Whether you’ve lived in the Huntsville area for decades, or you’re just visiting, you’ll be fascinated by the new mansion exhibit at Burritt on the Mountain, open through April, 2022.
How do I know? I checked it out for myself!
I learned so much about Huntsville that I just didn’t know before, and I can now connect the hiking trails and mountain I love today with their origin story! From the construction of a grand Hotel Monte Sano drawing famous guests, to tales of the mountain’s surprising connections to Huntsville’s history of rocketry and the lore of where it got its name, there are gems throughout the exhibit experience that visitors-- and true Huntsvillians alike-- will love to learn.
Here’s more reasons why you should visit— and how to get the most out of your trip to Burritt on the Mountain for the mansion’s 2021 exhibit.
Burritt on the Mountain:
I’ll admit it: I’ve lived just outside Huntsville for years but I’d never visited the Burritt Mansion and sprawling grounds. WHAT was I thinking?
I threw on some comfortable walking shoes and drove up Monte Sano (it was a pretty, winding road into the Burritt.) It’s easy to find, with signage pointing you in the right direction until you get to the entrance.
You enter through the welcome center. From there, you can access the beautiful grounds leading you right to the mansion for a self-guided tour. Burritt is the former property of Dr. William Henry Burritt, who built his retirement home there in the late 1800s. But today, it’s so much more.
I learned that a trip to Burritt is a great time. Prepare for gorgeous views from its position atop Round Top Mountain, a glimpse of farm life in the 1800’s at the historic park and barnyard on-property, and a tour of the historic Burritt Mansion and its exhibits.
Expect to spend two-ish hours on the property, plus any selfie-time at the View!
The Mansion Exhibit
The Burritt Mansion, built in the shape of an X to capitalize on the natural lighting and views from the big windows, is like a trip through time that draws visitors from our region and beyond. Make sure you sign the guestbook (on the day I visited, the visitors before me were from Florida, Tennessee, Utah and South Dakota!)
Throughout the rooms, you’ll find preserved artifacts from Dr. Burritt’s former home and a featured, rotating exhibit—usually of something with local ties of interest, says Stephanie Timberlake, Chief Operations Officer.
“You just want people to experience Huntsville’s history and know what used to be here,” Timberlake said. “Burritt is the hidden jewel of Huntsville!”
Monte Sano Hotel
This year’s 2021 exhibit features the history of Monte Sano. It chronicles the settlement of the mountain, the early hiking trails, and even the legends of how the mountain got its name!
You’ll also find information about the railway that once brought people up and down the mountain, which is now the path of one of my favorite Land Trust hikes!
Image: Courtesy of Burritt on the Mountain
Dive deeper, and the exhibit leads you through the history of the Hotel Monte Sano.
Constructed on a bluff overlooking the city, the hotel opened on June 1, 1887 with a grand ball held the next day. It boasted 233 rooms, and could accommodate a max of 500 people.
Image: Courtesy of Burritt on the Mountain
From luxurious guestrooms to observation towers, trails, trained horses and a stable, and a boardwalk to view the valley below, it was billed as an elegant place for healing, relaxation, and adventure. And at the exhibit, I learned that Hotel Monte Sano brought in guests of high status.
The hotel was only open for 13 years, but I’m sure if it existed today it would still be a sight to behold!
The exhibit also chronicles what happened after Hotel Monte Sano’s decline and closure, including attempts at revitalization, and the eventual demolition.
The Burritt’s collection of artifacts continues to grow, and if you saw them when they were last on display here a few years ago, you’ll love coming back to see what’s new.
The 2021 exhibit is the first time the Burritt is showing off items such as an old room key from the hotel that Timberlake says they acquired in 2017 and an old mailbox for guests’ outgoing mail. These are on display next to glassware, dinner plates, a wicker chair from the men’s smoking room, and more that are remnants of sophisticated days gone by.
Timberlake says it’s a painstaking process to ensure they end up with as much as the former Hotel Monte Sano and Burritt memorabilia they can find.
“We’ve been collecting pieces over time,” Timberlake explained. “It can be nerve-racking at auctions! It’s a lot of fun—like a little treasure hunt. I’m always looking for things, and there are other local collectors out there that work with us too.”
I walked out of the Burritt Mansion with a fresh knowledge of the history of Monte Sano and the grand hotel that once drew a crowd, including the Vanderbilts and Helen Keller, making Huntsville a destination early on.
“What’s so exciting is you don’t know whose diamonds were on the dresser, who slept in these beds,” said Timberlake. “You just imagine some wonderful person was here enjoying the day in their Victorian attire, right here in Huntsville.”
If you plan your visit just right, you can enjoy a Huntsville favorite, Cocktails at the View, at the end of your trip to Burritt on the Mountain.
Running April through October, Cocktails sees the overlook transformed into the coolest outdoor bar experience in (or in this case, above) town. Grab your friends, or bring a date, and enjoy drinks and gourmet snacks for purchase. You’ll take great pics, meet all kinds of people, and soak up the outdoors from the heights of Huntsville!
Visit ‘The Jewel on the Mountain’
So, pack up the family! The Burritt Museum’s 2021 exhibit is a must-see. Get ready to learn about the history and lore behind Huntsville’s “mountain of health,” Monte Sano, Dr. William Henry Burritt, and the old hotel that still intrigues us today.
Timberlake told me the Burritt became Huntsville’s first museum when Dr. Burritt gifted the mansion and property to the city of Huntsville. I’m glad I finally stopped by to see it. It truly is a fun trip the whole family can enjoy.