The Courthouse That Space Built: Exploring Huntsville, Alabama
Said to be “the courthouse that space built” the current Madison County Courthouse in Huntsville, Alabama was designed by Lloyd Kranert and built in 1967. It was celebrated as modern and forward thinking in a city vying for the title of space capital. When Saturn V, built in Huntsville, put a man on the moon in 1969, a giant party took place around the glass and steel structure with NASA’s Dr. Werner Von Braun leading a parade. Local businesses took out full-page ads in The Huntsville Times applauding the new courthouse.
Today people have mixed feelings about the building and International style architecture, some wishing Huntsville had held onto the 1914 more traditional building. This controversial structure architecturally represented a period in Huntsville’s history that placed it prominently in the history of the world, modern columns replacing Greek Revival ones. There is beauty in the lines, history, and pride of this Southern city.
Historic photos of 1842 courthouse, 1914 courthouse, and 1967 courthouse
courtesy of the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library
Pieces of the 1914 courthouse can be found around town. The bell can be found on the grounds of the “new” courthouse, the stately and historic columns can be seen at the entrance to the Huntsville Botanical Garden, and the cupula and weather vane sit atop the historic First National Bank across the street in downtown.
Madison County originated in 1808 and Huntsville was designated as the county seat. The first courthouse was built in 1818 as a brick structure, the second courthouse was built in 1838 to 1842 at a cost of $52,000, the third courthouse was designed by Clarence Kelley Colley and constructed in 1914. The fourth and present courthouse was constructed between 1966 to 1967.
“The moon is a loyal companion.
It never leaves. It’s always there, watching, steadfast,
knowing us in our light and dark moments,
changing forever just as we do.
Every day it’s a different version of itself.
Sometimes weak and wan, sometimes strong and full of light.
The moon understands what it means to be human.
Uncertain. Alone. Cratered by imperfections.”
We loved stopping to chat with people in downtown Huntsville to ask what they thought of the striking and polarizing courthouse. There was some definite love and pride but also a good amount of skepticism and all out hate for the architectural style. We have to wonder what people would think in a hundred years if this building was torn down and lost to time. As a visual representation of our first steps on the moon, and imperfect (yet perfect somehow) like the moon, we hope it lives on.
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