Decatur is home to two unique historic districts and boasts the largest concentration in the State of Alabama of Victorian-era, craftsman and bungalow homes. Many of the homes in Old Decatur and New Decatur/Albany date from the late 1880’s and early 20th century. As you view the intricate details on the Victorian houses, you’ll see why they have been affectionately called “painted ladies.” Both districts are on the National Register of Historic Places. Enjoy your tour of this charming city. - Lee Sentell Alabama Tourism Director
There are two tour options: Old Decatur and Albany. Each tour takes about an hour.
Unless otherwise noted, the buildings are privately owned and can only be viewed from the street or sidewalk.
The Old Decatur Historic District dates back to the town’s settlement in 1817; at that time it was called Rhodes Ferry Landing after Dr. Henry W. Rhodes, an early landowner who operated the only ferry across the Tennessee River at Decatur. The city was renamed Decatur in 1821 in honor of Commodore Stephen Decatur. After the naval hero was killed in a duel in 1820, President Monroe directed the town be named for him. Official incorporation took place in 1826. With a bank, railroad, and river as drivers, Decatur began growing between 1830 and 1860. The Civil War, however, drastically changed the landscape of this community. Those strategic assets made the city prime real estate for Union and Confederate armies during the war. It has been estimated that the town changed hands eight times.
In fact, in 1862 the Union troops took Decatur, evacuated the city, burned the railroad bridge, used wood from many structures to build their fortifications, and when leaving town in 1864, burned most of the remaining buildings. It took years for Decatur to recover following the War Between the States, as it is known in the south. One of the most important developments in the community’s resurgence was the purchase by Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company of track extending from Montgomery to Nashville by way of Decatur in 1871. By 1886, 640 railroad cars passed through L&N’s Decatur rail every day. Just as the government and economy began to rebound, yellow fever hit the area in 1878. The disease killed 51 people, but hundreds more – including the mayor – left town to avoid infection. Many never returned. 2
Stop 1. Historic Bank Street A good place to start the tour is on the north end of historic Bank Street with the Old State Bank at your back. The first block of buildings on the east side of Bank Street dates to the reconstruction following the Civil War in the late 1870’s and 80’s. The remaining Bank Street buildings are newer due to various fires that destroyed the downtown. As you walk down the block, notice the remnants of bricks and rails down the center where trolleys once connected the downtowns of Old Decatur and Albany.
Stop 2. Simp McGhee’s - 725 Bank Street On the west corner of Bank and LaFayette Streets, you’ll see Simp McGhee’s – a restaurant named after quite a character from Decatur’s history. Simp was a riverboat captain in the 1880’s who is renowned for having a beer-swilling pet pig for a drinking companion. His diversified Decatur holdings included a saloon here on Bank Street and possibly an interest in a house of ill repute. There are many stories about Simp, but the most famous is his relationship with Kate Lackner, known as “Miss Kate”. She was married and the mother of a young son when Simp met and fell in love with her. Simp and Kate never married, but it is believed he set her up in business in what was called a “gentleman’s sporting house.” It was said, too, that Miss Kate had the loveliest ladies in all of the Tennessee Valley. She paraded her girls up and down Bank Street on Sunday afternoons, first in horse-drawn carriages then in convertibles or “open automobiles.”
Stop 3. Old Hargrove & Murdock Grocery - 502 Bank Street On the corner of Bank and Cherry Streets is a charming building built in 1897 on land owned by the Decatur Mineral and Land Company. For “old timers” it is best remembered as the location of Hargrove & Murdock Grocery circa 1925 until 1942. During Decatur’s earlier and wilder days, though, the building housed a brothel. The nine upstairs rooms were named after flowers, identifying the women who worked there. The main level features original arched windows on the west side and oval windows – believed to be original – on the south side. On the inside walls where the exterior brick is exposed visitors might see fibers in the plaster. They are horsehair, used in the late 19th century as a support and bonding material in plaster applications. 4
Stop 4. The Hamil House - 422 Oak Street Striking with its brick and stone arched doorway, this house was built in 1929 by J.Y. Hamil. With its steep roof, gables and tall, tapered chimney, it is typical of several English Cottage style houses built in the 1920’s in the Old Decatur area.
Stop 5. John T. Banks Building - 402 Oak Street Civil War veteran, druggist and early city leader John T. Banks built the brick structure in 1887. The building was at the center of a political storm in Morgan County in 1891. When a vote declared Decatur as the county seat, residents moved records surreptitiously by horse and buggy at night from Somerville. Originally three stories, the Banks Building housed the courthouse for two years while a permanent courthouse on Ferry Street was being built. Later, the building housed a hospital and retail store. After a fire in 1915, the third story was removed and the building was mainly used for apartments and boarding rooms until the 1970’s. Restored in 2002, this historic building is now office space.
Stop 7. The Leadingham House 501 Line Street The small cottage with a charming groundlevel porch was built prior to 1875 for two maiden sisters. Rebecca Leadingham operated a private school there while sister Louise was librarian at the nearby Carnegie Library.
Stop 8. The Collier Home 511 Line Street The Collier Home was built after the town clerk, E.W. Collier, married a sister of the Leadinghams in 1885. This two-story house shows Queen Anne influences.
Stop 9. Japanese Garden at Frazier Park Stop 6. Shadowlawn - 504 Line Street The stately white frame house surrounded by towering oaks that inspired its name is Shadowlawn. It was built around 1874 by Dr. William Gill. One of the oldest practicing physicians in the State of Alabama at the time, Dr. Gill died attending patients during Decatur’s last major Yellow Fever epidemic in 1888. 5
To the south side of Shadowlawn is a wonderful place to take a break, Frazier Park, named for a Decatur business leader who was instrumental in restoring Old Decatur. On the west end of the park is a traditional Japanese garden made possible by a generous donation to the City of Decatur by one of our local industries, Daikin America Corporation. Don’t miss the calming water feature in the center.
Stop 10. Judge Seybourn Lynne Home 503 Ferry Street This comfortable home with a wrap-around porch was built in 1925 and was home to one of Decatur’s prominent leaders, Judge Seybourn Lynne. He was appointed to a federal judgeship in 1945 by Harry Truman and served for 55 years on the bench until his death in 2000 at the age of 93.
Judge Lynne played an important role in several Civil Rights rulings. He served as part of a three-judge panel that issued a ruling that helped to desegregate buses and brought to an end the Montgomery bus boycott. In 1963, Judge Lynne issued an order to thenGovernor George Wallace stating that he could not deny African-Americans their right to enroll at the University of Alabama. It was enforced when President John F. Kennedy called upon the state’s National Guard to assist the students in enrolling.
Stop 12. The J.T. Jones House 601 Ferry Street The J.T. Jones House, or as it’s often called, “The Gingerbread House,” was built in 1899 by a cotton broker. The home is an excellent example of the Queen Anne style of Victorian architecture. A New York artist was commissioned to carve a marble mantle for the main parlor when the house was built.
Stop 11. The Williamson House 517 Ferry Street This large Victorian home was built in 1903 by stockbroker Ge orge Williamson. Notice the ma ny architectural details. The leaded glass front door is especially be autiful.
Mrs. Blanche Jones was a highly respected member of the community. Her niece – then 83 – told this favorite story about a young Blanche. There was a wealthy family that lived on Line Street who had an only child, a grown son who was spoiled rotten. He never worked, just partied and played all of the time. He craved Miss Blanche’s approval so to impress her he would mow her lawn without being asked or leave candy and flowers on her porch. One day he came up to her and asked her if he got sober would he go to Heaven; she looked him in the eye and said, “No, you’ll just go to Hell sober!” 6
Stop 13. The Wert-Martin House 602 Line Street This home has been bricked and remodeled several times since being constructed in 1886. The hitching post, placed out front for Judge Thomas Wert’s horse and buggy, remains. The home and quarter-block lot were later bought by Ben F. Martin.
Stop 14. Fort Nash - 522 Oak Street This house is known by its nickname “Fort Nash” because of its rare International Art Deco design. The house was designed in 1939 by the head of the Architecture Department at Auburn University and given as a wedding gift from Mrs. Nash to her daughter. The home features solid limestone walls with glass brick windows and accents. The circular entry leads to a semi-circular room. The house sports a full basement with a shuffleboard court and glass brick bar with a full soda fountain.
Stop 15. The Harris House - 701 Line Street The Harris House shows evidence of the Edwardian influence popular when A.J. Harris, son of lawyer-Congressman C.C. Harris, built this house in 1905.
Stop 16. The Moseley House 618 Line Street The best example of the Second Empire style in Decatur, the Moseley House features a Mansard roof, handsome double walnut doors and floor-length windows. Note the Victorian detailing around the porch and upper roofline. The house was built circa 1887 by Capt. William Moseley, the largest property owner in town.
Stop 17. Sears Kit Homes 306 & 312 LaFayette Street In the middle of the block on the right are two single-story houses. If you look closely, you can see that they were identical. They are Sears Kit houses and were purchased in 1910. The kits, delivered by rail car, included everything: floors, walls, windows, even trim work. The first complete Sears Kit homes were marketed by Sears & Roebuck in 1908, and eventually Sears offered 370 different models of residential homes that ranged from small bungalows at $500 per kit to larger homes costing $5,000. Buyers of a Sears Kit home saved about one third of the typical construction costs of their era. An instruction catalogue was included, but to help make construction even easier, every piece of lumber was lettered or numbered.
Stop 18. Gibson House 305 LaFayette Street This truly Victorian style home that was “House Plan of the Year” in 1900 for Home and Garden Magazine was built in 1901. For many years the house was vacant and suffered from neglect and vandalism, but survived due to the quality of its materials and workmanship.
Stop 20. The Carnegie Visual Arts Center 207 Church Street Completed in September of 1904, the Carnegie Library of Decatur was one of the 2,509 libraries built by the railroad tycoon and millionaire philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. At the turn of the century, Carnegie began donating money to non-profit, educational organizations. Starting with a large library system in Pittsburgh, with a donation of $1 million, Carnegie began to fund libraries throughout the nation. Decatur’s Carnegie Library is an example of one of the classic Carnegie buildings. Originally about 3,500 square feet and costing $8,500, the building served as Decatur’s library from 1904 until 1973. When the main library outgrew the facility the Carnegie became the children’s library.
Stop 19. The Todd House 215 LaFayette Street The Todd House is one of only four surviving buildings from the Civil War; it was used then as a storage facility. Dating to 1836, it was originally a two-room Georgian house. The front door and sidelights are original. Several additions have been made to the rear of the house. Today it is considered a “hall and parlor” style house with a hall that runs from the front door to the back door with parlors opening off the hall.
Beginning in 1999, the Decatur Arts Council had begun to share with the community the dream for a renovated Carnegie Library that would serve as a visual and cultural arts center and education facility. Construction and restoration of The Carnegie Visual Arts Center was completed in 2003. Today, the center features local and traveling exhibits. The center is open to the public and there is no admission charge. 8
Stop 21. First United Methodist Church - 805 Canal Street The sanctuary you see now at First United Methodist Church was dedicated on Easter Sunday in 1899. The three large, stained glass windows cost $450. The Methodist Episcopal Church – South, as it was then known, raised a sanctuary as early as 1835 and was the earliest congregation in Decatur. That first building was a one-room brick structure. A later house of worship was burned by Union soldiers during the Civil War; the federal government later reimbursed the congregation for the damage. In 1886 the Reverend John Harmon Nichols – a crippled veteran of the Confederate 16th Tennessee Volunteers – arrived and determined to build a church in Decatur. He kept that vow and built a “neat little church” that cost $2,200. That structure immediately predated the sanctuary that stands before you now.
Stop 22. The Old State Bank - 925 Bank Street The Old State Bank was built in 1833 at a cost of $9,842. It opened that same year as a branch of the Alabama State Bank and was profitable until 1837. After the bank accumulated outstanding debts of over $1 million, its franchise was revoked and it closed in 1842. The failure was blamed on “political shenanigans” and poor lending practices, though an economic depression that struck in 1837 also played a part. From its closure until 1901, it was a private residence for Dr. Cantwell.
In 1939, it was renovated for use as a museum and civic hall. The City of Decatur purchased the property in 1982. At some point, the building was obscured by an ugly brick façade. A demolition crew was contracted to tear it down. It was soon obvious that something unusual was present when the wrecking ball bounced off in spots. Five limestone columns – which are believed to have been quarried at a plantation in Limestone County – had been hidden behind bricks for generations. A few of the 100-ton columns still carry scars, not only from the wrecking ball, but also from rifle balls fired during Civil War skirmishes.
The Old State Bank played a significant role in the influence and development of architectural style in Alabama until the Civil War by combining elements of the Federal style with Greek-Revival. It is the oldest standing bank building in Alabama and because the Union Army used the bank for a hospital, it is one of only four buildings in Decatur that survived the burning of the town.
On the back of the bank in the garden area is a small, detached building built on the foundation of the bank’s original kitchen. As was common in the South, kitchens were detached from the living quarters to minimize the heat in the summers and to reduce the spread of accidental fires.
1972, the Old State Bank was named to the National Register of Historic Places. The bank is open for free tours Monday through Friday.
Stop 23. The Dancy-Polk House - 901 Railroad Street NW Just outside the district is one of the houses that survived the burning of the town during the Civil War – the Dancy-Polk House that was built in 1829. You can see this home from the western end of the parking lot for the Old State Bank, near the white metal fence. There is a pedestrian walking bridge across the railroad tracks if you would like to get a closer look. The Dancy-Polk House was built by architect Christopher Cheatham for town pioneer Col. Frank Dancy as his home and later became the Polk Hotel, a popular spot for railroad travelers debarking from the L&N passenger depot still visible next door. The simple, symmetrical Federal-style home incorporated yellow pine with chestnut columns. During the Civil War, Union forces used the site as a headquarters. In 1881, outlaws Dick Little and Frank James, brother of Jesse, spent several days at the hotel under assumed names. In the early 1970’s, restoration by private owners began. Surprisingly, most of the Palladian-influenced house’s original wood and plaster remain. Today, it is a private residence.
Stop 24. Rhodes Ferry Park You may want to visit Rhodes Ferry Park, a beautiful public park on the Tennessee River. Oak Street – at the Carnegie – crosses Highway 20 to take you directly to the park. This project was made possible by the City of Decatur. © 2009. Designed and produced by McWhorter Communications www.McWhorterOnline.com. Special thanks to: Lee Sentell, Director of Tourism for the State of Alabama; Tami Reist, Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau; Melinda Dunn, Historic Preservation Commission Coordinator; the Old Decatur Historic District; the Albany Historic District; and the Morgan County Archives.
s to do on on thing ti a rm fo in tion For more the Conven it is v se a le p e. in Decatur, 9 6th Avenu 1 7 t a u a re u & Visitors B 10
In the last half of the 1880’s after the ravages of the Civil War, Decatur began to grow again and the railroad gained in importance. The prospect of new opportunities drew carpetbaggers – wealthy businessmen from the North – to settle in the area. In 1887, Decatur Land and Development Company began promoting a sister city southeast of Decatur called “New Decatur.” The political, economical and social rivalry was so intense between the two communities that the people in New Decatur decided to change their name, and in 1916, voted to rename themselves “Albany,” after Albany, NY, the hometown of many of the residents. The “Yankee” industrialists brought industry and prosperity back to Decatur. They built large, modern homes and symbolized the town’s new heritage by naming streets alternately for Union and Confederate generals. They also wanted to bring culture to Albany. Still standing as testimony to that era is the Cotaco Opera House at 115 Johnston Street. Some of the country’s top touring vaudeville acts graced the stage of the venue that was built in 1890. Today, that building houses retail and restaurant establishments.
The Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad played a significant role in both Decatur and Albany in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s, with the completion of tracks that connected Montgomery and Louisville. Decatur was so highly thought of by the L&N officials that the city became the home base for the railroad’s repair shops, with 13 total shops in Decatur, making L&N one of the city’s largest employers for the next 40 years. In 1900, the railroad employed 1,400 people and had a monthly payroll of $60,000. By 1915, that figure had risen to $150,000 per month. Decatur and Albany were separated by Lee Street and remained separate towns until 1927 when an act of the state legislature merged the two. The united city of Decatur had a population of between 7,000 and 8,000. For that time, it was a major Alabama city and prosperous. The downtown of Albany featured churches built by the northern newcomers: a Northern Baptist church, an Episcopal church, a Catholic church, a Methodist church and a Northern Presbyterian church. Second Avenue, Albany’s downtown, remains a retail area featuring specialty shops and restaurants. The Downtown Revitalization Authority continues the revitalization of downtown. 12
Stop 2. The Davidson House 608 Gordon Drive Stop 1. Delano Park & Rose Garden Gordon Drive & 8th Avenue The Decatur Land Improvement and Furnace Company employed pioneering landscape architect Nathan Franklin Barrett to design a whole new city – New Decatur. The park was created in 1887 as the focal point of the master plan. Delano Park had two distinct early phases: the initial park created in 1887 and the stone structures built as part of the New Deal Works Progress Administration program of the 1930’s. Interestingly, the stone structures from that era were designed by pioneering female landscape architect Carolyn Cortner-Smith. The park, named after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was dedicated in the 1930’s by Roosevelt himself. For decades, the garden was in disrepair and the structures all-but lost. It was rebuilt as a public-private venture and has revitalized the park. Today’s Rose Garden reopened in 2005 and was designed to be reminiscent of the rose garden of the 30’s. The Splash Pad is a fun place to cool off during the summer months. This zero-depth water play place was built on the footprint of a 1930’s WPA wading pool. The Playground and Garden for All Children beside the Splash Pad opened in 2009 to welcome children of all abilities. In addition, there is an interpretive history trail that winds through the park.
This late-Victorian cottage was built in 1902 and remained in the Davidson family for about 100 years. The late Lawson Davidson told us he once delivered milk to many Albany residents. His cow could be seen grazing in the nine-hole golf course that faced his home. The golf course itself is long gone; today it is green space at the park that is used by neighborhood children and visitors for play and relaxation.
Stop 3. The Mawry House 620 Gordon Drive The Mawry House was built in 1888 and is a good example of a Victorian-style home with a cozy porch. Mr. R.L. Mawry followed a path across the park every day to work at the L & N rail shops at which he was a business manager.
Stop 4. The Poer House 626 Gordon Drive The Poer house was heavily influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement and principles of Frank Lloyd Wright, especially the interior. The house includes a sleeping porch, considered a necessity for healthful sleeping. Built in 1910, it was one of the most expensive homes in all of Decatur!
Stop 5. The Wolcott-Bailey Home - 1012 Gordon Drive Built around 1919 by R.H. and Dora Cain Wolcott, the Wolcott-Bailey brick bungalow presents an excellent example of the California “shed roof” bungalow and the accompanying Arts and Craft style of the early 20th century. As is typical of the bungalow style, the home features beamed ceilings, beveled glass, leaded glass, a brick fireplace and French doors. The use of natural materials and a casual floor plan made the bungalow style a popular alternative to the formal Victorian homes of the day. This home is rumored to be earthquake proof with the exterior brick walls said to be freestanding from the interior walls. The exterior features a Flemish bond brick pattern and a large front porch with its original tongue and groove ceiling. The west end of the porch features a higher step, making it easy for the owners to step onto the floorboard of a Ford Model-A.
Stop 8. The Payne House 651 Sherman Street
Stop 6. The Propst House 824 Sherman Street This two-story English Cottage was built in 1939 for Samuel Noland Propst by his father, Joseph Wiley Propst, who was a partner in Propst & Howell Lumber Company of Cullman, Alabama. The house was built on four lots developed by Decatur Land & Furnace Company. A unique feature of the house is the quarter sawn oak trim milled by Propst & Howell Lumber Company. The exterior of the house is Decatur brick.
Stop 7. The Peebles House 502 8th Avenue This one-story white house originally had a Sherman Street address, but a lady in her 80’s bought the house in the 1970’s and made a front door on 8th Avenue. According to legend, she said, “I like the house, but I’ll be damned if my address will be named after Sherman!” Now the house has an 8th Avenue address.
The Payne House was built in 1890 and illustrates characteristics of a late-Victorian house. The clapboard first story contrasts with the decorative shingles of the second story and the pebbled stucco of the projecting gables. The encircling veranda’s columns reveal the influence of the Colonial Revival style. E.C. Payne, a New Yorker, owned a lumber company and was the first mayor of New Decatur and served again as mayor when the town changed its name to Albany. He also owned the first electric car in Decatur.
Stop 9. The Jervis-McWhorter House - 652 Sherman Street The Jervis brothers, who were born in Wales, moved here in 1887 from Ohio. The two owned Jervis Planing Mill and built houses across from each other. This house, built in 1893, is perhaps the most intact late-Victorian structure in the neighborhood. Note the transitional phase into the Colonial Revival style. The Palladian double portico is incorporated into the typical Victorian encircling veranda.
Stop 10. The Jervis-Barran House 646 Sherman Street The similarities between the two houses can be noted in the style of the columns, the projecting gables, and combination of materials. Of particular interest is the elaborate bargeboard on the front gable. This home was built around 1890.
Stop 12. The Eyster House - 626 Sherman Street
Stop 11. The Hoff-Hagood House 636 Sherman Street The Hoff House was built in 1883 and is a late-Victorian structure with Colonial revival elements. George Hoff came to Decatur from Philadelphia in 1870 and was later president of the Morgan County National Bank. The home was remodeled in 1902 and 1930, at which time some of the Colonial Revival elements may have been added. An unusual feature of the house is the extensive use of red gum wood, once native to Alabama, for interior woodwork and wainscoting. Mrs. Atlee Hoff developed the elaborate plantation-style gardens from plants on the Wheeler Plantation and Bankhead Forest. 15
Built in 1888 by the Allen family, it was originally a frame Victorian house. Purchased in 1917 by the Eyster family, the house was remodeled and the brick facade added in the 1930â€™s in the midst of the response to the great demand for the Colonial Revival style so much in vogue at the time.
Stop 13. The Hamilton House 601 Jackson Street The Hamilton House was built in 1912 and is another good example of the Colonial Revival style, which was particularly prominent in Albany.
Stop 14. The Bibb House - 629 Jackson Street The Bibb House was built in the Victorian style with Queen Anne influences as evidenced by the corner turret. Note the details of the side porch. In 1895, William Bibb bought the house for $2,500 at an auction to pay back taxes. Bibb was a grandson of Alabama’s first governor.
Stop 15. The Wiley Home 646 Jackson Street Built in 1910, the Wiley Home is a good example of Colonial Revival architecture. Note the giant order of the central portico, the boxed cornice, and wide frieze .
Stop 16. The Chenault House 650 Jackson Street Built in 1906, the Chenault House is one of the finest examples of the late Victorian house with both Queen Anne and Colonial Revival Influences. The home has a corner turret and large encircling porches combined with classical festoons and garlands over the windows and square classical columns. Several leaded and stained glass windows and four ornately carved mantles are other outstanding features of this house. Interestingly, the magnificent staircase was ordered as a kit from Sears & Roebuck.
Stop 17. The Bragg House 651 Jackson Built in 1911 by Dr. and Mrs. Simpson, the Bragg House is an example of Georgian Revival architecture that was so popular early in the 20th century.
Stop 18. Westminster Presbyterian Church 801 Jackson Street Westminster began when a group of sixteen men and women met in 1888 with the Reverend John Davis, who had been sent to New Decatur by the Presbyterian Home Mission Board. In April of that year, the Reverend Davis went back to the Board to train as a full-time pastor for Westminster; however, upon his return to New Decatur seven months later, he was not allowed to leave the train because of the yellow fever epidemic. The following spring, the Reverend E. Horace Porter was sent to New Decatur as Westminster’s first pastor. When he arrived, he found no church building, only a lot on Eighth and Jackson. In 2009, Westminster celebrated its 120th birthday; it has been registered as an American Presbyterian and Reformed historical Site by the Presbyterian Historical Association.
Stop 19. Connecticut Mills Company House 1038 Jackson Street In the 1920’s, R.E. Spraggins, Shelby Fletch, H.B. Beard and John W. Knight were recruiting the Connecticut Mills Company to construct a cotton mill in Decatur at the site now occupied by Goodyear Mills. As an incentive, in 1927 they built two residences for officials of the mill. Roland Gray was the first resident in this home. Three years later, Connecticut Mills Company failed and the plant closed. Mr. Gray stayed in Decatur for several years and was the first executive director of the newly formed Chamber of Commerce. 16
Stop 20. Cortner-Smith House - 623 Grant Street This large stone house was designed in the early 1900’s by pioneering female architect Carolyn Cortner-Smith for her mother. She was known for her use of native materials such as the stone used in this house; it was quarried near Russellville, Alabama. The house is only one room deep with a hall that runs the length of the back. Carolyn Cortner-Smith also was responsible for the design of the stone structures and 1930’s rose garden at Delano Park.
400 Block of Jackson Street
The south side of the 400 block of Jackson Street has the most intact set of late-Victorian houses in the Albany Historic District, built between 1888 and 1906. Many feature pebble and stucco gables.
Stop 21. The Bowles House - 445 Jackson Street Built in 1906 by Tom and Argentina Bowles, this home was originally located on the south side of the street in the 600 block of Jackson Street and was moved to its present location in the 1920’s. It was moved by a mule team and left out in the street overnight before being placed on its current foundation. An older neighbor remembered it looked like a “bride left at the altar” – all white, screened porches slightly listing and forlorn. After its move, the double parlors were opened into a single large living room and large fireplace and mantel added. Formerly it had twin, screened porches as well as a second floor back sleeping porch that is now enclosed. The Bowles House is a Free Classic Queen Anne style with a hipped roof with lower cross gables. It has the Queen Anne common characteristic of a prominent front gable and wrapping porches. In the late 1960’s, this house had fallen into disrepair and was scheduled for demolition. The Franklin family purchased it for $10,000 and saved it from destruction and made major repairs. Since 1979, the Hammonds, the third family to own the home, have continued the restoration by renovating and refinishing the home. After agreeing to purchase the house, the Hammonds were told the house was haunted. So far, they report happy coexistence and no complaints by any spirits. 17
Stop 22. The Wyatt House 425 Jackson Street In 1887 three well-to-do Wyatt brothers from Covington, Kentucky, stopped at Rhodes Ferry on their way to Birmingham. Mr. L.B. Wyatt was so impressed with the L&N Railroad shops and the ship building facilities in Decatur that he and his brothers determined Decatur was the “hub of the South” and settled their families here on the 400 block of Jackson in 1889.
Stop 23. Christ’s Mission 413 Sherman Street In 1898 the Mission Organization of New York State of the Congregational Church built Christ’s Mission, but the congregation never caught on in Decatur. In 1901, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church bought the building and made it home for 67 years. In 1951, to increase the size of the sanctuary, the church turned the building. The mover assured the anxious pastor that if he so much as rang the bell during the move, the mover would pay the preacher $50. The bell did not ring. Immediately beside the church is a small house that was built in 1901 as a school by the St. Paul’s congregation. The original building was one room wide and three rooms deep and used potbellied stoves for heating. Church records show that besides the three R’s, English was taught in this mainly German-speaking community. The building functioned as a school for about five years. Sometime after that, the rooms on the left side and back of the house were added and it served as the parsonage for St. Paul’s for about 50 years.
Stop 24. Papenburg - 425 Sherman Street Built in 1922 for Henry Papenburg, a migrant from Prussia, this home reflects the features of American Foursquare architecture. Also called Prairie Box, this post-Victorian style shared many features with the Prairie architecture pioneered by Frank Lloyd Wright. The boxy foursquare shape provided roomy interiors for homes on small city lots. Typical of the style is the two-and-a-half stories, four-room floor plan, low-hipped roof with deep overhang, large central dormer, and full-width porch with wide stairs. A small studio photograph of Henry Papenburg’s wife, Mary, and three boys remains in the house. Each subsequent owner has left it with the house to carry on a piece of the original inhabitants’ history.
Stop 25. Fort Decatur - 610 4th Avenue Construction on the Decatur Armory, now known as Fort Decatur, began in the 1930’s as part of the New Deal programs and improvements to Delano Park. It is said that some of the stone veneer used on this structure and throughout the stone structures in the park was quarried here in Morgan County by teams of WPA/CCC workers. It is interesting to know that
the park once extended west of this building to the property beyond the elementary school seen from the front of Fort Decatur and crossing the railroad tracks into northwest Decatur. Remnants of these smaller, pocket type parks still can be found in these neighborhoods. You will see from here that you are just west of the 6th Avenue entrance of Delano Park and the Rose Garden. The second part of the interpretive history walking trail markers that began by the Rose Garden continue along the path here at Fort Decatur. Each marker captures photos and stories of Albany and Old Decatur in the late 1800’s and turn of the century. 18
Stop 26. St. John’s Episcopal Church - 202 Gordon Drive After the Episcopal Church in Old Decatur burned in 1889, newer members of the parish wanted to rebuild nearer their homes and received permission to organize another parish in “New Decatur.” Thus, St. John’s was established in 1890 and became a parish in 1891. The church building, comprising the present nave and chancel area, was dedicated in 1893. Originally facing north, the building was physically turned in 1948 to face west. At that time the present entrance and tower were built, and the building was stone veneered. St. John’s interior is modeled after Gothic English parish churches.
The final stop on the tour – the Princess Theatre – is on 2nd Avenue. You’ll notice the specialty shops and restaurants as you go. Many of the original buildings from the turn of the century housed hotels and mercantile stores with living quarters above. The Cotaco Opera House we mentioned earlier on the tour is just west of 2nd Avenue on Johnston Street.
Stop 27. The Princess Theatre In another nod to the arts, the Princess Theatre on Second Avenue has been a North Alabama landmark for more than a century. Built as a livery stable for the Casa Grande Hotel in 1887, it was transformed into a silent film and vaudeville playhouse in 1919. The theatre presented high-class road shows, pictures and vaudeville. After a facelift in 1941, the Princess emerged with the art deco style that remains today and features a brilliantly lit marquee containing more than 3,000 feet of neon tubing. In 1978 the City of Decatur purchased the Princess Theatre when it closed as a movie house. After a $750,000 renovation, the Princess reopened in 1983 as a 677-seat performing arts center. The Princess Theatre was named a “Must See Arts Destination” by the Alabama Tourism Department during Alabama’s Year of Arts Celebration. For more information on Decatur, please visit the Convention & Visitors Bureau at 719 6th Avenue.
This project was made possible by the City of Decatur. © 2009. Designed and produced by McWhorter Communications www.McWhorterOnline.com. Special thanks to: Lee Sentell, Director of Tourism for the State of Alabama; Tami Reist, Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau; Melinda Dunn, Historic Preservation Commission Coordinator; the Old Decatur Historic District; the Albany Historic District; and the Morgan County Archives.
Enjoy these detailed driving/walking tours of both of Decatur, Alabama's nationally recognized historic districts. Here you'll see beautiful...