Huntsville, Alabama’s First Museum Celebrates 55 Years

Nearly 50,000 federal employees and contractors call Huntsville, Alabama home. Although visitors most often associate the city with NASA and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, and Space Camp, employees here make up only a fraction of the total federal workforce in Huntsville.

Nearly 50,000 federal employees and contractors call Huntsville, Alabama home. Although visitors most often associate the city with NASA and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, and Space Camp, employees here make up only a fraction of the total federal workforce in Huntsville.

The same is true of Huntsville’s attractions — once you’ve visited the space center, stay a few days and check out the other historic locations including Burritt Mansion and other historic buildings overlooking Huntsville.

Burritt on the Mountain

As you leave Huntsville in your rear view mirror and climb Monte Sano Mountain, it’s easy to relax and reflect as you leave the 21st century behind for a few hours. High above the city, a grand mansion and historic park waits to welcome you to a time gone by.

The centerpiece of is an X-shaped home, built in 1936 by Dr. William Henry Burritt. Leaving no heirs, Dr. Burritt willed his home and 187 acres to the city in 1955. Now, in addition to the house, there are buildings to help illustrate life of the farm during  the 19th century.

The visit begins with a tour of Dr. Burritt’s unusual home. Knowledgeable docents welcome guests into the world of the eccentric man of medicine.

Immediately inside, guests are drawn to the parlor, a bright and beautiful collection of furniture, decorations and art deco design.

Dr. Burritt was known for his environmental ideas long before it was fashionable. He insulated his walls with
2,200 bales of wheat straw during construction and reclaimed architectural pieces from razed buildings. Above doorways, for example, are shelves made of fireplace mantels salvaged from other homes.

The present house is actually the second one built on the site. The first one, constructed of wood and native stone, burned the day Dr. Burritt moved in on June 6, 1936 due to an electrical spark. During its reconstruction, concrete and concrete-fiber-reinforced shingles replaced much of the wood used in the original design.

Another unusual feature of the house is its many architectural styles including classical revival, federal and art deco.

Dr. Burritt was married three times. His second wife, 20 years his senior, left him her vast fortune when she passed away after a long marriage.

The second room with original furnishings and possessions is the dining room. Other rooms are open for tour, but the antiques have been donated and did not belong to the doctor.

Visiting the 19th century

From the mansion, a labyrinth of paths lead guests to homes and farm buildings brought here from the surrounding area to represent rural life in the Southern Cumberland region of Alabama and Tennessee from 1800 to 1900.

Depending on the day and season, interpreters dressed in period clothing are on hand to demonstrate skills including blacksmithing, spinning and cooking over an open hearth.

In the Burritt Barnyard, goats, sheep, miniature horses, pigs and cattle help illustrate how the animals were used for work, wool and food farmers and their families needed to survive.

The historic log structures that line pathways to reflect rural life are all original homes and outbuildings from the area. They were brought to Burritt by volunteers and community groups, restored and now used to help educate visitors of life on the farm more than a century ago.

If you go

Burritt on the Mountain is located at 3101 Burritt Drive in Huntsville.

Make sure and leave some time to explore Josie’s, Burritt’s gift shop where the unusual is commonplace. As each season approaches, the gifts shop is transformed to meet the needs of residents and visitors alike.

The perfect hotel when visiting the area is the Huntsville Marriott, located at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

Featuring 288 guest rooms, two restaurants and a lounge, the family-oriented hotel is the perfect base when visiting Huntsville.

About the Author

Marilyn Jones has been a journalist for more than 30 years and is currently a freelance feature writer specializing in travel. Her articles have appeared in major newspapers including the BostonGlobe, Akron Beacon Journal and Chicago Sun-Times as well as regional travel magazines.

Visit her website at

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