It’s exciting to watch our Downtown Huntsville landscape change with the addition of new developments, hotels, restaurants, and hangouts. In recent years, mixed-use projects like The Avenue and The Garage at Clinton Row have aided with the revitalization of the area and helped to transform the neighborhood into a must-visit destination for shopping, dining, and culture.
In addition to projects like the new Class-A office space building for Redstone, CityCentre, Constellation, 127 Holmes and others, exciting hotel announcements have been made. Downtown will soon have more best-in-class modern hotels and accommodations that will impress any traveler looking to experience the Rocket City.
With all of the discussion about coming hotels, we thought it would be fun to look back in history at the hotels and inns that made waves in the city’s earlier days. Today, we are talking about a booming hot spot that was once located on the corner of Jefferson and Clinton called The McGee Hotel.
The McGee Hotel – A Charming Family Establishment
A three-story structure, the McGee Hotel was built in 1869 as a family establishment. It was located on Jefferson Street where the Terry-Hutchens building now stands.
It was easy to pick out the McGee among the structures and businesses in Downtown at the time. Its design was stunning and included ornate balconies, ornamental gables, and all of the finest luxuries of the day. With its distinctive façade and excellent service, the McGee was an instant hit upon its opening.
In addition to being beautiful, the McGee Hotel was the site of many parties, dances, and dinners that were enjoyed by locals and travelers alike. According to The Historic Huntsville Quarterly, the hotel had a small ballroom where guests took lessons in the tango and two-step. It was a magical time for Downtown Huntsville.
In April 1914, The Hotel Twickenham came on the scene and the McGee took a hit in business. Although it was no longer the city’s prime hotel, it remained in business until 1924 when met the same tragic end as many of Huntsville’s historic hotels.
Henry McGee – An American Citizen Born in Pennsylvania
In some ways, Henry McGee is a mystery because there are not as many records of his life as other prominent Huntsville historic figures. However, it’s certain that he was born in Pennsylvania in 1836 to Irish parents. His obituary was published on June 22nd in 1892.
Henry was known as a skilled businessman during his ownership of the McGee Hotel. He started his empire by opening and running a restaurant that included lodging. In only a few short years, he built the McGee Hotel at the same location.
During his lifetime he had two wives. The first was named Isabella—her last name is unknown. She had two children with Henry, a boy named William and a girl named Mollie. Unfortunately, his son William did not live long. But his daughter Mollie Letitia McGee eventually took over the McGee Hotel after the death of her father.
Henry was married to his second wife Kate Weaver on December 6, 1870. Although Kate and Henry had no children of their own, Kate was very close to Mollie and was said to have been an excellent mother.
Mollie was successful as a businesswoman and manager of the hotel. She was also a well-known philanthropist and churchgoer. She even sang in the choir. Mollie was also responsible for establishing the Loretto Academy. The first-ever reception for Loretto took place at the McGee Hotel for the nuns who came to start the school.
She especially loved children and gave lavish Thanksgiving feasts to one hundred factory children each year at the hotel. In a December 5th, 1900 issue of The Huntsville Weekly Democrat, it was reported that 115 children were selected from Dallas, Merrimack, and Huntsville Mills who ranged in age from 18 months to 14 years. They dined on ice cream cakes and candy. Mollie’s kindness was something everyone seemed to notice.
Upon her death, she left her money and the hotel to the Catholic Church.
“That there were no lives lost is regarded as miraculous.”
On a cold 1924 Christmas morning, as a bitter north wind blew outside, the McGee Hotel met its end in a fire.
Local newspapers reported that guests at the once-famous hotel escaped with their lives in scanty clothing as they watched their belongings go up in flames. Total loss of contents totaled around $125,000. Businesses near the hotel also suffered losses. This included Crowe’s Pool Room, Piggly Wiggly, Southeastern Express Co., and a few others.
Guests were startled out of bed at 4 a.m. and told to leave immediately—there was no time to change or grab any belongings. Amazingly, everyone in the building was safely guided to the street where they were immediately assisted.
When firefighters came on the scene, it appeared that the flames were spreading out of the front of the pool room on Jefferson Street where they believed the blaze originated. But it was nearly impossible to contain the flames due to strong winds and freezing temperatures. Water froze on the streets as they battled into the late afternoon.
The hotel was beyond saving and the site ultimately burned to the ground.
Today, the location is home to the Terry-Hutchens Building.
NOTE: All information for this article was collected from The Huntsville Public Library Archives, the National Register of Historic Places database, and issues of The Historic Huntsville Quarterly. Do you have more info on the McGee Hotel? Let us know! We’d love to include additional or updated information.
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