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210816 August 16, 2021


Early Huntsville
As Seen Through Our Eyes
Tommy Towery
LHS '64

    Andrea Roberson, LHS '66, was the only one who responded to last week's question of "What would you like to see covered as a topic in a future issue of Lee's Traveller?." Her request was to see more about the "History of Huntsville/Lee during our high school years." Since she took the time to respond, I shall do the same. That is an easy topic for me, since I previously wrote a book called "The Baby Boomer's Guide to Growing Up in The Rocket City" about the same subject. I will extract some of the informatiaon included in the book to expand on this subject.

    I feel a need to set the stage for our little venture back in time before we start it. First, we need to understand the environment of the place where we called home. Facts alone can be boring, but I think some of these facts are interesting enough to be shared.

    Unlike many of our generation who were born in other places around the country, we were born into a community that was about to evolve in a Darwinian mode, much like a butterfly emerging from the cocoon the caterpillar had woven around itself. Before we were born, when Huntsville was selected by the Army as a place to build ammunition for the war, many wondered the fate of the city when that service was no longer needed. If ever a city was changed by war, Huntsville was one of them. It was not destroyed by bombs and artillery shells, but was affected just as much as those that were. The city that was once known as “The Watercress Capitol of the World” was about to replace that nickname with another one as futuristic as the world into which we were born.  In an odd way, we Baby Boomers and “The Rocket City” were part of the same generation.

    According to the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce, with the cessation of World War II hostilities in 1945, production at both Redstone Arsenal and Huntsville Arsenal also ceased. The Ordnance plant was put on standby status in February of 1947, while the Chemical Corps installation was declared excess to the Army's needs in September of that same year. In October of 1948, Redstone Arsenal was designated the center of research and development activities in the field of rockets and related items. Huntsville Arsenal was actually advertised for sale in 1949, but the sale never took place because the Army found that it needed the land for the new rocket and missile mission developing at nearby Redstone Arsenal. The arsenal was officially reactivated as the site of the Ordnance Rocket Center on June 1, 1949. Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team of German scientists and engineers were transferred from Fort Bliss, Texas, and beginning on April 15, 1950, Redstone Arsenal officially entered the missile era. Soon thereafter, the nickname of “The Rocket City” was applied to Huntsville – and it stuck.

    Huntsville was still a cotton market town of 16,437 people in 1950 when U.S. Senator John Sparkman had the band of German rocket scientists moved to Redstone Arsenal to develop rockets for the U.S. Army. By the end of the decade, Wernher von Braun's team had developed the rocket which put America's first satellite into orbit. They eventually developed the crafts that put the first American in space and transported the first astronauts to the moon. They did all that while we Huntsville Baby Boomers (which now included the children of the German scientists and the other Redstone engineers and workers) were caught up in the center of the Space Race. In fact, during the 1960's, Huntsville was the fastest growing city in the U.S. because of President John F. Kennedy's emphasis on the space industry. The influx of Army personnel, NASA civil servants, and contractors, with their families, raised enrollments in the city schools from 3,000 in 1950 to over 33,000 by 1974.

    Here’s a recap of a report published about Huntsville and Madison County during the time when the first Baby Boomers were turning five years old and starting their adventures. The report contained the following facts, some of which might appear to be propaganda to a few of the folks who moved here – especially the climate information. I think they left out the August heat problem in their report.

A Report on Madison County
143rd Anniversary
December 13, 1951
Compiled by James R. Record
County Auditor

    Climate - One of the things that insures healthful and pleasant living in Madison County is the prevailing climate. Temperatures are moderate throughout the year, and the seasons are characterized by long summers, short winters, and beautiful autumns and springs. The average temperature year-round is 61 degrees. Rainfall is ample for the growth of crops and is well distributed during the year.

    Transportation – Two railroads, four bus, and five motor freight companies serve the residents of the county, while broad modern highways radiate in all directions to provide swift and comfortable means of transportation. In addition, Madison County – sometimes known as the Air Center of North Alabama – encompasses a large municipal airport, used regularly by two airlines (Eastern and Capital). A local bus line in the City of Huntsville…serves not only the residents of the city but those of its outlying areas. The bus system replaced the old street car lines (which first began operation in 1899) in 1931. 

    Schools and Churches – The people of Madison County are predominantly young. One-third of the population is under 15 years of age, and over one-half is under 25. To ensure these people the proper development and care, the county has one of the most up-to-date school systems in the State of Alabama. 

    Amusement and Recreation – Within the county are two Y.M.C.A.’s, a dude ranch and riding academy, a country club with one of the nation’s finest golf courses, three radio stations, four athletic fields, a National Guard Armory, Naval Reserve Armory, three modern hotels, and five motels, eight theaters – one of which is a drive-in – and many private fraternal organizations and clubs. Monte Sano (Indian name for mountain of health) State Park, consisting of about 2,000 acres, has become one of the most popular tourist resorts in the South. In Huntsville there are numerous parks and playgrounds, the largest of which is centrally located. These parks offer badminton, swimming, baseball, football, shuffleboard, slides, picnicking areas, fishing rodeos, and other forms of recreation. 

    Being in Alabama – part of the so-called Deep South – much has been said about its magnolias, folkways, dialects, and plantation homes, but today it is a community of young, progressive people whose economic well-being is based on a sound and expanding foundation.
    That was the official view of the politicians. If we were Baby Boomers, then we were in the right place since, by all figures, Huntsville was a boom town. Huntsville started its meteoric growth, from 16,437 in 1950 to 48,000 enumerated in a special census held in 1956. The 1960 census put the population of the city at 72,000; another special census in 1964 gave the population as 123,000; and by 1970 it was 136,102. In 20 years the population grew by almost 120,000 people – a growth of 800%.

    I find it odd that despite all that growth, most of us still feel like we grew up in a small town – a progressive town we have to admit, but still a small one. We have early memories of the roaring of rocket static-test firings and our houses shaking so badly that the dishes were shaken off of tables and pictures fell off the walls. Occasionally the citizens of Huntsville were allowed to go out to the arsenal and witness one of those and, for those lucky ones, it was a sight never to be forgotten. It is memories of thunderous noise, billows of smoke, and brilliant flames shooting from the bottom of the firmly secured white rocket. On those days, there was no question where the action was.
    Huntsville began to receive national recognition as “The Rocket City” with the publication of a brochure boasting Huntsville as such by the Chamber of Commerce. They distributed 14,000 copies of their publication titled “Huntsville, Alabama; Rocket City U.S.A.” 


        Memphis, TN - We continue to reveal the favorite slow songs this week, featuring one with the most votes and one with less, but still a special song to someone in our classes. It has been a hot week, and my mind goes back to the previous class reunions we held in August and how hot it was and how some said they would never again attend a reunion in August in Alabama.

        Covid is still a threat and I hope all of you continute to take precautions when you are out. I hope you have all taken the shots. 

        Please enjoy the story below and help me with the Traveller by participating in our little survey on driving.

Our First Solo Drives
Tommy Towery
LHS '64

    This week I will share a story, based on the idea posed a couple of week's ago by Craig Bannecke about driving. This is my story, not Craig’s.
    My first solo trip in a car was a scary one. It was not scary because of the drive, but because of the circumstances of the trip. I was 15 and had my learner’s permit but was not old enough or had yet passed the test to receive my real driver’s license. I was living in Lincoln Village and found myself home alone on a Friday night. My grandmother was working, my mother was out of town as was my brother, Don. The car I had learned to drive in , our 1953 Ford Custom V-8 stick shift, was sitting parked in front of our house. I remember it was a Friday night because I remember it was the night for high school football games and in my mind I rationalized most of the police would be working down by the stadium directing traffic that night instead of being on the North side where I lived. I wanted to see my girlfriend. Looking on the internet maps today I see the distance from my house to her’s was only three miles, but it takes an hour to walk it at a normal pace. (I had done that once.) I had my learner’s permit (I repeated to myself). I know how to drive. It’s only three miles. What would it hurt?

    So, I called her and asked her if I could come over and she said yes. That was all I needed to hear. I got the keys, got in the car, started it up and drove over to her house – shaking all the way and afraid I would get caught. Still, who can argue with young love? I stayed there with her, playing records and dancing in her living room until I knew it was about time my grandmother would be getting off from work and headed home and so I did the same. Again I drove the eight minutes home down Oakwood Avenue and could swear it took me an hour. I think I caught every red light. I was lucky. I did not even see a police car, much less get stopped and thrown in jail. I got the car home. parked it back in front of the house, and was sitting on the sofa watching TV when my grandmother got home. I was still shaking a bit, thinking about what would have been the consequences of getting caught driving without a license. By the way, we also did not have insurance on the car. 

    Looking back, I still wonder today what would have happened if I had got caught and was it really worth the risk I took to make that Friday night trip. In my teenage mind it was. In my adult mind – what a dumb thing to do.

    How about you? What was the circumstances of the first time you drove a car solo? Fill out the form below.

Solo Trip

Slow Song Selections

When A Man Loves A Woman

        "When a Man Loves a Woman" is a song written by Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright and first recorded by Percy Sledge in 1966 at Norala Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama. It made number one on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B singles charts. According to Dan Penn the song was initially recorded by Percy Sledge at Rick Hall's FAME Studios at Muscle Shoals, before being re-recorded at the nearby Norala Studios

All I Have to Do is Dream

    "All I Have to Do Is Dream" is a song made famous by the Everly Brothers, written by Boudleaux Bryant of the husband-and-wife songwriting team Felice and Boudleaux Bryant,and published in 1958. The song is ranked No. 141 on the Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. 


From Our Mailbox 


Subject:    Covid

Darla Gentry Steinberg 

LHS '66 

    I truly appreciate Richard Simmons Covid story and his encouragement for folks to get the vaccine. I have a friend who had the same experience - vaccinated but got Covid….but did not have to be hospitalized and did not die. I hope all our Lee friends will get the vaccine and help to defeat this virus and get our lives back to normal.



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