What do you know about the cross on Round Top Mountain, located at Burritt on the Mountain? Rich Emanuel shared a story about this unique historic Huntsville destination that, as of December 2020, is listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage from the Alabama Historical Commission.
Round Top Mountain, at 1,585 feet elevation, is identified as the southwestern knub, or plateau, of Monte Sano Mountain and is listed in the "summit" category in Madison County. Living history museum Burritt on the Mountain sits within the natural beauty of Round Top Mountain, overlooking the City of Huntsville. Many don’t know there is a distinction, but Dr. Burritt made certain to identify Round Top by name in his will, leaving his house and land to the City of Huntsville to use as a museum for all to enjoy. Today, Burritt boasts over four miles of nature trails that circle around Round Top Mountain and connect to the Land Trust of North Alabama and Monte Sano State Park.
1963 was a year filled with historical events: the March on Washington, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and Alabama's Governor Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door to block integration, but in Huntsville, Alabama, a racially and religiously diverse group of people worked together for a common cause – to erect a cross on Round Top Mountain.
The cross on Round Top Mountain stands as a testimony that, despite the concurrent and turbulent events of the 1960s, a determined group of citizens could mount a racially integrated and ecumenical effort to build a symbol of unity, peace, and faith. The cross also commemorates Huntsvillians who have served and sacrificed for the cause of freedom.
The Huntsville Ministers Association raised money for the project from private citizens and local business owners to mark Huntsville as a city devoted to the “Prince of Peace,” one of the names Christians use for Jesus. The concrete cross replaced a wooden cross that had been erected in another location on Monte Sano Mountain by area churches as early as 1900.
“I remember how all of us kids were saving our pennies for that cross,” said the Rev. Dr. Wayne Snodgrass, former pastor of Progressive Union Missionary Baptist Church in Huntsville. Snodgrass’ father was the first African American pastor to be president of the Huntsville Ministers Association. “Everybody, black and white, thought it was a great project,” Snodgrass said.
On December 5, 1960, the Burritt Museum Board approved the site for the cross. The cross was designed by renowned Huntsville architect, W. R. “Dick” Dickson. Dickson took no pay for drawing the plans for the steel and concrete structure. The cross was manufactured by the Southern Cast Stone Company in Knoxville, TN. The cross was constructed of 3-foot by 4-foot pre-stressed steel and concrete block sections and shipped to Huntsville in three sections. The front surface is coated with light-reflecting marbleized chips.
During Easter week (April 14-21) 1963, the hole for the foundation was dug and 40 yards (9 tons) of concrete was poured. The concrete was donated by five area concrete companies: Ray Concrete Co., Curl Concrete, Van Valkenburg Brothers, Johnson Concrete, and McCurdy Concrete. The Lester McAlister Steel Erection Company of Huntsville directed construction of the project. Large vehicles (borrowed from Redstone Arsenal by Brown Engineering) carried the sections over a makeshift road. The road was cleared by the Madison County Commission which was also responsible for cleaning out the area around the base of the cross.
The first week of December 1963, crane operator “Whitey” Godsey lifted the 38-ton assembled cross and lowered it into the hole 10 feet below the ground surface. Construction nuts and bolts hold the Cross in place.
In Spring 1995, and for many years thereafter, the Lakewood Civitan Club volunteered to clear brush and fallen trees from around the cross in preparation for Easter. In December 2012, Mayfair Church of Christ members and friends volunteered to make repairs to the cross. The repairs included burying utilities to light the remote landmark, clearing fallen trees and brush, and sowing new grass in the area around the cross. On December 21, 2013, the iconic cross was re-lit for the first time in years.
No public money is used for the upkeep or maintenance of the cross. In memory of the architect who designed the cross, the W. R. Dickson Trust Fund was established to help pay for lighting and maintenance.
Located just below Burritt Museum’s Baron Bluff Building, the cross can be reached during the Museum’s hours by hiking along the handicapped accessible Rock Bluff Trail from the Hiker’s Parking Lot, which is on Burritt Drive. There is no charge to get to the cross that way.
Latitude: 34° 43’ 2" N
Longitude: 86° 32’ 28" W
Elevation: 1,460 feet (at the base of the cross)