The U.S. Space & Rocket Center
The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is the number one tourist attraction in Alabama. Visitors can experience dozens of demonstrations, hand-on exhibits, simulators, and movies in an IMAX theater, all of which focus on the past, present, and future of space exploration.
Just some of the many rides and simulators at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center include the Space Walk, which is a motion-based simulator that makes participants feel as if they are on a mission to complete the International Space Station. The Space Station is another motion-based simulator that blasts participants 140 feet (43 meters) into the air with four Gs of force. The G-Force Accelerator lets participants experience three times the force of gravity while spinning on the accelerator. At the Mars Climbing Wall, participants can climb a mock-up of a cliff face on a Martian volcano, or on Olympus Mons.
The grounds of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center include Rocket Park, the world's largest collection of rocketry. Other exhibits include an SR-71 Blackbird spy plane and an actual space shuttle where visitors can stand behind a "full stack"--the space shuttle, external fuel tank and two solid rocket boosters.
The Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Occupying 67 acres (27 hectares) among the rolling hills south of the downtown area, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens is a nice place to visit in order to relax and enjoy plants, flowers, and landscape design. It is the most visited free attraction in Alabama.
The botanical gardens contains more than 12,000 plants and features over 30 themed gardens with different categories of plants classified into one of three types: Gardens of Collections, Gardens of Nature, and Gardens of Culture. Gardens of Collections focus on plants from one genus, family, or other identified group. Gardens of Nature feature trees and plants native to the southeastern United States. And Gardens of Culture showcase particular styles of landscape design or aspects of human culture.
There are miles of walking trails that wind through the gardens and trees, more than 30 works of outdoor sculpture, and benches and swings conveniently situated to offer a place to rest or just enjoy nature. Visitors can also visit the Garden Center, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens Library (which is the largest public horticultural library in the United States), the Conservatory (which is the largest glass greenhouse in the Southeast), the Gatehouse Gift Shop, and the Café de France.
One of the most popular places on the garden grounds is the Japanese Garden (pictured here) which includes a Japanese tea house and Zen garden.
The Southern Museum of Flight
Founded in 1966, the Southern Museum of Flight is one of the largest and most comprehensive aviation museums in the South. Its main focus is on civilian, military, and experimental aircraft, as well as the history of early aviation and the pioneers who made flight possible.
The museum's exhibits are housed in a 75,000-square-foot (6,966-square-meter) facility which contains more than 90 aircraft, 38 engines, 200 models, artifacts, and hundreds of photographs and paintings. Some of the more noteworthy aircraft include a Fokker D-VII and a MiG-15. The collection of artifacts includes pieces from the Red Baron, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, the Tuskegee Airmen, and the light bulb used by the Wright Brothers on their first night flights.
Major exhibits feature certain aspects of aviation history and include Korean War Jets, the Tuskegee Airmen, the Lake Murray B-25 (a Second World War-era craft that was recovered from the depths of Lake Murray in South Carolina after being submerged for 62 years), Vietnam War Helicopters, and Huff- Daland Crop Dusters.
The Southern Museum of Flight also houses the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame, which contains over 65 biographical plaques honoring inductees who have made significant contributions to aviation.
The Twickenham Historic District
The Twickenham Historic District is just one of three historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places in Huntsville. Twickenham, which was an early name for the City of Huntsville, was named after a London suburb where the poet Alexander Pope lived. He was a relative of one of the early settlers in Huntsville. Twickenham is the largest antebellum district in Alabama, with many fine examples of early nineteenth-century homes in Federal, Italianate, and Classical architectural styles. Many were designed by Virginia-born architect George Steele. The oldest home in the district dates from 1814, and most were built around 1818.
The city's early attorneys, bankers, and merchants built fashionable brick homes in the area, many of which were seized by the Union army during the American Civil War. This probably saved them from being destroyed during the war.
The Twickenham Historic District is roughly bounded by Randolph Avenue on the north, Lowe Avenue on the south, California Street on the east, and Franklin Street on the west.
The SR-71 Blackbird
One of the exhibits at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center is the SR-71 Blackbird. Developed for the U.S. Air Force by Lockheed-Martin Skunkworks more than 30 years ago, it is still the world's fastest and highest-flying aircraft. Able to travel three times the speed of sound at 2,000 miles per hour (3,200 kilometers per hour), the SR-71 Blackbird is the fastest aircraft in the world able to take off under its own power. Its maximum ceiling is 85,000 feet (26,000 meters), and maximum range is 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) unrefueled.
The Birmingham Museum of Art
Founded in 1951, the Birmingham Museum of Art is the largest municipal museum in the Southeast, with over 24,000 works of art from the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Its collection is housed in a building that was designed by the architectural firm of Warren, Knight and Davis. Completed in 1959, the building has since undergone several major expansions, giving it its current total of 180,000 square feet (16,723 square meters) of space.
The collection, which dates from ancient to modern times, includes paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, decorative arts, and textiles. The museum contains one of the finest collections of Asian art in the Southeast, and its collection of Vietnamese ceramics is arguably the most comprehensive in the nation. And it houses the world's largest museum collection of Wedgwood china. The museum also has an impressive collection of paintings, ranging from Renaissance and Baroque paintings from the thirteenth century to the 1700s, to contemprary American works. Some of the more notable artists whose works are represented in the museum's collection include Georgia O'Keeffe, Frederic Remington, and Andy Warhol.
Other features of the Birmingham Museum of Art include its multi-level Charles W. Ireland Sculpture Garden and the Clarence B. Hanson, Jr. Library, one of the leading art-research libraries in the Southeast.
The Birmingham Museum of Art also hosts over 15 traveling exhibitions and more than 250 special events per year.
The Huntsville Museum of Art
The Huntsville Museum of Art is northern Alabama's premier visual arts center, and has been named as one of the state's top ten destinations by the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel.
The museum was established in 1970, but did not put on its first gallery exhibit until 1973. Its collection was first housed in the Von Braun Center in 1975, and it was moved to its present location in 1998. The museum's new building has a total of 52,000 square feet (4,831 square meters), including 15,000 square feet (1,394 square meters) of gallery space.
The museum's seven galleries house a 2,300-piece permanent collection divided into two categories: American art and regional artists, and other arts from Europe, Asia, and Africa. Notable artists represented in the American collection include Andy Warhol and James Whistler. Examples of works from around the world include European and Japanese prints, Chinese glassware, and African sculptures. The museum also features the world's largest collection of silver animal figures and a Southern photography collection which contains over 200 works.
In addition to is permanent collection, the Huntsville Museum of Art offers a variety of temporary exhibitions throughout the year, including traveling exhibits and the works of regionally and nationally known artists.
Visitors can also shop in the Museum Store and even take classes in the Museum Academy.
The Weeden House Museum
What is now the Weeden House Museum was built in 1819 by Henry Bradford. The two-story brick home was built in the Federal style, a type of of architecture popular at the time. It was later owned by Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John McKinley. However, the house is better known as the birthplace and home of poet and artist Maria Howard Weeden, whose poetry and paintings captured the essence of nineteenth-century Southern culture. Dr. William Weeden purchased the house in 1845, and Maria Howard Weeden, the youngest of the Weeden children, was born in the house in 1846. She later went on to become a noted watercolorist and poet.
During the American Civil War, the house was requisitioned for use by Union officers, which probably saved it from being destroyed.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Weeden House is now a fine museum that depicts Southern life in the 1840s. It is furnished with period antiques from the mid-1800s, and prints of Maria Howard Weeden's watercolors and books of her poetry are on sale in the gift shop.
The Sloss Furnaces
Ironmaking was one of the first industries to be developed in Birmingham because the raw materials needed for making iron--iron ore, limestone, and coal--are found in abundance in the hills and mountains surrounding the city.
For over 90 years, those raw materials were turned into pig iron at the Sloss Furnaces. The heart of the Sloss operation was a pair of blast furnaces used to melt down the raw materials into iron. In addition to the blast furnaces, the ironmaking process involved blowers to pump blasts of air; stoves to heat the air; boilers to produce steam to drive the equipment; and a network of pipes to carry steam, water, and gas.
The Sloss Furnaces closed in 1971, but have since been developed into a unique community center, hosting concerts, dramas, and special events, with the east cast shed having been transformed into an amphitheater.
Since the facility closed, there have been numerous sightings of apparitions and reports of unexplained voices and sounds. This prompted two popular televisions programs, Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures to film episodes here, making the Sloss Furnaces a must-see destination for those interested in the paranormal.
The Sloss Funaces have been designated a National Historic Landmark.
The EarlyWorks Children's History Museum
The EarlyWorks Children's History Museum is the largest hands-on history museum in the South. Exhibits portray Alabama's early history in ways that are fun, and at the same time educational, for children.
All the exhibits are designed for touching and learning. Older children can explore The Gallery, where they can hear stories told by the Talking Tree, play giant instruments at the Alabama Grandstand, build a house at the interactive architectural exhibit, explore a 46-foot (14-meter) river keelboat, buy and trade at the General Store, sign Alabama's constitution at the courthouse, learn facts about the state from the Talking Clock, and try on clothing from the 1800s at the Federal House.
Toddlers and younger children will enjoy Biscuit's Backyard, which features touch-and learn exhibits, including a general store, barn, garden, post office, treehouse, water table, and even karaoke.
The Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame
The Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame was founded in 1978 to honor great jazz musicians with ties to Alabama. The museum opened in 1993 in the historic Art-Deco Carver Theatre, one of the few theaters in Birmingham that allowed blacks as patrons before desegregation.
The museum contains 2,200 square feet (204 square meters) of exhibit space, and features jazz memorabilia that includes instruments, paintings, quilts, and personal effects from such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, W.C. Handy, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Nat "King" Cole, Erskine Hawkins, and Sun Ra, to name but a few.
One of the missions of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame is to educate and cultivate a general appreciation of the medium of jazz and its history. To that end, some the programs it sponsors include jazz performances in its 504-seat theater and around the Birmingham area, school visits by jazz musicians, free jazz classes every Saturday, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame Student All-Star Band, "Fun with Jazz" educational programs, and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame Jazz Band Festival.
The Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens
The two-story Greek Revival Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens is a fine example of the antebellum plantation houses that were once a common sight in the South. Unfortunately, many of these beautiful homes were destroyed during the American Civil War. The Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens is the only antebellum mansion left in Birmingham.
The house was built between 1845 and 1850 by Judge William S. Mudd, one of the ten founders of Birmingham. It was originally located in the town of Elyton, the former county seat of Jefferson County. As nearby Birmingham grew and expanded, it eventually enveloped and incorporated Elyton, which no longer exists as an independent municipality.
During the American Civil War, the mansion was used as a regional headquarters by Union troops as they planned the burning of the University of Alabama.
Nowadays, the Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens serves as a decorative arts museum and features a collection of nineteenth-century furniture, silver, textiles, and paintings. It is situated on six acres (two hectares) of landscaped grounds in a pleasant neighborhood west of downtown Birmingham.
The Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Birmingham Zoo
Opened in 1955, the Birmingham Zoo is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Alabama. It is situated on 122 acres (49 hectares) of wooded land south of the downtown area and features over 800 animals representing more than 200 species from six continents.
Special habitats include the Alligator Swamp; the Savannah, which recreates the African veldt and includes giraffes, greater kudus, gazelles, and ostriches; the Flamingo Lagoon; the Macaw Plaza which features these large, colorful parrots; the Children's Zoo; and an interactive aviary where visitors can feed and pet lorikeets and parrots. Another popular attraction is the sea lion show that is staged at different times throughout the day.
In addition, situated among the grounds of the zoo are different buildings which house exhibits restricted to certain families or categories of animals, including the Predator House, the Primate House, and the Reptile House.
The Statue of Liberty
No, this is not New York City. Birmingham prides itself on having the "other" Statue of Liberty. The 31-foot (nine-meter), ten-ton (10,160-kilogram) statue was commissioned by Frank Park Stamford, the founder of the Liberty National Life Insurance Company, to serve as a company symbol.
The bronze replica is one-fifth the size of New York City's more famous statue. It was created by sculptors Archer and Lee Lawrie. Casting was done in Sommerville Haute Marine, France in 1959, and was placed on top of the insurance company's home office in Birmingham shortly thereafter. In 1989, the Statue of Liberty was moved to its present location.
The Saturn V Rocket
Approaching Huntsville on Interstate 565, one of the first things visitors will see in the distance is the 363-foot (111-meter) Saturn V rocket, which towers over the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. The Saturn V rocket was built for NASA and used by the Marshall Space Flight Center for dynamic testing before being used to transport astronauts to the moon.
The Saturn V rocket, which has been designated a National Historic Landmark, is the centerpiece of Rocket Park, the world's largest and most comprehensive collection of rocketry. Former astronaut and Senator John Glenn called Rocket Park "the finest rocket collection in the world."
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