Among early Huntsville’s dusty dirt roads, silversmiths, cobblers’ workshops, and general stores stood the two-story Public Inn on the northeast corner of Williams Avenue and Madison Street.
As one of the city’s prized historic landmarks, its claim to fame is the belief that it once housed delegates to the Alabama Constitutional Convention in 1819. It’s also one of the few Federal-period buildings that remain in Huntsville.
Now located at 205 Williams Avenue, not far from its original site, The Public Inn has survived the test of time, a relocation, and even a demolition attempt in the 1970s.
As Huntsville grew so did the available accommodations for transients, and The Public Inn was just one of the places that welcomed guests to relax and recharge during their visits to the city.
Opening Its Doors
Operator of the Inn, William E. Phillips, formally announced its opening in The Alabama Republican newspaper on October 29th, 1819. It read:
“William E. Phillips informs the public that he has opened a PUBLIC HOUSE in the south part of Huntsville, a few doors below the Printing Office, where he will accommodate Travelers and Boarders in the best manner and on the most reasonable terms.”
The Inn’s opening also marked a time of prosperity in Huntsville—the population was growing rapidly. In fact, The Historic Huntsville Quarterly states that the “aggregate population of Madison County was three times that of any other county in the State.”
Travelers and businessmen were flowing into the city at a rapid pace and inns and boarding houses were booking up fast. Buildings were going up, the streets were crowded with horses and buggies, and more hopeful families were moving to the area.
Because of Huntsville’s growing population and location, it was decided that a convention would be held in the city to draft a State Constitution. President James Monroe signed an act on March 2, 1819, that would allow the territory to form a constitution and state government in order to petition for Alabama’s statehood.
Special Guests Who Made History
A few blocks away from The Public Inn–built in 1818–a historic moment took place in Alabama’s history. Alabama Constitution Village (currently being refurbished in honor of the state’s bicentennial) was the very site where delegates gathered to hash out the application that would lead to Alabama becoming the country’s 22nd state.
When it comes to The Public Inn, it is widely believed that, because of its proximity to Constitution Hall, it was one of the locations where delegates stayed when the event took place.
Although we don’t know for sure what Phillips charged guests at The Public Inn, we do know the general costs of room and board in Huntsville during the early 1800s.
In a 1972 issue of The Huntsville Times, an 1820’s ad was released that was originally printed in The Alabama Republican. It included basic pricing for items like breakfast, dinner, lodging, and horse stables.
Now going by the name Constitution Hall Park, Alabama Constitution Village will soon have spaces for special events and weddings. The interior and exteriors of the buildings are also being spruced up, among other improvements.
Visitors to the park are able to see first-hand what life was like in 1819. There are also plenty of demonstrations available where guests can experience what it took to live out a typical day using the tools and methods of yesteryear.
Danger of Demolition
In 1973, the property went up for sale and attracted the attention of a prospective buyer. He planned on demolishing the property to make way for a parking lot.
Immediately, the Inn earned the attention of several residents who wanted to preserve the home. Harvie P. Jones, a member of the Alabama Historical Commission, took on the task of the property’s restoration. He created a plan that would require minimal renovation and would redevelop the historic property to be used as an office or residential apartments.
On Sunday, October 28, 1973, he released his sketches to The Huntsville Times, which showed the property as it is today. At the time, the house was around 155 years old, the front four rooms were in their original state, and much of the woodwork had been preserved.
Jones was successful. The Public Inn was redeveloped and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
The Public Inn Today
Phillips was able to keep the Inn open to guests from 1819 to 1821. Shortly after, he left to manage The Bell Tavern. The Historic Huntsville Quarterly says he eventually left for Mississippi because he was in terrible debt from business ventures.
The Public Inn found its permanent home in 1927 when the building was jacked up and rolled on logs to its current site on Williams. Soon after, the Inn’s size was doubled thanks to a two-story framed Victorian addition made to the rear of the house.
Throughout the years, the property was passed to several owners and endured many uses. But in 1981, Suzanne Roberson renovated the historic building and divided it into two apartments.
Now, the Inn sits on Williams Avenue as one of Huntsville’s most cherished pieces of days gone by in the Twickenham Historic District.
NOTE: All information for this article was collected from copies of The Historic Huntsville Quarterly (Lauren B. Martinson), the National Register of Historic Placesdatabase, and The Huntsville Times. If you have additional information about The Public Inn, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to include additional or updated info.
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