The Huntsville Madison County Courthouse Bell is once again out where people can appreciate it.

You might have noticed a decorative new addition in Downtown Huntsville at the Madison County Courthouse. A bell now sits on the southside square just across from Harrison Brothers Hardware and Commerce Kitchen. Did you know there have been four Madison County Courthouses, and the bell and other early architectural features have been incorporated into most of the designs?

The 1st Courthouse Was Built in 1818 

An old illustration of Huntsville founder John Hunt at Big Spring.

John Hunt settled the land near "Big Spring" in 1805 and by 1808 Madison County was created. After a name change from Twickenham to Huntsville in 1811, it was the first incorporated city in Alabama. A two-story brick courthouse was completed in 1818. It was built in the same location as today and was surrounded by a marketplace.  In 1819, when Alabama progressed from territorial status to statehood as the 22nd state of the Union, Huntsville was chosen as the temporary capital. Here, Alabama's first constitution was drafted at Alabama Constitution Hall Park, its first governor inaugurated and its first legislature convened.

The floorplan of the Huntsville Alabama Courthouse from 1819.

The 2nd Courthouse Built in 1836 

A black-and-white photograph of the Madison County Courthouse taken in 1836.

George Steele was an architect that brought the Greek revival style architecture to Huntsville. He designed the second courthouse and the First Alabama Bank Building. In April 1849, 13 years after the first Madison County Courthouse was built, an order was placed for $300 for a clock and bell to be placed on the courthouse. By January of 1850, Madison County facilitated the purchase and installation of the new clock and bell for just $800. 

A black-and-white photograph of the Madison County Courthouse taken in 1864.

The 3rd Courthouse Built in 1914

A photograph of the Old Huntsville Madison County Courthouse, built in 1914.

Huntsville continued to grow and needed a larger courthouse. The architect reused the Greek style columns, the clock tower, the bell, and the weather vane.  After the Civil War, much of the South had been burned, but because Union soldiers stayed in the area, Huntsville survived. Cotton and textile mills were a cornerstone of the city's economy. After the Great Depression in the 1930s, farming became king. Huntsville became known as the "Watercress Capital of the World."

An aerial photograph of the Madison County Courthouse, taken in 1963.

During WWII, the US Army purchased 35,000 acres to build chemical munition facilities. This became Redstone Arsenal in 1941. From there, you may know about Dr. Wernher von Braun and his German team coming to the area in 1950 to work on missiles and eventually, the Redstone Rocket. By 1960, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center was created and Huntsville became known as the "Rocket City." The space race was on and the Apollo team worked throughout the decade to be the first to reach the moon. With a new moniker for the area, citizens and leaders decided they wanted a modern building for their courthouse.  So down it came.

An overhead image from 1964 showing the Demolition of the 3rd Courthouse.

The Current Courthouse Built in 1967

This image is of a news conference on the 1969 Lunar Landing Celebration in front of the Courthouse.

This is "the courthouse that space built." Modern for the time in 1967, it was the toast of the town. It was the site of "Dancing in the Streets" in 1969 when the rocket Huntsville built, a Saturn V,  put man on the moon. It is now a building that may stick out compared to some of the surrounding areas, but we know the former courthouse did have some structural problems with the foundation and some of the columns were crooked.

A street-level image of the current County Courthouse in downtown Huntsville.

Where are they now?

The old Courthouse Bell was stored in the basement for years.

The Bell

A close-up image of the Huntsville Madison County Courthouse Bell with legible text.

When the courthouse was rebuilt in 1914, the bell was placed back in the tower and rang downtown every day until that building was torn down to build the current courthouse in 1964. In all, this bell rang in Huntsville for 115 years! The Madison County Commission decided to bring the historic bell back to the public this year. You can see this unique piece of Huntsville history on the Square across from Harrison Brothers!

The Madison County Courthouse Bell is once again out for all to enjoy in central Huntsville.

The Columns

A few of the fluted limestone columns from the second courthouse can now be seen at the entrance to the Huntsville Botanical Garden.

A few of the fluted limestone columns from the second courthouse can now be seen at the entrance to the Huntsville Botanical Garden.

The Cupula and Weather Vane

Once part of the previous Courthouse, the weather vane and cupula are now part of the First National Bank in Huntsville.

The First National Bank that George Steele also designed is now the home of the weather vane and cupula. 

The Clock Tower

An image of the Old Madison County Courthouse, of which the clock tower met an unknown fate.

The clock tower is still a mystery. If anyone has any information, let the Historic Huntsville Foundation know. 


Huntsville Madison County Public Library

Madison County Commission

Digital History Tour