Mountain-lake setting heightens the wow factor of Guntersville’s historic downtown
Historic places tourism in the small northeast Alabama city of Guntersville (with over 30 photos)
I always look forward to a trip to downtown Guntersville.
The oldest part of this Tennessee River port city sits on the tip of a hilly peninsula. Both the lake and Sand Mountain are in view from several spots. The main street, Gunter Avenue, rests on the slope of a ridge.
Whether you’re there to enjoy the water, dine, bike or just pass through, those mountain-lake surroundings provide a pleasant setting you can’t help but enjoy.
But as a sucker for all things historic, my head is filled with history-related questions every time I approach the city, whether it’s from Veterans Memorial Bridge or from Sand Mountain.
What was it like before the Union soldiers burned most of it during the Civil War?
What was it like before the dam was completed in 1939, and the creeks and fields surrounding downtown Guntersville became part of Alabama’s largest lake?
I can only imagine what it was like back then, and Guntersville’s downtown certainly has an eyeful of relics to keep your imagination engaged in those kind of questions.
Guntersville is the county seat of Marshall County. The Downtown Guntersville Historic District was accepted into the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. At the time, the c. 1963 courthouse was not one of the 56 buildings considered to be a contributing historic structure, but it is the focal point of the district.
There are a few interesting 1880s-1920s homes around the edges of the historic downtown.
Gunter Avenue and Blount Avenue are also U.S. Highway 431. They are one-way streets in the historic downtown area, with Gunter hosting southbound and Blount hosting northbound traffic.
Alabama Highway 69, 79 and 227 also bring traffic to Guntersville which is always bustling with activity during the daylight hours.
Due to the one-way traffic and easy street crossing, the historic downtown has sidewalk hiking potential that is better than most small cities in the South. You may actually see others out just enjoying the walk, which is rare in a region where 99.9 percent of people only move about city streets by automobile.
On the day I took most of the photos for this article, I started at the c. 1917 First United Methodist Church and hiked the Gunter Avenue sidewalks to Scott Street, then down to the corner of Blount Avenue to the c. 1875 Henry-Jordan House, and then back again. It was just a mile, round trip.
The Henry-Jordan House and the c. 1895 Henry-Graden-Smith House, which is a big pink house across the street, are both listed individually on the National Register.
Pictured above, from top left: the 1917 Guntersville First United Methodist Church, the 1895 Henry-Graden-Smith House, and a couple showing the 1875 Henry-Jordan House.
Located at 353 Blount Avenue, I believe the c. 1854 Col. Montgomery Gilbreath House is the only pre-Civil War structure in the district. It’s currently cared for by the Guntersville Historical Society. An interesting c. 1890 house sits next door.
c. 1854 Col. Montgomery Gilbreath House
One of the highlights of the commercial part of the district is the 400 block of Gunter Avenue. Bookended by the three-story c. 1926 bank building at 400 Gunter and the c. 1910 two-story building at 460 Gunter, and across the street from the courthouse, the colorful block includes some of the most interesting structures.
400 block gallery
The c. 1940 marble clad post office building, which is listed on the National Register individually, and the c. 1933 red-brick Glover Hotel sit side-by-side in the 500 block.
Other buildings listed apart from the downtown historic district include:
c. 1936 Alabama National Guard Armory
c. 1926 Guntersville City School (Old Rock School)
Guntersville Hydroelectric Project
c. 1928 Saratoga Victory Mill
The old armory is now an excellent home for the Guntersville Museum, and the old school is home to the community theatre known as the Whole Backstage. Follow the signs on Loveless Avenue to find side by side in a lovely ridge-side setting.
Finally, the c. 1892 train depot has been restored and is also currently cared for by the Guntersville Historical Society.
C. 1892 train depot
If you are in downtown Guntersville to dine, to shop, to see historic sights, or you’re just passing through, it would be worth it to take a little time to enjoy the water. My favorite place to do that is anywhere along the Sunset Drive walking trail, a 3.4 mile linear greenspace found on the north side of the ridge. It’s also a good place to see bald eagles.
Sunset Drive walking trail in Guntersville
For more information and photos of the Sunset Drive walking trail, see my article: Top 16 public spots for enjoying Guntersville Lake.
The top 25 downtowns in North Alabama for heritage tourism
Spotting bald eagles at Guntersville Lake
Enjoy a self-guided bald eagle adventure at Guntersville Lake
A hiker’s guide to the trails at Lake Guntersville State Park
Experiencing the TVA Honeycomb Trail at Lake Guntersville
A Huntsville-area Southern outing, it’s easy to get to the Downtown Guntersville Historic District from the region’s larger cities including Birmingham (63 miles), Chattanooga (88 miles) and Atlanta (143 miles).
My research sources for this article include Guntersville-related applications to the National Register of Historic Places found at www.nps.gov/subjects/nationalregister.