Madison County

U.S. Space and Rocket Center Located in the heart of the Tennessee Valley, Madison County hosted the state’s first constitutional convention in 1819 after Alabama was granted statehood and was home to Clement Comer Clay, one of Alabama‘s most prominent early statesmen. In addition to serving as governor (1836-1837), he helped draft Alabama’s first constitution, was the first chief justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, and represented the county in the U.S. House of Representatives for three terms and the state in the U.S. Senate from 1837 to 1841. Today, the county is a center of the aerospace industry, notably the Marshall Space Flight Center, a division of the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA), and the U.S. Army’s Aviation and Missile Command, both crucial aspects of the nation’s defense and space-exploration efforts. The county’s governing body has been in existence since 1821 and is currently composed of an elected seven-member commission.

  • Founding Date: December 13, 1808
  • Area: 806 square miles
  • Population: 388,153 (2020 Census estimate)
  • Major Waterways: Tennessee River, Flint River, Paint Rock River
  • Major Highways: I-565, U.S. 72, U.S. 231, U.S. 431
  • County Seat: Huntsville
  • Largest City: Huntsville


Alabama Constitution Hall Replica Mississippi Territory governor Robert Williams created Madison County by executive order on December 13, 1808. The county was named for Pres. James Madison, who was then serving as secretary of state under Pres. Thomas Jefferson. The area that now comprises Madison County was held by Chickasaws and Cherokees Indians prior to land cessions to the U.S. government and subsequent American settlement. The first non-Indian settlers arrived between 1802 and 1804 at Ditto’s Landing on the Tennessee River and in the area of present-day New Market. The first sale of public lands was held on August 9, 1809. Georgia planter LeRoy Pope purchased acreage around Big Spring and succeeded in having it selected as the county seat on July 5, 1810. The town was briefly known as Twickenham, the English home of Pope’s ancestors who included English poet Alexander Pope. This name proved unpopular, and on November 25, 1811, the Territorial Legislature changed the name to Huntsville, in honor of John Hunt, the original settler of Big Spring.

Madison County Courthouse Between 1810 and 1819, Madison County grew rapidly in both population and size with further public land sales, and Huntsville quickly became a commercial center in the heart of a rich cotton-based agricultural region. During Alabama’s transition from territory to state in the summer and fall of 1819, Huntsville was named its temporary capital. Alabama’s first constitutional convention convened in Huntsville on July 5, 1819, and the first session of the legislature met there on November 9, 1819. Although the state legislature moved the capital to Cahaba after Alabama became a state, Huntsville continued to flourish, serving as the cotton-trading center of the Tennessee Valley during the 1840s and 1850s.

Huntsville remained an important commercial and cultural center until its capture by U.S. Army forces on April 11, 1862. The first occupation lasted only a few months, but the city was recaptured on July 4, 1863, and remained under federal occupation until the end of the war. Madison County and Huntsville suffered severely from the effects of the war but began a slow recovery soon after county’s rich farmlands returned to cultivation in the post-war period.

On April 27, 2011, a massive storm, causing numerous powerful tornadoes, struck the southeastern United States. More than 250 people were killed in Alabama, including nine people in the Madison County communities of Harvest (7) and Toney (2).

Major Cities and Demographics

Historic Madison According to 2020 Census estimates, the population of Madison County was 388,153. Of that total, 68.8 percent of respondents identified themselves as white, 24.8 percent as African American, 5.5 percent as Hispanic, 2.9 percent as two or more races, 2.7 percent as Asian, and 0.8 percent as Native American, and 0.1 percent as Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. The county seat Huntsville is by far Madison County’s largest city, with an estimated population of 215,006. Other significant population centers are Madison, Moores Mill, Meridianville, Hazel Green, Harvest, New Hope, Owens Cross Roads, Gurley, and Triana. The median household income was $66,887, well above the state’s median income of $52,035, and the median per capita income was $38,192, compared with $28,934 for the state as a whole.


Watercress Pond in Madison County Madison County’s antebellum cotton-driven economy gave way after the Civil War to increased industrialization that included the development of textile mills and lumber mills. Agriculture remained important, and nurseries, fruit orchards, and watercress farms provided thriving additions to the county’s cotton production. Madison County’s economy grew and prospered between 1900 and the beginning of the Great Depression. Along with the economic woes created by the Depression, Madison County industry was disrupted by a series of strikes in the textile industry. The creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in 1933 contributed greatly to the county’s recovery, however. The TVA brought to the county enhanced flood control, improved river transportation, and hydroelectric power.

Redstone Airfield World War II changed the direction of the county’s economy in dramatic ways. In 1941, the federal government began construction of the Huntsville Arsenal, a chemical warfare plant, and the Redstone Arsenal, a plant manufacturing artillery shells, on 40,000 acres of former cotton land and swamps a few miles south of the Tennessee River. In 1949, these two facilities were merged to form the U.S. Army’s new Ordnance Guided Missile Center. The next year, more than 100 German scientists, led by rocketry pioneer Wernher von Braun, were transferred to this center to continue rocket and guided-missile research and development for the Army. The opening of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on July 1, 1960, put Huntsville and the von Braun team at the forefront of the federal government’s commitment to put a man on the Moon.


According to 2020 Census estimates, the workforce in Madison County was divided among the following industrial categories:

  • Educational services, and health care and social assistance (20.5 percent)
  • Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (19.0 percent)
  • Manufacturing (11.8 percent)
  • Retail trade (10.9 percent)
  • Public administration (9.1 percent)
  • Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (8.1 percent)
  • Construction (5.3 percent)
  • Transportation and warehousing, and utilities (3.9 percent)
  • Finance and insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (3.7 percent)
  • Other services, except public administration (3.5 percent)
  • Information (2.1 percent)
  • Wholesale trade (1.6 percent)
  • Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (0.5 percent

The current leading employers in the county include the U.S. Army/Redstone Arsenal, the Huntsville Hospital System, Sanmina-SCI, Huntsville City Schools, Daimler-Chrysler Corporation, CINRAM, NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center, Boeing, City of Huntsville, and Madison County Schools. Professional and managerial jobs currently comprise a large portion of Madison County’s workforce. Many of these jobs are with firms located in Cummings Research Park, the second largest research and technology park in the United States. This high-tech center provides employment to more than 25,000 employees and contains a mixture of Fortune 500 companies, local and international high-tech enterprises, and U.S. space and defense agencies.


Alabama A&M University Madison County Schools oversees 27 primary and secondary schools. In addition, Huntsville City Schools oversees 42 primary and secondary schools and Madison City Schools oversees 10 primary and secondary schools. There are a number of private academies as well. The county’s two major institutions of higher learning are Alabama A&M University, a historically black land-grant university founded in 1875 with a current enrollment of 6,182 students, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), founded as part of the University of Alabama system in 1950 and with a current enrollment of 7,100 students.


Madison County Map Encompassing 806 square miles, Madison County is located in the heart of the Tennessee Valley and mostly within the Highland Rim physiographic section of the Appalachian Highlands region. The eastern part of the county borders the Cumberland Plateau physiographic section. The Tennessee River forms its border with Morgan and Marshall Counties to the south. It is bordered on the north by Lincoln County, Tennessee, on the west by Limestone County, and on the east by Jackson County.

The Tennessee River is the county’s major waterway. The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, completed in 1984, opened up river travel to the port of Mobile from Madison County. Tributaries of the Tennessee River include the Flint River, which runs through the county from its headwaters in Tennessee, and the Paint Rock River, which in its lower course comprises part of the boundary between Madison and Marshall Counties. The Paint Rock River supports an extremely diverse array of aquatic life, including some one hundred species of fish and about 45 different mussel species.

Interstate 565 connects Madison County with I-65, the major north-south transportation route in the state. Other major highways include U.S. Highway 72, 231, and 431, as well as State Routes 53 and 255. Serviced by most major airlines, Huntsville International Airport is the major transportation hub for the county. The Madison County Executive Airport, located in Meridianville, services private general aviation for the northern part of the county.

Events and Places of Interest

Monte Sano State Park The Tennessee River provides many recreational activities, such as picnicking, boating, fishing, swimming, camping, hiking, nature study, photography, and hunting. The scenic Flint River is also a favorite spot for canoeists. Monte Sano State Park, with 14 cabins and 89 campsites, provides stunning views from the top of Monte Sano Mount, just east of downtown Huntsville. Hampton Cove Golf Course is the northern terminus of Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Huntsville is also home to the Huntsville Stars, a minor-league affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team.

Huntsville Museum of Art The U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville is the world’s largest space attraction, featuring dozens of interactive exhibits focusing on the Apollo, Mercury, and Space Shuttle spacecraft and is home to the U.S. Space Camp. The EarlyWorks Family of Museums in Huntsville offers visitors three attractions: Alabama Constitution Hall Historic Park and Museum, a living-history park focusing on Alabama’s and the United States’s founding; the Huntsville Depot and Museum, featuring displays on the history of Huntsville with emphasis on railroads; and EarlyWorks Children’s Museum, a hands-on history museum aimed specifically at young children. Other points of interest include the Weeden House Museum (dedicated to artist Maria Howard Weeden), Huntsville Museum of Art, Huntsville Botanical Garden, North Alabama Railroad Museum, Twickenham Historic District, the Buffalo Soldiers Memorial, and the U.S. Veterans Memorial Museum.

Further Reading

  • Luttrell III, Frank Alex, ed. Historical Markers of Madison County, Alabama. Huntsville: Huntsville-Madison County Historical Society, 2001.
  • Rogers, William Warren, et al. Alabama: The History of a Deep South State. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1994.

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