The Land Trust’s Monte Sano Preserve consists of over 1,120 acres with 18 miles of public trails. Each and every acre is preserved for our enjoyment now and for future generations.
Monte Sano Preserve Bankhead Parking Lot:
From University Drive and Memorial Parkway, follow Pratt Avenue East, through Five Points business district. Continue through Five Points on Pratt and continue straight as Pratt changes to Bankhead Parkway. Parking lot is 1/2 mile past Toll Gate Road, on the right. Access to Bluff Line, Toll Gate, Old Railroad Bed, Fagan Springs and Old Railroad Bed trails.
About Old Railroad Bed Trail: One of the first 500 Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Projects 1.5 miles, moderate skill level Good for new hikers or the whole family, history comes alive on Monte Sano (Mountain of Health). The Old Railroad Bed Trail preserves what is left of the path of the steam locomotive that traved from the Huntsville Depot to the (no longer standing) Hotel Monte Sano from 1888 to 1896. Hikers will enjoy a numbered tour of the remaining hand-hewn trestles. Descriptive brochures are available at The Land Trust office.
The words “Monte Sano” mean “Mountain of Health” in Italian. The summer months in the late 1800’s saw yellow fever, cholera and diphtheria in epidemic proportions. Clean water and sanitary living conditions were found on the mountain and visitors’ health did improve. However, because the causes of these diseases were not yet fully understood, many again would become ill after returning home.
The Hotel Monte Sano, a three-story 223 room wooden structure of Queen Anne architecture, was built in 1886 to serve as a health resort for hundreds of people from the South, particularly Memphis, Atlanta, and Nashville. Patrons traveled the eight miles from the Huntsville Depot to the hotel in four hours by horse and carriage. A person suffering from an illness was in for a very difficult journey.
To better serve guests, the Monte Sano Railway was created. Built between May and August 1888, five hundred workers were paid $1.00 per day for twelve hours of work, six days a week. The train made three trips per day and took twenty minutes to travel the eight miles. Patrons paid 25 cents each way. The engine was disguised as a trolley car so that horses in downtown Huntsville wouldn’t be frightened. Shortly after completion, the train’s brake sand pipes choked – the wheels jumped the rails – and the train came to a quick stop. There was no damage to the passengers or the train, but the incident frightened potential riders. The railway was then used primarily for hauling supplies, but it went bankrupt in 1896. The tracks were salvaged and the trestles and bridges removed for firewood and building supplies.
The Hotel Monte Sano charged $11.00 for a one week stay, including meals. Resort amusements included horseback riding, two bowling alleys, croquet, billiards, and lawn tennis. The grounds had beautiful gardens.
The popular resort’s register showed guests from every state in the union and from several foreign countries. Visitors included philantropist William H. Vanderbilt, Viscount William Waldorf Astor, composer Walter Damrosch, and railroad financier Jay Gould.
However, once the cause and cure for yellow fever and cholera were discovered, a trip to the “Mountain of Health” was no longer necessary. Transportation problems and lack of patrons doomed the hotel and its last season was 1900.