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Early History

By James Record

The 'Weekly Mercury' of November 4, 1891, told about a new fad that swept Huntsville like a tornado. Soon, old, young, male and female were on wheels: bicycles! By January 6, 1892, they were selling for $85 with chains and $95 without. Both solid and cushioned tires were also displayed at stores. The Columbia, Hartford, Overland and Tribune claimed to be the best bicycles on the market. As the Mercury stated, "Mr. N.D. Breeding took a trip to Gurley on his bicycle, thirty-two miles with no fatigue. These machines are becoming quite popular with the young men of our city and all who were able to buy are securing them." Pedestrians found sidewalks unsafe as long as these speedy cyclist were abroad. An appeal was made for protection to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, and a law was granted prohibiting the use of sidewalks for cyclist, according to the Weekly Mercury of March 20, 1895. The Spring City Cycling Club was formed to provide concerted plans and amusement for bicyclist and at a meeting called on May 18, 1892, the club decided to have a tournament. All cyclist were promised a free pass to the races as an inducement to appear in the parade. Each wheel met at the club at ten o'clock in the morning of May 25, 1892, preceded by the Huntsville Cornet Band which rode in a wagon decorated in bunting. Their line of march went around the square, down South Madison to Williams Street, east to Franklin, north on Franklin to Washington to the intersection with Holmes, east on Holmes to Calhoun to Randolph, west on Randolph to Jefferson, north to Holmes, thence west to the fairgrounds. Carriages filled with people followed them. In the grandstand, society belles waved rosettes of the clubs colors.

The cycles brought out such delicate questions as what kind of skirt was a lady to wear while riding? The ladies settled it in a variety of ways. Some advocated short skirts with boots. Some boldly appeared in bloomers, almost harem like, full ankle length. Others wore divided skirts. Both of these styles were very unladylike, immodest, and the subject of sermons and gossip. Convention required full, gored skirts and a white shirtwaist with stiff collar and stiff cuffs. The collar was 'finished' with metal or real cufflinks. Men wore knickers. Some were jokingly referred to today as the "Hell's Angels" of their day.

Also in the year 1892, residents found themselves boasting about a Jersey cow, almost in the same vein as sportsmen argue over "Red" Farmer, "Wild Bill" Elliott, Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus. It all started with a rather ordinary looking Jersey cow joining a herd of cows owned by General Samual H. Moore, who lived in a mansion on Adams Street, now owned by Harry Rhett. The cow, Lily Flagg, outstripped every cow in sight in milk and butter production at the Monte Sano Dairy. He then took the cow to the Chicago World's Fair to prove that the unbelievable butter production was true. Lily Flagg village, south of Huntsville on South Memorial Parkway, was named for the world champion cow, who was "udderly" fantastic.

By early 1892, new plans were under way for the Monte Sano Railroad from the 1860-built Huntsville Depot (which is today a transportation museum on Church Street) to Monte Sano Mountain Hotel Resort, of which only a chimney still stands on Chimney Road near the entrance to Monte Sano State Park, built in 1935. Further down and west on the mountain is the 1830's Cold Spring, once visited by many cyclist in the 1890's.

Other 1892 historic events included the opening of Dallas Mill, and the building of a railroad line from downtown Huntsville to the Tennessee River by NC & StL Railway Co., with trains transferred to barges to go on to Guntersville. During 1892, too, the local Board of Trade pushed for an electric street car line to replace the mule-drawn line. W.S. Wells was granted a charter for such a line to provide a direct connection between East and West Huntsville. West Huntsville got its first major industry, West Huntsville Cotton Mill. Work also began on the Monte Sano Episcopal Church. East Huntsville was booming too, in 1892, with a contract let by the Huntsville Land Co. to W.H. Lowry of Nashville to build 50 cottages in East Huntsville. Street names such as Pratt, Halsey, Rison, Stevens, Humes and McCullough appeared, named in honor of some of the town's leading citizens. Also, the West Huntsville plat was filed, and Fourth Street, through 11 th, and 7th through 9th Avenues made their appearance. Madison County expanded its road system even further by acquiring the Huntsville-Monte Sano Turnpike for $3,600. 'Ibis road had its tollgate later removed, and is today named Toll Gate Road. South of the road is Fagan Springs, long a popular place for Boy Scouts and hikers who hiked up the old "Dummy Line" along which part of the 1890's Monte Sano railroad traveled.

Nationally, in 1892, John L. Sullivan, first Boxing Heavyweight Champion, was defeated by "Gentleman Jim" Corbet, and General Electric was born when the Thompson-Housten Co. of Lynn, Mass., and the Edison Plant of Schenectady, N.Y. merged.

About the same time, the world's first automatic telephone exchange was begun at LaPorte Inc., by the Stowger Automatic Telephone Exchange, predecessor of Automatic Electric Co., which later merged into the General Telephone and Electric Co. in 1955. The year 1892 also saw the introduction of the first dial telephone. Automatic Electric also opened a telephone manufacturing plant in Huntsville on South Memorial Parkway in the 1960's. Cyclist on their way toward the Tennessee River to see Huntsville's noted marina, and the village of Whitesburg, will go by the plant, now occupied by SCI. On nearby Hobbs Island, in 1814 known as Chickasaw Island, is where many thousands of arrowheads have been found.

The year 1892 is the year the Dalton Gang met its demise in Coffeeville, Kansas when Bob and Grat Dalton and two other gang members were killed, and Emmett Dalton seriously wounded in their attempt to emulate the Jesse James Gang's unsuccessful try at robbing two banks simultaneously. Desperado Frank James was later brought to Huntsville for Federal trial on another robbery, and spent 24 months in the Madison County Jail. A historic marker concerning this can be seen in downtown Huntsville, corner of Green and Eustis.

Down in Mobile, during 1892, citizens were treated to their first electric car, and during this year was the first for both the University of Alabama and Auburn to begin football.

As a concluding historical note, I want to point out that Madison County has had more U. S. Presidents, or Presidents-to-be visit here than any other county in Alabama, being James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, Theodore Roosevelt, William McKinley, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford and George Bush. This is understandable because it was the second (1808) county formed in what was to become Alabama, and was first settled in 1804; it is where the State of Alabama entered the Union in 1819, and where the first Alabama laws were passed. In this English settled (1805) town in Alabama, were also the first bank, library, river canal, Presbyterian church, and public water system, and where the Space and Missile Program for America began in 1950.