The western half of what is now Old Town was incorporated into the city in 1843. By 1861, approximately 25 houses were present in the roughly 100 acres that make up Old Town. In 1871, the east part of Old Town was incorporated into the City of Huntsville as the East Addition and Walker was opened to development. Growth was encouraged because the area was within walking distance of downtown Huntsville, the Memphis and Charleston Railroad depot and the City’s first cotton mill on Jefferson Street. By 1892, Dallas Mill was located just north of Old Town further stimulating development. The Old Town area was settled by merchants and professional people. The structures built during this time were predominately Victorian in style, of one and two-story frame construction. Old Town is the only complete section of Huntsville which displays a true Victorian character.
Old Town continued to grow during the early years of the 20th Century, though the Victorian building style now had to compete with colonial revival and bungalows. This bungalow style was particularly prevalent during the 1920’s and 30’s. The Old Town area stopped seeing new houses after World War II and then began to deteriorate as homes were converted into apartments and boarding houses. This was partly to accommodate the population boom Huntsville witnessed as a result of the creation of Redstone Arsenal and NASA.
In 1971, the City of Huntsville adopted an ordinance that allowed for creation of historic districts. Huntsville’s first historic district was Twickenham (immediately north of the present Old Town).
On August 29th 1974, the Huntsville Planning Commission sent a proposal to the zoning committee to create Old Town as the City’s second historic district. This required 60% of property owners to sign a petition requesting historic district status – more than this minimum signed the petition.
On December 12th 1974 the City adopted an ordinance formally creating the Old Town Historic District. This designation protected properties within the district from demolition. Alterations were now governed by the Historic Commission (a City body). This did not govern use, a zoning issue, and some areas were still not zoned for single family use. The Old Town Historic Preservation District Association adopted its bylaws and became the neighborhood association organizing events, as it still does, for the community. It also serves as a voice for the community addressing issues such as traffic speed and layout, preservation of trees and beautification, education relating to living in the District and any concerns of District residents.
In late 1976, the 100 block of Walker Avenue petitioned to be added to the Old Town Historic District and then re-zoned to residential (April 1977), mainly in an attempt to block the construction of the Downtown Rescue Mission at the corner of Walker and Dallas. The 100 block was zoned commercial at this time and the owners had not wanted to be included in the original district. The interest in becoming part of the District was ultimately successful, as was the blocking of the Rescue Mission construction. By April 1977, the current Old Town Historic District boundaries were set.
On January 31st 1978, the Old Town Historic District was nominated to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This nomination was successful and Old Town was listed on July 18th 1978. Of the 263 structures in the district at the time of being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, 64% were considered architecturally significant and most were listed as being built before 1910. Of these, 93% were residential at the time with only a few buildings being listed as intrusive (27 buildings including outbuildings, not historically or architecturally significant).
On March 28th 1980, the final legal change occurred when the City passed an ordinance changing the zoning of most of Old Town to Residential 1B, the strictest residential (only single family) use.
Since this time, Old Town Historic District has continued to see change, but mainly of restorations and renovations to the houses. Several empty lots have been built on to fill in the gaps and a large percentage of the buildings have been improved. This has led to a great sense of pride and community in the area and proved Old Town to once again be a very desirable place to live, both in terms of the feel of the place and the great financial investment of a home within the district.