Review of Huntsville in Vintage Postcards, by Allan C. Wright and Images of America: Huntsville, by John F. Kvach, Charity Ethridge, Michelle Hopkins, and Susanna Leberman

31 May

Having recently moved to Huntsville, I sought out some books to read so I can learn more about the place I now call home. The only books that the large chain bookstores had available was Huntsville in Vintage Postcards by Allan C. Wright and Images of America: Huntsville by John F. Kvach, Charity Ethridge, Michelle Hopkins, and Susanna Leberman. Both books, published in 2000 and 2013 respectively, are from Arcadia Publishing, which is reputedly the leading local history publisher in the United States. These short, compact books provided me with a plenty of vintage photographs and images but did not quell my thirst for an understanding of the history and origins of Rocket City.

Huntsville in Vintage Postcards celebrates many of the town’s landmarks through publication of over two hundred postcards, mostly printed before 1940.  The earliest postcards printed were in the late 1890s, so there are no images of life in Huntsville before then. Wright organizes the collection, taken mainly from the Huntsville-Madison County Library, into several chapters.  One of the most interesting chapters are about Big Spring, the early source of water for the area, located in the heart of downtown and the reason town founder John Hunt settled there in 1805.  Other chapters include information on the Courthouse Square, Cotton Mills, Houses, Streets, School and Churches, and Hotels and Motels.  Through it all, I gained tidbits of info on the town, especially the downtown area, and an understanding of the role cotton and mills played in the region’s history. Many of the postcards were fascinating to look at but one gets a little tired of seeing image after image of streets with houses, churches, and other businesses that are no longer there.

Images of America: Huntsville was a collaborative effort by the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s Public History program and the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library who sought to locate photographs to represent Huntsville’s past. Similar to Huntsville in Vintage Postcards, this book presents a plethora of images of buildings, street, and neighborhoods. The writers use these photographs to explain change over time; specifically, how Huntsville continued to grow and redefine itself throughout the years although faced with difficulties like the Civil War and the Great Depression. Readers will gain an importance of the town square and Big Spring, cotton’s definitive influence on the town, and how the efforts of Wernher von Braun changed the city’s trajectory.  Readers will sense the writers’ preservation focus as many of the captions discuss how change and “progress” have literally torn away many important landmarks of the past.

Readers of these books, especially long-time residents of the area, will enjoy the nostalgic look back at Huntsville’s past. Anyone not as familiar with the town will gain little knowledge. One wonders why editors don’t include images of current Huntsville locations to better illustrate how the look of the town has changed. Books from Arcardia Publishing do exactly what they set out to do; show a photographic glimpse of the past for local places across the country. These two books do that admirably; I must simply continue my search for a more scholarly study of Huntsville.

CPW

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