Local History Comes to Life in New Online Collection

Huntsville-Madison County Public Library welcomes the Huntsville History Collection as a new online resource bringing together photographs and historical records for local residents.

Ever wondered what your house looked like forty years ago? Photographs, drawings and other records may exist for your house, especially if you are a resident of one of Huntsville’s downtown historic districts. In the past, finding those records took a patient and persistent sleuth. Now, local residents may use a new online resource called the Huntsville History Collection (HHC) which brings together photographs, illustrations, surveys, and history.

Steamboat House Photo by Harvie Jones, 1997
"Steamboat House" Photo
by Harvie Jones, 1997

HHC (huntsvillehistorycollection.org) is a virtual archive of resources about the history and historic architecture of Huntsville and Madison County, Alabama. Local resident, Deane Dayton created this resource initially as an architectural guide to the Twickenham Historic District.

“I’ve owned two different houses in Twickenham and was curious about their histories. This website was a response to my own wish to have access to pictures and historical data about the architecture and modifications of these houses over time,” said Dayton. As his research grew, the website expanded to include Old Town, Five Points and beyond. As the project began to consume more of his free time, his wife became curious about her husband’s new hobby.

To spend more time with her husband, Carol Dayton began casually searching for biographical resources about prominent Huntsvillians. As she found online resources, Mr. Dayton added them to his wiki, and the scope of the collection grew to include people instead of just places. “Once she started looking, it snowballed. She was hooked.”

Now the couple can often be seen pouring through the records and archives of the Huntsville Heritage Room of the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library. After working on the project for approximately a year, Dayton approached the Library, seeking an organizational partner. “We are thrilled to partner with the Huntsville History Collection,” said Laurel Best, Executive Director for HMCPL. “Public libraries exist to provide access to information and resources, so HHC complements our mission perfectly.”

“Public libraries exist to provide access to information and resources, so HHC complements our mission perfectly.”

Deane Dayton
Deane Dayton

The Library will also seek grant funds to help further Mr. Dayton’s work. “Often, historical materials are rare and accessible only by visiting a specific archive,” said Mary Moore, Reference & Adult Services Manager at the Library. “For the average person, knowing which archive to visit or finding the time to do in-depth research is not possible. Deane and Carol are now deputized librarians. They are doing what librarians strive to do every day – make information easy to access.” Moore added, “The Library hopes to secure grant funds to digitize more works for inclusion in the collection.”

For the materials already in the collection, Dayton has worked diligently to properly identify the sources for the information, records, pictures, and drawings. He has also obtained permissions from authors, artists, and organizations.

“It was important to me that I obtain proper permissions and make clear the sources for this information,” Dayton commented. “I have a background in education, so I would love for this website to be a resource for area students and teachers.”

When his schedule allows, Dayton visits community groups to demonstrate his website. “So far, the feedback has been very positive. I am grateful for the enthusiasm, and I hope visitors to the website will feel free to send me their ideas and comments.” Deane added, “I want this resource to have a life long after I am gone.”

Questions? Contact Mary Wallace Moore in Reference & Adult Services at askus [at] hmcpl [dot] org or 256-532-5975.

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