Sometimes described as the “Showplace of Decatur”, The Tavern Hotel was simply one of the nation’s greatest hotels—and certainly one of the most impressive hotels in the South. The picture below is one of my most treasured pieces of Decatur’s history—an architect’s rendition of this hotel which appeared in a major architectural periodical.
The Tavern, constructed by the Decatur Land Improvement and Development Company (which developed much of what was known as “New Decatur”, now “Albany”) was one of several fine hotels built in Decatur as a result of the town being a major transportation hub—roads, river travel and railroads. It was completed in 1888 and was located at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Grant Street across from present day Central United Methodist Church. When I was a small child, this was the site of the Dillehay Drug Store.
The original cost of the building was $140,000—the equivalent of about $4,000,000 today. It was a grand building built in Victorian tradition and was similar in design to the great Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC which still stands today and has hosted several U.S Presidents. According to Alabama hotel historian J.F. Sulzby, Jr., The Tavern once hosted President Benjamin Harrison.
Built in 1888, The Tavern was Decatur’s grandest hotel ever—on a par with luxurious hotels throughout the United States. No expenses were spared. Wall trims as well as the furnishings were made of polished Alabama oak. It was totally lighted by electricity—a luxury novelty of the day. In fact, The Incandescent Electric Light Co. was built almost totally to service the needs of the hotel. The company provided power for about 500 light fixtures—a very large number for the day! The hotel was adorned throughout with frescos produced by Tiffany’s of New York, a leading luxury brand of then and now!
The capacity of the Tavern was 125 guests who were housed on the second and third floors. Bedrooms featured extraordinarily expensive Brussels weave carpeting from wall to wall as well as custom made cherry and walnut furnishings. Each guest room featured large, high-ceiling rooms with fireplaces flanked by expensive mantles. The stairwell from the first floor to the second featured expensive French plate glass mirrors. The first floor accommodated a large public formal parlor, a ballroom, bar, bakery, steam laundry and living quarters for the hotel’s management. Additionally, the first floor dining room provided luxurious dining with regionally famous cuisine.
The boom years of 1887-88 quickly ended in Decatur. Both the yellow fever epidemic of 1888 and the extraordinary U.S. financial panic of 1893 contributed to the downfall of the Tavern. By 1913 it was in disrepair and was sold to local business leader C.E. Malone for only $9,000. In its latter years it was used as an apartment house until it totally burned in spectacular fashion in 1923.
Thanks to the iconic book The Story of Decatur for many of these facts!
David Breland is kind of a big deal in Morgan County. His memory goes WAAAAY back (check out his picture), but he also is a local expert in Morgan County history. David is Director of Historical Resources and Events for the City of Decatur in Morgan County, Alabama.
While this site was developed to share our local treasures with our own community and armchair visitors from around the world during COVID-19, please visit our museums, attractions, hotels, shops, and restaurants in person when all of this craziness is over. Plan your visit to Decatur-Morgan County and Downtown Decatur, Alabama.