The Walker County Historical Commission formally dedicated the Texas State Historical Marker, outlining the history of the seven hills on which Huntsville rests, during a ceremony on Saturday.
The marker is on Avenue M between the food court and City Hall parking lot. The ceremony featured a 1K and 5K run prior to the ceremony sponsored by the Seven Hills Running Club.
Sam Houston settled in Huntsville because the hills reminded him of his boyhood home in Maryville, Tennessee. The hills were formed by a geological feature known as the Kisatchie Wold, which is a continuous ridge that runs from the Mississippi River flood plain to the Rio Grande Valley.
“The Kisatchie Wold became a sort of natural highway through Louisiana and East Texas,” commission member Donna Coffen said. “The Coushatta Indians established a trail along the wold for hunting, trading and contact with Spanish officials.”
A local hill known as Capitol Hill was named in 1845 when Huntsville was considered the seat of state government. Austin College occupied the hill from 1850-1876, with Sam Houston State designating the spot from 1879 to today. The hill at 7th Street and University Avenue, known as Cotton Gin Hill, was the site of several gins and became the center of ginning and shipping. It later became a center for education, with Andrew Female College in 1852.
“Because Sam Houston lived here and government was operating locally, Huntsville residents assumed it would become the state capitol and named it accordingly,” Coffen said. “Obviously, Austin became the capitol and the hill became symbolic for local education.”
Smith Hill, located northwest of downtown, is named for pioneer plantation owner and merchant, James Carroll Smith, whose home later housed Bishop Ward Normal and Collegiate Institute, an African-American Methodist Episcopal School. Depot Hill, located at 15th and University Avenue, was the terminus of the tap line to the Houston and Great Northern Railroad. When the Texas prison system was established in 1849, deceased inmates were buried on the hill. The hill became known as Peckerwood Hill and the cemetery was named Capt. Joe Byrd Prison Cemetery.
“Smith was instrumental in bringing the state penitentiary to Huntsville,” Coffen added. “Depot Hill became important locally because it used to pass seven miles away, but residents raised funds to have it pass through Huntsville.”
Gospel Hill, a historically African-American neighborhood was the site of frequent tent revivals. Knowledge Hill, near Sam Houston Normal Institute, was a neighborhood for college professors and a divide between the San Jacinto and Trinity River watersheds.
“The wooded areas near Knowledge Hill were an attraction for professors,” Coffen said. “Gospel Hill hosted revivals through the mid-20th century and gained acclaim.”