by Martha S. Rambo, former student of Frances C. Roberts and Historian, THPDA - June 2007
As the twentieth century approached its midpoint, the town of Huntsville was smiled upon. Huntsville Arsenal and Redstone Arsenal fed new federal money into what had been prewar a small Southern town. The economic base had been agriculture, and the core of the community remained much as it had been in the previous century. Suddenly there was great change with rocket scientists and entrepreneurs dominating the local news. Progress was the watchword and that meant change that actually threatened the very existence of the heart of the town. Urban renewal had arrived.
In order to prevent the loss of the original residential sections, the Huntsville-Madison County Historical Society and the Antiquarian Society set out to survey and identify structures worthy of preservation. They drew up the plan that now defines the boundaries of the District with its treasures, which reflect the architectural history of the community. In 1965, the Twickenham Historic Preservation District Association was organized to promote the formal regulations necessary. Despite the protests of several leading citizens, more than sixty percent of the property owners petitioned the city for its creation and the Twickenham Historic Preservation District became a reality. On March 22, 1972, the City Council passed an ordinance giving it legal status and providing for a commission of nine members for its oversight.
Federal money was still essential for this and other efforts at historic preservation in Huntsville. A disastrous fire in what the Alabama Historical Commission deemed the most historic, most endangered structure in the state" resulted in the development of the Weeden House Museum by the District Association using Federal funds as well as local contributions. At that time the Weeden House Museum was to be the only house museum available to the public on a regular basis in the area from Birmingham to Nashville and from Memphis to Atlanta. Groups involved have included the Huntsville Housing Authority, the Huntsville Historic Commission, the Historic Huntsville Foundation, the Cosmopolitan Club, the Antiquarian Society, the Huntsville Garden Club, the Whitesburg Garden Club and other garden clubs, the Beautification Board, the Huntsville Pilgrimage Association, the Gothic Guild and several other contributors. A very competent docent program has developed under the director. Most of the furnishings have been donated to the Association or purchased by it with donated funds.
"The purpose of the Weeden House Museum is to operate a private, non-profit educational institution dedicated to the preservation of the Weeden home and grounds, to the interpretation of the lifestyle of the Weeden family before the Civil War, and to the presentation of the artistic works of Maria Howard Weeden" as stated in an earlier THPDA document.
In recent years the Association has sponsored other education-oriented events and projects in the community. There has been great interest in preserving and planting trees to enhance the streetscape, in enhancing the street lighting, in placing historic markers at deserving structures, and in providing Christmas atmosphere for the whole community by sponsoring luminaries on every street in the District, and opening several homes as well as the Weeden House to the public in order to share with all citizens of Huntsville the spirit of the season. There is also an annual antiques show and sale in the spring and the triangle park at the corner of California and White Streets.
An elected board of local citizens provides governance to the association with the support of many people who serve on committees.
Past, present, and future residents have a living blueprint for the preservation of the history of this community with almost 200 years of American architecture, modest as well as magnificent. Federal support is evident on the Western outskirts of Huntsville, but equal evidence lies in the very existence of the Twickenham Historic Preservation District.