What Is the Huntsville Depot?

J.E. Holloway

The Huntsville Depot, also called the Huntsville Historic Depot, is a museum in Huntsville, Alabama. The museum occupies a historic railroad depot building, constructed in 1860. It is part of a group of museums called the EarlyWorks Museums.

Confederate soldiers were imprisoned in the Huntsville depot during the Civil War, and their graffiti can still be seen there today.
Confederate soldiers were imprisoned in the Huntsville depot during the Civil War, and their graffiti can still be seen there today.

The three-story Huntsville Depot building opened in 1860 as a headquarters for the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. Because it was a divisional headquarters for the railroad, the depot was built in a more decorative style than other railway buildings. It remained open as a rail depot until 1968 and is one of the oldest railroad depot buildings in the United States. During the Civil War, Union forces occupied Huntsville and used the Huntsville Depot building as a barracks, hospital and prison. The depot became part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

This historic site now serves as a museum, part of a complex of museums run by the EarlyWorks Foundation. Exhibits in the Huntsville Depot museum cover the entire period of the building's history and include displays of railroad history as well as graffiti left behind by the Confederate soldiers imprisoned in the depot by occupying Union forces. Other displays include historic automobiles and Aunt Eunice's Country Kitchen, a restaurant which stood on the depot grounds and has been preserved in its original state. Little Toot's Imagination Station is a section of the museum designed specifically for young children. It features kid-friendly activities based on a railway theme.

The EarlyWorks Foundation is a nonprofit organization which runs two museums in addition to the Huntsville Depot. Constitution Village recreates life in 1819, the year when Alabama became a state. The constitution which brought Alabama into the United States was drafted and signed in Huntsville, which became the state's first capital. Actors take on the roles of historic Alabamans and bring this period of the state's history to life with displays of historical crafts and daily life. The Foundation also operates the Children's Museum, which features exhibits on local history and related subjects aimed specifically at younger museum-goers.

The Huntsville Depot is open only part of the year, closing its doors in January and February, with limited opening times during May, when the WhistleStop Weekend festival takes over the building. This celebration, which incorporates food, music and other activities, raises money for the EarlyWorks museums. The depot is also closed on Sundays and Mondays. Visitors intending to tour the museum should confirm opening times when planning their visit.

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