Prison City - 11/20/2007
Huntsville, Texas is the home of Sam Houston State University, a small state-funded university that boasts the likes of Dan Rather and Dana Andrews as alumni. The university is known primarily for its criminal justice program but also has long been recognized for teacher-education programs. Admission is not among the most selective of Texas' public universities and has long been known as a party school. However, SHSU has been able to attract distinguished faculty in several disciplines. Student population has grown to more than 16,000 students.
Census figures for the town may well be misleading, especially for retailers doing market research on Huntsville, since these figures include the inmate population of Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities in the city limits of Huntsville. These include the Huntsville Unit, known locally as the Walls, in downtown Huntsville, a maximum security penitentiary that also includes the death house, the state's lethal execution chamber. The Walls has a storied history from its east wing ghost to deadly attempted prison escapes.
Like SHSU, the prisons are profitable for the town, serving as Huntsville's major employers. Executions have the dubious distinction of boosting the local economy through the sale of goods and services to the sometimes numerous crowds of journalists who cover high profile lethal injections and the protests in favor and against the death penalty.
Despite its status as a prison town, Huntsville can be a wonderful place to raise children. It's a safe, close-knit community with programs for children such as summer activity classes sponsored by the city. Huntsville also has museums, parks, ball fields and community athletic programs for children and adults. Its proximity to the state park, national forest and man-made lakes makes it a good place for recreation. The town added a distinctive feature along Interstate 45, that runs from Houston through Huntsville en route to Dallas, a 75-foot-tall statue of General Sam Houston, the town's most famous early resident.
Huntsville has many prominent citizens whose ancestors were among the founders of the town. Despite the ascendance of a small black middle class, racism and poverty are still an issue in some areas of Huntsville and Walker County.