Log Cabins to Bungalows: A historic resources survey of Madison County

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) - New South Associates performed a historic resources survey of unincorporated Madison County, Alabama on behalf of the Historic Huntsville Foundation, who received grant monies from the Alabama Historical Commission to have a countywide survey conducted.

The entire eastern half of the county and a small section of the northwest corner were covered by the three-week survey, which spanned the month of August into early September. During this time, approximately 435 square miles were traversed and 256 resources documented, which included residential, religious, agricultural, educational, and funerary properties dating from the early 1800s to the mid-1900s.

The project consisted of background research, architectural field survey, and assessment of all documented historic resources for their eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP.) Background research was performed in order to identify previously recorded resources and properties already listed on the NRHP. This research aided in the project planning.

Donna Castellano, Executive Director of Huntsville Historic Foundation, says the need for the project arose because there was a gap in the work that had been done to identify all of Madison County's historic resources. "The buildings, the sites, the cemeteries, the churches, the schools that have historical and architectural significance."

Madison was one of the first counties settled in the state of Alabama. The fertile soils and abundant wildlife of the Tennessee River Valley has attracted human settlement for hundreds of years, punctuated by an increasingly complex Native American society and culture. The mid-sixteenth century marks the beginning of European exploration of the Tennessee River Valley region, as well as the decline in the Indian population and culture in the region.

Hernando de Soto’s expedition, which travelled through the area in 1540, passed through the few small villages that remained along the Tennessee River before heading south into central Alabama on the quest for gold.

The cataloguing of the county's diverse architectural styles speaks to the uniqueness of our settlement pattern. You can decipher in lock chinks and timber boards Alabama's transition from a cotton economy to the introduction of manufacturing to the area. If not for these efforts many of these important structures may have been lost, Castellano explains. Structures like the log cabin now situated at Sharon Johnston Park in New Market, dating back to the 1830s.

"The best way to try to save these sites is to say, 'hey wait, did you know that what's on your property is actually important and there are people interested in it?' So, our process with this is primarily educational."

Seven different property types were identified during the survey. You can explore them all here.

"It is a comprehensive narrative of what life was like in Madison County," Castellano says.