Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The bustling city of Huntsville in 1870

In researching the Rump(h) family, I noticed that lived in the city of Huntsville, Alabama in 1870, before moving to a farm in the nearby community of Big Cove by 1880.  This is of interest to me for a couple of reasons.  First, I work in Huntsville and live in a suburban area within a couple of miles of where they lived in Big Cove.  I was pretty surprised to find that my ancestors had lived so close to my current home before moving to my hometown of Tuscumbia.  Second, almost all of my ancestors were farmers, with several rural preachers scattered in.  Some of them were bona fide pioneers who rubbed shoulders with Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.  I have run across few living in an actual city, especially in the 1800's.

As I scanned their census neighbors for clues, I was surprised by how cosmopolitan 1870 Huntsville was in terms of the origin of its citizens.  Living here, I get a bit of a sense of how it was back then from historic buildings and old pictures and so forth.  I imagined a sleepy cotton town with a lot of families who had been here since the town's settlement in the early 1800's, or other people resettled from adjoining states.  But the census shows people from many states and countries.  Just the page that lists the Rumps and the two adjoining pages list several German families, and individuals from Ireland and France, as well as families from Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York, in addition to the expected people from Alabama, Tennessee and other nearby states.  This area contained a mixture of whites and blacks, often in the same household, where the recently-freed blacks were working as cooks, nurses, or farm hands.

The list of professions is quite interesting, too.  Within a few pages we see: dry goods merchant, coach maker, general laborer, barkeeper (Apparently 18-year olds could have this job.), stone mason, dining room servant, many cooks, dress makers, a saddler, a confectioner (Mmmm!), several cotton merchants, a furniture merchant, hotel keepers, wash women, a minister, a music teacher, a life insurance agent, a printer (with apprentice and a pressman), seamstresses, a banker, an architect, an "editor and advocate", and a Daguerrian artist (photographer).  So it seems Huntsville had a surprisingly lively economy back then.

People in wagons outside a clothing store in Huntsville, Alabama, c. 1863-1865.
Credit: Alabama Dept. of Archives and History
They were living next to another German family named Otto.  Interestingly, they named their son born this same year Otto.  It seems likely he was named for this family.  Perhaps they even knew each other previously and that is the reason the Rumps came to Huntsville.  I am hoping I can track down this family's descendants and see if they know anything about how their family came to America.

The library had an 1870 city directory.  The Rumps had not yet arrived in America, but it has several of their neighbors.  A lot of them lived on the same block in 1860 as boarders, so perhaps it is the same place the Rumps lived.  (The census does not list street addresses.)  The location was the East side of Washington Street, between Clinton and Randolph, just off the courthouse square.  I went by there to snap some pictures and was told the current buildings date to the early 1900's.  Hopefully, I can find some historic pictures of that neighborhood from the late 1800's.
Washington St. today, with buildings from the early 1900's.


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