It’s a fascinating footnote in Rocket City history. At the height of the space race, while Huntsville was focused on putting men on the moon, a group of local investors came up with the idea to build a Disneyland-style theme park here called Space City USA.
Construction began in 1964, just a long fly ball from where Town Madison is being built right now, and some of it is still there.
The headlines hyped its arrival, saying it'd be Alabama’s answer to Disneyland, a Space City playground and a multi-million-dollar theme park to turn Alabama into a traveler's mecca.
Our time-traveling guide is Lance George, a collector of Huntsville historic memorabilia, and the local authority on Space City USA, the “Never Never Land” that would never be opened. He maintains a Facebook page dedicated to the park.
“It’s really neat to actually look and see and feel a piece of Space City USA history,” said George.
This property is now the Edgewater neighborhood off Zierdt Road, with manicured lawns, walking trails and fishing holes on Lady Ann Lake.
“How many people know this is even here? Not many people,” said George.
People now enjoy a stroll along what was once the bed of the steam train attraction. That’s just one of the lost clues to this property’s past. Just up a hill outside the clubhouse, there's a mysterious, curving sidewalk-to-nowhere, hidden in the trees.
That's part of the track foundation for the Caveman ride. A check of an original map of the park shows that attraction was part of the “Lost World” land.
“The train was put up. The Caveman ride laid out. The volcano was under construction. Some of the little old west buildings were actually completed," said George.
Space City USA was the brainchild of local businessman, Hubert Mitchell. It was planned to be a space-themed amusement park built in the shadow of Redstone Arsenal, where hardware for real space travel was being developed.
Mitchell recognized America’s fast-growing fascination with all things space-related. He was also impressed by the success of another theme park pioneer in California.
“He (Hubert Mitchell) liked what Disney was doing, and I think he wanted his own special part of it,” said George.
In fact, the similarities to Disneyland are striking. Space City USA would be the first theme park in the southeast. Plans included shops, restaurants, a 10-story hotel and more than 20 attractions. Among them, a flying saucer ride, the caveman ride, sky buckets, a volcano, a carousel, riverboats and the train.
The owners sold stock to raise money, shooting for a May of 1965 opening. That was about the same time Walt Disney was developing Walt Disney World down in Orlando. Needless to say, despite his interest in space, Disney was not a fan of the competition.
“He would make, occasionally, a trip to the Redstone Arsenal area and did not officially make any visits out here. But, we’re sure his people were out here,” said George. “Disney was not a fan of this park.”
We’ll never know if Space City USA kept Walt Disney up at night, but if it did, it wasn’t for long. For one thing, Disney already had the world’s most notable rocket scientist working for him, Wernher von Braun. He was the one man whose support might have helped get Space City USA off the ground.
Then, about a third of the way into construction, the park went belly up. Costs were astronomical, and the dream of Space City USA proved to be out of this world. Everything was sold off.
Some pieces ended up in local homes, like the horses from the carousel. Other treasures are still being discovered. A sign that was outside the park’s construction trailer was found in a barn in Georgia just a couple years ago. George brought it back to the Rocket City.
Of course, Huntsville still ended up with the number one tourist attraction in the state, the Alabama Space and Rocket Center, which is now the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. It opened in 1970 and Space Camp launched there in 1982.