Historic Huntsville: South Side Square & Harrison Brothers Hardware Store

In comparison to the other three blocks on the courthouse square, most of which have been stripped of their historic architectural elements over the years, South Side Square still appears today very much as it did back in 1912.


South Side Square circa 1867

Serving as the prime commercial property in Huntsville since the second decade of the 19th century, (and actually called “Commercial Row” up until about the 20th century) the block was originally built up with small commercial “houses” prior to the Civil War. And while those “houses” no longer exist and the outward appearance of the block has obviously changed through the years, the block is historically unique in the fact that the size and number of the buildings has remained constant over time. This is due by and large to the fact that the party walls and foundations were usually retained during any rebuilding or remodeling that took place over the years.

Interestingly building numbers 108 and 110 South Side Square are the oldest of the buildings on the block, dating from 1835-1840, and although much altered, they still retain the tall narrow proportions typical of antebellum commercial architecture in Huntsville during that time.

South Side Square circa 1955

South Side Square circa 1955

In fact 108 was originally built as an outlet store by the Bell Factory Textile Mill (one of the earliest textile mills established in the State of Alabama, it stood ten miles northeast of Huntsville on the Flint River) for the products of their textile mill which was chartered in 1832, so this building is historically significant to Huntsville’s past as well as architecturally significant.

110 was originally built as a three-bay building (you can just make out the entire original three-bay structure in the first photo on this page).  Today only the westernmost bay survives. Each bay featured a three story, recessed and arched panel with a Venetian style window centered on each floor. Today the old cornice has been removed, the windows changed and the ground floor remodeled, but the proportions and full facade survive making it the only commercial building designed and built by George Steele still standing.

South Side Square circa 1965

South Side Square circa 1965

Of course the jewel of this historic block is Harrison Brothers Hardware.

Huntsville’s oldest retail business and the oldest operating hardware store in Alabama, Harrison Brothers was originally founded as a tobacco shop on Jefferson Street by bothers James and Daniel Harrison in 1879. Then in 1897, Daniel went into partnership with his youngest brother Robert S. Harrison and opened the current store, which still operates on the square to this day.

During the fifties, Robert’s sons, Daniel F. and John Harrison, took over operation of the store at which time the stock consisted primarily of hardware, furniture, and crockery. Ignoring modern merchandising techniques, the brothers preserved the store in its original turn-of-the-century condition.


In 1983, when John Harrison passed away, it seemed almost certain that a dismantling of the store would follow. This prompted the nonprofit Historic Huntsville Foundation to undertake the ultimate preservation challenge – to keep Harrison Brothers intact.

Since then the organization has done just that. The store retains its original appearance, and all counters, display shelves, wood floors (including inlayed brass numerals in 1-yard increments originally used for measuring lengths of rope, chain, and other items) and even light fixtures have been preserved.

Each sale is still rung up on a 1907 National Cash Register first used by Robert and Daniel.  Featuring a marble plate, clerks were able to drop a coin onto the register’s plate and if the coin rang clear and true, it was silver and therefore good, if it thudded dully, it was a lead slug and therefore counterfeit.  Unused drawers in the register are still chock-a-block with items that were left there such as broken glasses, stray keys, chestnuts and even a lace from John’s shoe.

In the back of the store the brother’s business desk, safe and coal stove are still intact, just about the way they left them. The store even has original advertising posters on display in addition to old receipts, ledgers, vintage photographs and Harrison family mementos displayed throughout the store.

And if you’re still not convinced the organization is dedicated to preserving things just the way they were left, if you look carefully you can find whiskey bottles still stashed here and there, some empty and some not.

Today the store still sells nails by the pound, in addition to some hardware, but mainly it operates as a gift shop, specializing in products and goods that are handcrafted and produced by local craftsmen, authors and artisans.

Even better? The profits from the store go to support the foundation’s preservation efforts as well as funding community activities here in Huntsville such the immensely popular Movies in the Park.


*All historic images shown in this story are courtesy of the Huntsville Public Library Archives

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CRUNKLETON Commercial Real EState Group

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

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.


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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Historic Huntsville: The Story Behind The I. Schiffman Building

While so many of the historic buildings in Downtown Huntsville have been extensively renovated, rebuilt, remodeled, modernized, or simply demolished, the iconic I. Schiffman Building has remained unchanged and unaltered for almost 121 years.

The Original Building & Renovation

The Schiffman Building circa 1898 - Courtesy Of The Huntsville Madison County Library

The Schiffman Building circa 1898 – Courtesy Of The Huntsville Madison County Library

Located at 231 East Side Square, what we now know as the I. Schiffman Building, was once part of a larger Federal style antebellum brick building that dates back to before the civil war.

Built circa the year 1845, by an unknown architect/builder, the original structure was three stories high and divided into three bays by massive flat pilasters with capitals and topped by a plain entablature.

Then in 1895, the south third of the building underwent extensive renovations by the Southern Savings and Loan Association, which transformed the façade in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. A limestone façade was added and the archways were cut. The building’s interior layout was also reconfigured to feature a side hall and offices on all three floors and finished with pressed tin ceilings, carved cherry wood, oak , mission style chandeliers that utilized carbide for lighting, corner fireplaces, carved mantels and two walk-in vaults. All totaled the renovations cost over $18,000, which is around $516,953.06 today.

The Bankheads


William B. Bankhead with Eugenia and Tallulah

A short time after the building’s renovation, Huntsville city attorney William B. Bankhead rented an office in the building and lived upstairs in a second floor apartment with his wife Ada Eugenia Bankhead. There in their home above the courthouse square, in the front room on the second floor, they bore two children, Eugenia in 1901 and Tallulah a year later on January 31, 1902.

In the years that followed, William B. Bankhead would go on to become the future U.S. Speaker of the House, and his daughter Tallulah would find international acclaim as an actress.

Renown for her dramatic roles in theatre, film, radio and television, Tallulah began her career in silent film and then went to England where she became the toast of the London Theatre in the late 1920s. In 1930 she returned to America to make six movies for Paramount, beginning a long career as a leading actress in American theatre. Known for her sultry voice, pension for cigarettes and calling everyone, “Darling,” her quick wit and brazen lifestyle only added to her fame. Of all her work, she is probably most remembered for her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Lifeboat.”

A still from her famous role in Alfred Hitchcock's "Lifeboat" in 1944

A still from her famous role in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat” in 1944

The Schiffmans

Isaac Schiffman - Courtesy of the Huntsville Madison County Library

Isaac Schiffman – Courtesy of the Huntsville Madison County Library

Born in 1856, Isaac Schiffman was 19 years old when he immigrated to the United States from Hoppstädten, Germany to come work for his uncle Solomon’s mercantile business in Huntsville Alabama.

Solomon Schiffman and his brother Daniel Schiffman had come to Huntsville prior to the civil war and opened a dry goods and clothing business on the courthouse square and following Solomon’s death in 1898, control of the business was handed over to Isaac who changed the name of the company from S. Schiffman & Company to I. Schiffman & Company.

Image courtesy of the Huntsville Madison County Library

Image courtesy of the Huntsville Madison County Library

After dabbling in a variety of business ventures, including a thriving buggy, scurries and carriage business, around the turn of the 20th century I. Schiffman & Company became involved in the investment and cotton business. And in 1905 Isaac purchased the Southern Savings and Loan building on the east side of the square to house the company for $9,000, or roughly $239,436.54 in today’s economy.

After his passing in 1910, ownership of the building and the family business passed to Isaac’s son Robert Schiffman, then to Robert’s brother-in-law Lawrence B. Goldsmith Sr. and to his son Lawrence B. Goldsmith Jr. and then finally in 1995 to Lawrence’s daughter, Margaret Anne Goldsmith who to this day runs her family’s company out of the same building that has been its home since 1905.

In an article Margaret Anne Goldsmith wrote for the Huntsville History Collection, she said this about the building:

“Today, as the owner of the I. Schiffman Building, I have my ancestors to thank for the honor and privilege of being the steward of the I. Schiffman Building that I inherited. From 1905 until 1995 my great grandfather, my great uncle, my grandfather and my father cared for the building and kept it in good repair, making sure there were no changes that would alter its architectural integrity. They guarded it from the ravishes of senseless modernization and destruction that took so many of Huntsville’s nineteenth century buildings, and kept it intact for the benefit of Huntsville, its citizens and future generations. A second renovation carefully modernizing the building according to strict historic tax credit standards occurred in 1997. Now with good maintenance in the years to come, the life of the building will be extended for another hundred and fifty years.” – Margert Anne Goldsmith

Click on the images below to learn more details and meet the Schiffman/Goldsmith family:

The Schiffman Building Today

The Schiffman Building Today

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Historic Huntsville: The Story Behind 107 Washington Street

The Huntsville Kress Building Today

Researching and sharing the history of buildings in our beautiful Downtown area on this blog has become one of my favorite things to do. I love digging into history and getting to tell forgotten stories that help to reconnect our past with our present.

So for my next research topic I just couldn’t help but choose the old Kress building downtown. I have always loved every minute detail of that building. However during my research I discovered an overwhelming lack of information on the building and it’s history.  So I have compiled what I could discover here, but if anyone has any additional information on the building (especially access to images from the early 1930s when it was first built) I would love to hear about it!  Now, on with the history:


tumblr_inline_nmg5ztqtOD1tnae7i_500Born in 1863 Samuel H. Kress was the second oldest of seven children descending from German and Irish immigrants.

As a child he worked in the stone quarries until the age of 17 when he earned his teaching credentials which enabled him to begin work as a school teacher.

By 1887 Kress had saved up enough money to open his first store in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania selling stationery and notions. And as the business prospered, he used his profits to open additional stores, naming his chain “S.H. Kress & Co.”

Unlike most businessmen of his day, who chose to open stores in large developed urban areas, Kress made the unique decision to locate the bulk of his stores in smaller cities across the US that he felt had potential to grow. The stores he built in turn became the jewels of many of these small cities, most of which had only a dry goods or general store as their main retailer until that point.

However, these buildings would never have become the iconic city jewels they are without the work of one very important man: Edward F. Sibbert.


edward-sibbertBorn in 1889, Sibbert was a brooklyn-born american architect. And at the age of 35, after starting his career in Miami during the great Florida land boom of the 1920s, Sibbert returned to his hometown of Brooklyn where he answered an advertisement in a local newspaper.

Kress, who was in the process of dismissing his head architect at the time, George Mackay, hired Sibbert as chief architect for S.H. Kress & Co. And over the next 25 years the two would design a chain of stores spanning the United States, iconic for their consistent format and style, and instantly recognizable by their use of ornamental terra cotta.


kress.anniston.alOne of the 20th century’s most prosperous variety-store retailers, with just over 200 locations nationwide S.H. Kress & Co may never have been the largest retail chain, however it did manage to hold the record for highest per-store sales of any five-and-dime in the country for more than 20 years.

kress.birminhamThe reasons for this were simple, for Samuel H. Kress, his stores were always more that just another five-and-dime. Instead, he envisioned his stores as works of public art that would contribute to the cityscape. And the creation of an architectural division within his company played a key role in both attracting customers and facilitating sales.

Kress received retail branding success not merely through standardized signage and graphics, but through distinctive architecture and efficient design. Regardless of their style, from elaborate Gothic Revival to streamlined Art Deco, Kress stores were designed to be internal parts of their urban districts and helped define Main Street America.


Huntsville was little more than a village for many years until the erection of Dallas Mill finally gave the Huntsville economy a solid base and spurred construction activity.  By the year 1900 commercial development was well underway, but it was not until the 1920s that retail development really saw it’s boom. It was during this decade that national chain stores such as Penny’s, Sears, Wards and S.H. Kress & Co. began to open branches here in Huntsville.

Designed by S.H. Kress & Company’s head architect Edward Sibbert in the late 1920s and finished in 1931, the Downtown Huntsville Kress building is one of the finest examples of art deco architecture in Huntsville and since its construction has become an integral part of the fabric of the Downtown Huntsville area.


Washington Street during the 1950s. The Kress building is just visible on the other side of the old Lyric building.

As a final note, if you are interested in leasing space in this historic building, our company actually has some space listed on the second floor! You can find all the information for that listing HERE.

And again, if anyone has anymore details about the history of the Huntsville building specifically, feel free to drop me a note, I would love to hear them!

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