my regular commute across town when the sign came into view, sending my heart flutter. It was a red rectangle with vintage lettering, which read "Optimist Park, Established in 1928." I found the nearest off-ramp for the interstate and parked under the captivating sign. My mind wandered to the bygone era of mill baseball. I imagined scenes from the 2011 film Milltown Pride, which depicts the story of Will Wright, a talented baseball player during the Great Depression. The local mill teams were the only path to pro baseball then.

While sitting under the antique sign, wondered about the story behind its name. It's a recurring question for many moving to Huntsville, and Optimist Park deserves credit for sparking my personal interest. Now, let's get to the question: What is the (short) story behind the name Optimist Park? Initially built in 1928 as Dallas Park, when mill baseball was a huge part of mill town culture, local teams would emerge from the best players in the local workforce. Many mills had their own teams and respective fields, and Dallas Park served as home to the Dallas Mill teams. Coached by H.. Myhand, the director for Dallas Manufacturing Co., where the players were also all employed, mill team baseball drew loyal crowds of up to 6,000 fans annually.

Throughout the 20s and 30s, life centered around employment in mills. Toward the end of the 40s, mills began to close, consequently ending the mill-team era. In 1949, the Optimist Club purchased the Dallas park and renamed it Optimist Park. The park continued to be used throughout the 50s and 60s for baseball and exhibition games. In 1994, the City of Huntsville renovated the park as part of its Parks and Recreation Department. The park encompasses the original baseball park, a recreation center, two basketball courts, and an activity room. Optimist Park was one of the few parks open to all races in the 1950s and 60s. Following the renovation and reopening by the city of Huntsville, baseball returned to Optimist Park and is still played there to this day.

Rocket Park - DO NOT USE - blog only

Image Credit: Eric Forest/HSV Photo 

The Rocket City

Why is Huntsville nicknamed the Rocket City?

If you're reading this and thinking, "Okay, Captain Obvious!" Let me reveal that I have heard this question often. Not all newcomers know about Huntsville's rich history. While nicknames are usually rooted in truth, I remember the day we arrived in Huntsville and passed the 363-foot-tall rocket elevated above 565. The enormous landmark was the first visual imprint of living in a town where I would find the word "rocket" on my lips in nearly every conversation.

What's the significance? That replica you see on 565 is of the Saturn V, the launch vehicle that sent Nell Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin into space to walk the moon. The science and logic behind building that rocket came from the expert minds of engineers living right here in Huntsville. Before we entered the space age, Huntsville had already earned the nickname of Rocket City. In 1950, Werner Von Braun's German rocket team was sent to live and work in Huntsville. The exciting rumble of space exploration had the city abuzz with possibility. The work underway was thrilling to those privy to it, and records indicate a lot of speculation about what was to come.

Today, you'll find references to the Rocket City on every type of service and restaurant; the speculation proved to be accurate as Huntsville has gone on to change the world with its space advances; the list of accomplishments is long, and some would say we've only just begun. *Cue the carpenters singing that 70s hit "We've only just begun."

Big Spring - DO NOT USE - Only for blogImage Credit: Eric Forest/HSV Photo

Big Spring International Park

200 Church Street • Huntsville, AL 35801

Why is Big Spring Park named Big Spring Park?

If you guessed it had something to do with the natural Spring it is centered around, you are correct! Big Spring International Park - simply Big Spring Park to the locals - Is the living heart of Huntsville. From day one, It's been a hub for not only my family - who love the ducks and many nearby restaurants - but for all of Huntsville. Named "Big Spring' by the area's Cherokee and Chickasaw natives, "International" was added because the park features many significant gifts to the city of Huntsville from Germany, Norway, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

Home to many of the area's most well-attended public events, including the Panoply Arts Festival, Tinsel Trail, and Concerts in the Park - all of which my family loves - Big Spring International Park is where Huntsville's namesake John Hunt, first settled in 1805, building his home in the current location of the historic First National Bank of Huntsville. The spring around which the park was built is the largest in all of Alabama, providing up to 20 million gallons of water daily. The city of Huntsville figuratively sprung up out of the "Big Spring," and the area around the spring is bristling with life to this day.

Green Mountain - DO NOT USE - Only for blogImage Credit: Eric Forest/HSV Photo

Green Mountain

5000 Nature Trail Rd SE, Huntsville, AL 35803

Why Is Green Mountain named Green Mountain?

It's common for people to think Green Mountain is named after its often green hue, and while it is a stunning bright green in early spring, the name has nothing to do with aesthetics. Named after Charles D. Green, a cabinet maker and carpenter who traveled to America from Denmark in 1949, Green Mountain is where Mr. Green built a cabin in 1860, making Huntsville his home. Green Mountain borders the Southeast edge of town and takes up much of the view in South Huntsville, from Jones Valley on down Bailey Cove. Green Mountain has been largely preserved as a forest greenspace since it is an essential watershed between Aldridge Creek and Flint River. It serves both as a wildlife preserve and a safeguard for area flora and fauna. The Madison County Nature Trail located on Green Mountain serves as an ode of sorts of the mountain's namesake, featuring a 1.5-mile trail with a chapel, outdoor classroom, and a historic log cabin built from logs hewn in 1810, allowing visitors to imagine what early settlement life was like for Mr. Green and his family.

Monte Sano - DO NOT USE - Only for blogImage Credit: Eric Forest/HSV Photo

Monte Sano

5105 Nolen Ave. Huntsville, AL 35801

Why Is Monte Sano named Monte Sano?

In 1827, Dr. Thomas Fear and his brothers Robert and George established a community east of Downtown Huntsville around the medicinal springs on the mountain. Reports of sick patients being cured of their ailments after spending time in this community began to circulate, causing him to name the mountain "Monte Sano." which is Spanish for "Mountain of Health." By 1887, yellow fever, malaria, and cholera epidemics had begun to run rampant. This prompted the North Alabama improvement company, with brothers Michael and James O'Shaughnessy at the helm, to construct a 233-room health spa and hotel on Monte Sano in 1887. Living up to its name, The Monte Sano Hotel became the top spa in the nation. Several decades later, Dr. Burritt was also attracted to the healing mountain air and medicinal springs, so he built his retirement home on Round Top Mountain, a corner of Monte Sano. Upon his passing, Dr. Burritt left the land for the City of Huntsville to use as the healing greenspace for the community. People have recognized the healing power of elevated mountain air and spring water for centuries. Still, even If Monte Sano's effect isn't scientifically documented, I'd tell you this much: a day hike on the mountain does a lot to cure my anxiety and stress. You should give it a try!