Huntsville is a city with boundless imagination. Our history with the space program put the Rocket City on the map. But as we grow, the narrative is changing and we are becoming known for our accomplishments in more diverse areas like the arts, business, development, culinary talent—the list goes on.
Our surroundings are also adapting. Developers in Huntsville are taking older existing properties and transforming them into newer uses that bring more entertainment, retail, small business, and opportunities to the community. This process of revamping older properties into modern uses is known as adaptive reuse.
The past decade has seen a renaissance of several properties around the city, including historic mills, old office buildings, and even old parking garages. The aim of local developers is to take an existing property and reimagine it into a new, modern use that benefits the community and fills market gaps. Our city is dialed-in when it comes to its history, and developers take care to honor the property’s past while steering it into the future. Here are a few examples of adaptive reuse in Huntsville:
Historic textile mill to modern office campus
Once the largest operating textile mill in Huntsville, Lincoln Mill has a past marked by triumph and tragedy. Its beginnings were humble when it first opened in 1900 as Madison Spinning Company. In 1918, a textile tycoon from Massachusetts named William Lincoln Barrell purchased the property and guided the newly named Lincoln Mill to become one of the largest producers of “duck” canvas during World War II.
But the site’s historical highs were accompanied by historical lows due to several union strikes that took place over the years and a fire that claimed part of the property in the 1980s. In the late 1950s, the site attracted the famed Wernher von Braun and eventually held Huntsville’s early rocket and missile programs, as well as the development of NASA’s Lunar Rover.
The property is now being reimagined for the modern age with numerous renovations to improve its overall aesthetics and usher in new on-campus amenities. The property’s historic Dye House is being transformed into the site’s food, beverage, and retail hub that on-site employees and the general public can enjoy. Several new businesses have already announced they would be joining the revamped property including The Foundry Coffee Roasters (already open), Iron Tribe Fitness, Heritage Kitchen & Bath, and THREE15 Studio. More will be announced soon.
Old stove factory to eat, work, play destination
Many Huntsvillians flock to the Food & Leisure Garden at Stovehouse each week to indulge in its many dining options like Southern-style barbecue or authentic Mediterranean fare. It’s a tour of global cuisine, a venue for live music performances, a swanky bar, a hip coffee shop, a place to get fit, and an office campus all-in-one. But what was it before?
Formerly known as the Martin Stamping & Stove Factory, the original building came about around 1928. Throughout its recent redevelopment, much of its history was kept intact. Visitors can see history replay itself on the murals throughout the Food Garden, tanks and tumblers behind the music stage, or artifacts displayed around the campus. If you look closely at the structure of the buildings, you may spot the repurposing of old bridge trusses and railroad parts.
Former middle school to dining and entertainment hub
Built in 1952, Stone Middle School once accommodated hundreds of students, faculty, and staff. When the Huntsville City School system closed the property in 2009, imaginative developers converted the site into a mixed-use property that features well-known breweries, eateries, entertainment venues, and retail shops. Throughout the campus, there are nods to the property’s past through its architecture and design.
There’s also a famous speakeasy that’s hidden behind a row of lockers, which once held math and science books. And there’s an on-site green space and large performance lawn that’s been the site of many Huntsville events over the years.
Booming mercantile to modern office and retail site
Downtown Huntsville's historic square is aptly named thanks to the many properties whose stories span decades into the past. On the corner of North Side Square and Washington Street, one such building exists. 123-125 North Side Square recently underwent a major renovation that included a new paint job, the addition of outdoor balconies, a brand-new lobby, and modernized office spaces. Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint also opened its doors on the first floor of the property last year. But in 1867, this Corner Office was home to The Trade Palace, a business that sold dry goods, clothing, shoes, carpets, and other household items.
The property has been adapted to suit many uses over the years, including a bank, jewelry store, women’s boutique, and—eventually—an office building. There are many sites like this one downtown that have been adapted time and time again to accommodate the needs of the day.
City parking garage to shopping destination
Adaptive reuse can also take place at less traditional venues. A great example of this would be the creation of The Garage at Clinton Row, a 40-year-old parking deck downtown that was transformed into a local shopping destination. Now, in the place of 15 former parking spaces, there are flourishing local businesses run by passionate entrepreneurs. Shoppers can enjoy a craft coffee shop, women’s clothing boutique, home décor and gift store, gentlemen’s clothing shop, and a self-pour adult beverage bar.
In 2017, The Garage at Clinton Row was awarded a Certificate of Merit by the International Downtown Association for its innovation, creativity, and benefits to the city as a whole.
Storage units to small local shops
In 2014, Downtown Huntsville Inc. partnered with the Downtown Storage Units to create unique spaces for small businesses where they could grow and benefit from the constant foot traffic that traverses the neighborhood. The former storage units now house concepts that specialize in fashion accessories, floral design, home décor, women’s clothing, a record shop, and more. It’s wild to think that these independently owned and operated shops found the perfect blank slate to create their vision in a storage unit seated in the heart of the city.
Historic mill to arts facility and community
Huntsville has a well-developed artistic community with talents that range from musicians, to painters, to carpenters, and more. When searching for the mecca of Huntsville’s local talent, one doesn’t need to look further than Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment. As the largest privately-owned arts facility in the Southeast, Lowe Mill has attracted the attention of art-lovers around the country who want to scour the site’s artist markets, try local fare, and get in touch with their creative side.
Before becoming a well-known arts facility, Lowe Mill was a booming weaving mill in the early 1900s. It had 25,000 spindles inside that turned locally grown cotton into woven cloth. In 1946, a Nashville-based shoe company named Genesco that produced jungle boots for the U.S. military in WWII purchased the site.
Are there other adaptive reuse projects that you would add to the list? Let us know in the comments so we can update!