It was founded in 1805 and became an incorporated town in 1811. The city grew across nearby hills north of the Tennessee River, adding textile mills, then munitions factories, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and the United States Army Aviation and Missile Command nearby at the Redstone Arsenal. The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Huntsville to its "America's Dozen Distinctive Destinations for 2010" list.
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- Twickenham Historic District was chosen as the name of the first of three of the city's historic districts. It features homes in the Federal and Greek Revival architectural styles introduced to the city by Virginia-born architect George Steele about 1818, and contains the most dense concentration of antebellum homes in Alabama. The 1819 Weeden House Museum, home of female artist and poet Howard Weeden, is open to the public, as are several others in the district.
- Old Town Historic District contains a variety of styles (Federal, Greek Revival, Queen Anne, and even California cottages), with homes dating from the late 1820s through the early 1900s.
- Five Points Historic District, consists predominantly of bungalows built around the beginning of the 20th century, by which time Huntsville was becoming a mill town.
- Merrimack Mill Village Historic District is a historic district developed around the Merrimack Cotton Mill in 1900. The district features homes following several basic plans: Type A, a one-story, duplex shotgun house; Type B, a rectangular duplex with double central entry doors and a shed roof porch; Type J, a two-story I-house, usually with a shed roof rear addition; Type L, a two-story, cross-gable duplex with side entrances covered by shallow-pitched gable porches; and Type M, a one-story, hipped roof duplex with a shed-roof front porch. The 96 Type L houses, most of which were constructed in the first wave of construction before 1910, represent the largest collection of the type in the South.
- Lowe Mill Village & Lincoln Mill and Mill Village Historic District were born during the textile boom of the 1890s and were recognized for their historical importance in 2011 along with Dallas Mill Village.