The History of Huntsville Utilities
The roots of Huntsville Utilities reach as far back as 1823, just 18 years after John Hunt, the city’s namesake, settled near Big Spring.
That year, Alabama’s first public water system was built with Big Spring as its source. The Huntsville Waterworks used hollowed out cedar logs for pipes and a wooden storage tank called a reservoir. As the town grew, so did its need for water. Dr. Thomas Fearn bought the waterworks from it’s founder Hunter Peel in 1836, extending and improving the lines until he sold the franchise to the city of Huntsville in 1858. As the city around it grew, the municipal system continued improvements, including implementing purification practices in 1914. The waterworks was operated by the city until 1954 when a water board was appointed. The next year two large wells, known as Dallas and Lincoln, were bought by the water system. Big Spring has not been used as a source since 1957. The first treatment plant was built in 1964 and drew water from the Tennessee River. Today, Huntsville Utilities pumps 10.8 billion gallons of water providing it to over 66,000 customers.
Several years after Huntsville distributed water to its citizens, city leaders began looking for a way to provide light in the streets, homes and business of its growing community. In 1856, the city council bought $1,000 stock in a gasworks plant built by Dr. F.H. Newman. The Gas Company laid pipe and lit the square with eight gas lamps on posts. Gas lighting for residential use continued until about 1910. In 1946, the local gas company was purchased by Alabama Gas Corporation. A new plant, producing propane and air for gas, was built and additional, improved pipes were laid. The city of Huntsville bought the system in 1950, followed with a contract by Alabama-Tennessee Natural Gas Company to pipe natural gas into Huntsville. Today, Huntsville Utilities distributes 5.8 billion cubic feet of natural gas, providing it to over 35,000 customers.
Thirty years after gas lamps lit the streets of the square, Huntsville researched the use of an electric lighting system. In 1887, the Huntsville Electric Company was formed and introduced the city to electric lights that same year. By 1900, people began putting away their standby oil lamps.
Huntsville Railway, Light and Power Company bought the system and sent electricity through the city streets by 1913. Two years later Alabama Power Company purchased the system from Huntsville Railway, Light and Power Company. Electric power lines were improved and re-built, however continued to draw power from the old steam electric generating plant in Huntsville for the next four years. In 1919, Huntsville was connected to an electric transmission network. The system drew electricity generated at dams on rivers called hydro power. The city of Huntsville bought the system, which by 1940 was serving Huntsville and Madison County, and contracted with Tennessee Valley Authority to purchase power generated from dams on the Tennessee River. The Huntsville Electric Utility Board was appointed to run the municipal system. Today, Huntsville Utilities distributes 3.9 billion kilowatt hours over 3,700 miles of wire to serve over 125,000 customers with electricity.
Between 1950 and 1970, Huntsville grew from a collection of textile villages to a metropolis that played a significant role in the American space program. Likewise, the utility infrastructure matched the growth. During the 1980′s, the expansion continued, but reached out into the county. That growth trend continues today with Huntsville Utilities providing water, gas and electricity to over a quarter of a million people in Madison and Marshall Counties.