During the 1960s, a rocket’s smoke trail included plenty of space race buzz and the primetime television animated program The Jetsons. At the same time, northern Alabama began its countdown as the launch pad for Space City USA, a theme park with time machines to the past and future that was planned as an eastern rival for California’s Disneyland.
The city of Huntsville, just south of the Tennessee border, was designated as mission control. The plans for Space City included a skyway ride, mushroom-shaped lunar restaurant, jet car ride, flying saucer and a simulated colony on the moon. The concept had park guests enter themed areas (the moon colony, a “Land of Oz,” the Lost World with dinosaurs and an Old South section) through time machines.
On January 18, 1964, an article in The Huntsville Times read: "Plans for a $5 million amusement park, with space as the central theme, were announced by officials of Space City USA…The park will be located on an 850-acre site surrounding Lady Ann Lake between Huntsville and Decatur."
The site was along Alabama Highway 20 near Madison. Today, the location would be Zierdt Road south of I-565. Space City USA had been in the planning stage for three years. It was scheduled to open during 1965.
Skylim of Alabama Inc. was selected to manage the project. The company had a theme park history, including Disneyland, Pleasure Island outside Boston, Six Flags Over Texas, Legend City near Phoenix and one of the most heralded and beloved parks—Freedomland U.S.A. in New York City. The company currently exists on paper, but details were not available about its present operations.
Land grading for the park started during late January 1964. According to the local newspaper: "Work is continuing on lowering the water in Lady Ann Lake approximately four feet to enable construction of Dead Man's Island, and the Side Wheeler Boat Ride."
The frenzy about this new theme park spread regionally, with additional media coverage appearing in the Memphis Commercial Appeal. One article included an aerial photo of the property and another picture of a little building called "the crooked house, in the Land of Oz, to be inhabited by witches."
The “crooked house” concept was a popular attraction at theme parks at the time. The structures were built at 25-degree angles to allow for optical illusions as people walked through its rooms. Water would seem to flow up instead of down and tin cans would roll uphill off tables and out the windows. Probably the most popular of the “crooked houses” was known as “Casa Loca,” a replica miner’s cabin at Freedomland.
A few small buildings were erected on the Space City property along with metal girders that may have been part of the frame for a volcano attraction. Space City also planned to have a train—a real train and not a created miniature version found in many parks today. During June 1964, the 1897 H.K. Porter locomotive Melodia B. was delivered to the park.
Space City Flight Aborted
Soon after, however, all construction systems halted at Space City. Lawsuits were filed by local contractors who were not paid. The project chairman blamed weather conditions for the suspended construction. The opening date was changed to the spring of 1967.
But, the park never opened. The Huntsville Times story that September 1967 described the overgrown site and a few remnants as "rusting into ruin." The train had "its windows shattered and its bell missing."
While some residents who remember the project do not recall any corruption leading to the mission becoming scuttled, other people indicated that money was wasted with extensive planning, meetings and business trips. Some people have hinted at unethical business operations.
The local newspaper condemned Space City as "an amusement park scheme which fell flat on its face and took some $2 million in capital with it." A published advertisement for an auction for the failed operation detailed what was available for a price: the train, five cars and track, a 60-horse carousel, a 1916 Model T Ford, three parcels of land, four "white structures called time capsules," an Old South railway station, one old mill house and "one crooked house."
Space City Today
Lady Ann Lake on the site that was base camp for Space City USA today provides water for a housing subdivision that occupies the property.
During house construction, workers found old concrete pier blocks, train rails, a few crossties, a dilapidated building and a sidewalk that now is near a clubhouse for the development. Originally, it was the concrete path for the proposed "Cave Man Car Ride."
The locomotive also survived. Melodia B. now belongs to the Pacific Coast Railroad in Santa Margarita, California.