Historic Huntsville: The Story Behind The W.T. Hutchens Building

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Built, burned down and built again has been an ongoing theme over the years for the buildings on Jefferson St in downtown Huntsville.

In fact, the stretch of Jefferson St located between Clinton Ave and Spring St was once home to one of the most luxurious hotels in all of Huntsville, The Huntsville Hotel, City Hall, and the Old McGee Hotel, among a myriad of other businesses that have come and gone over the years.

But it wasn’t until 1916 that the corner of Jefferson and Clinton was developed by W.T. Hutchens into the structure that still stands there to this day.

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William Thomas Hutchens (1859-1940)

Possibly better known as the President of Huntsville, William Thomas Hutchens was a central figure in Huntsville in the late 1800s. Founder of the Hutchens Company, one of the oldest still extant business in Huntsville, he not only served as president of Huntsville from 1893-1897 and then later Mayor from 1920-1922, but also as the city’s Postmaster from 1898-1914.

The building, which was to house the Hutchens Hardware store, was constructed in two phases by an unknown architect. The first phase included the development of the corner lot for the hardware store, and then a middle store which originally housed a movie theatre. Then in 1921 an addition was added to the structure creating a third bay.

Built in the early commercial brick style, the building departed from highly ornamented, vertically-oriented Victorian styles, and instead emphasized horizontal orientation by using strong horizontal courses and shorter, wider windows. And whereas the majority of similar structures relied on flush masonry or brick courses, the W.T. Hutchens building incorporated projecting, patterned terracotta cornices, which imparted a distinctive presence that was unusual for buildings its class.

By the late 1930s the theatre had gone out of business and the Hutchens company expanded its business into both storefronts, retaining the hardware shop in the corner building and opening a gift shop/housewares store in the middle portion. Finally the the Alabama Cafe took up residence in the first floor of the building’s addition, where it remained for many many years (the facade of which never matched the adjoining stores).

With retail on the first floor, the second floor of the structure was dedicated to office space, except for the section above 104 Jefferson and The Alabama Cafe, which was built as an apartment for the Hutchens family. Originally to gain access to these office suites, the corner bays were divided into two storefronts, separated by a sidewalk door that would lead up to the second floor suites.

W.T. Hutchens Building circa 1983

W.T. Hutchens Building circa 1983 showing the original sidewalk door between the corner suites

As the years have passed, and the first floor retail has come and gone, the building is now once again under redevelopment and we can’t wait to see what is next for the story of this beautiful building!

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KADIE PANGBURN
MARKETING COORDINATOR
CRUNKLETON & ASSOCIATES
KADIE@CRUNKLETONASSOCIATES.COM

 

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