Twickenham Historic District
The Twickenham Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and updated in 2013. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2016, The Gombach Group.
Located south and east of the Public Square, the vast majority of the properties in the Twickenham Historic District are private residences, although the district also features churches, commercial buildings and offices, a former YMCA, a public school, a Masonic Lodge, and a public park. Honoring the town's original name, the Twickenham neighborhood contains a variety of architectural styles dating from the antebellum period through the modern era. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, the original nomination, prepared in 1972, described Twickenham as containing a "preponderance of Huntsville's best 150-year-old architecture, excellent examples of the styles of homes built from 1840-1920, and was the residence of several prominent Alabamians."
Wide streets radiating on a grid south and east from the central business district characterize the neighborhood. The pedestrian-oriented streets are flanked with concrete sidewalks, stone curbs, and lined with fences, privacy walls, gates, and mature trees. The Twickenham neighborhood is sometimes referred to as the "Garden District" due to well-maintained lawns, many of which exhibit professional landscaping and private gardens with flowering trees, evergreens, and shrubbery such as Japanese maples, red maples, eastern redbuds, crape myrtle, oriental dogwood, hydrangea, Chinese elm, Southern Magnolias, and multiple types of oaks. Dating from the early twentieth century, the neighborhood's private gardens also feature architectural elements such as gazebos, pergolas, summerhouses, sunrooms, fountains, verandas, breezeways, swimming pools and pool houses, brick terraces, urns, children's playhouses, greenhouses, conservatories, enclosed courtyards, garden houses, sheds, and fences. Many modern gardens were designed by local landscape designer Bill Nance (1946-2012).
Older parcels in the heart of the district and those located along Echols Hill in the eastern section of the neighborhood are larger while the newer parcels along the perimeters are smaller. Streets running east to west are referred to as avenues while those running north to south are referred to as streets. Former service alleys in the southwest corner have been developed with modern homes. The residential sections of the district feature very few undeveloped lots. The commercial section in the northwest corner exhibits several surface parking lots and has experienced demolition of several historic properties in order to accommodate expanding church complexes.
For nearly two centuries, the neighborhood has been a preferred location for the city's elite citizens, serving as the home of business owners, civic leaders, elected officials, authors, scientists, university presidents, military leaders, and artists. Residents contributed to the economic, social, and commercial growth of the entire city, which became an economic and cultural hub for the entire north Alabama region.
The fashionable, well-built homes exhibit expensive and long-lasting building materials such as brick, stone, and masonry. Many landmarks have roofs made of slate, standing seam metal, or copper. Dwellings constructed in the nineteenth and early twentieth century are more likely to be oriented towards the street with welcoming front porches and sidewalks connecting to the street. Those constructed in the mid-twentieth century are more likely to be oriented away from the street with curvilinear driveways, privacy gates, and no pedestrian access via sidewalks.
In recent years, the district has experienced the demolition of several historic homes, which were replaced with larger modern homes. In addition, several historic homes from surrounding neighborhoods were relocated to vacant lots within the district in order to preserve them from demolition. Beginning in the 1970s, many property owners erected private historic markers in their front lawns, identifying the home's name and date. This practice has been copied in other historic neighborhoods around Huntsville.
Efforts to preserve the distinctive neighborhood began in the mid-1920s, when the Federal-style Public Inn was relocated from the Public Square to 205 Williams Avenue in order to preserve it. In the mid-1930s, architects, photographers, and historians from the Historic American Building Survey from Auburn University and Birmingham documented 13 residences within the district representing the significance of the neighborhood's early architecture.
Over the past 40 years, preservation efforts have resulted in the restoration, renovation, and rehabilitation of scores of properties within the district. In addition, two historic homes were relocated from adjacent neighborhoods into the district and restored. Many of these properties were restored by local preservation architect Harvie P. Jones (1930-1998), a principal at Jones & Herrin Architects, and Interior Design from 1967-1998. The firm is also responsible for planning the Alabama Constitution Village, an open-air living history museum containing eight reconstructed buildings dating from 1805-1819, and restoration of the c.1860 Memphis & Charleston Railroad Depot, now a city-owned museum. Jones also restored his own home in the district, located at 420 Eustis Avenue. Other local architects who have undertaken modern renovations and restorations include Frank J. Nola, Ralph Allen, and Crow, Neville & Peters Architects as well as interior designer Randy Roper.
The Twickenham neighborhood became known as a "living museum of architecture" since it "recognizes that every period of architecture, old or recent, is worthy of respect and that it is beneficial to study the various periods side-by-side. The district itself is a museum of architecture spanning sixteen decades, containing all of the [major] periods of architectural styles." These include Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Folk Victorian, Renaissance, Colonial Revival, Classical Revival, Tudor Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival, Prairie, Craftsman/Bungalow, Minimal Traditional, Ranch, and Neo-Colonial styles. Modern homes continue to be built in Neo-Traditional styles.
The district also includes properties that are not single-family residences, including the historic Annie C. Merts Center, a 1920s public school complex at 200 White Street. Near the Public Square are several historic commercial and office buildings dating from the 1820s through the 1940s on Eustis and Gates avenues and Franklin Street as well as a 1910s YMCA on Greene Street that has been renovated for use as offices. A small number of historic, multi-unit residential duplexes and apartments dating from the 1910s through the 1950s are located along Randolph, Eustis, and Lincoln. In the 1970s, the city acquired and restored the c.1819 Howard Weeden House on Gates as a historic house museum.
The district contains four historic churches, including the 1850s First Presbyterian Church on Gates; the 1860s First United Methodist Church on Randolph; the 1890s Central Presbyterian Church on Randolph; and the 1850s Church of the Nativity Episcopal on Eustis, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990. In addition, a historic 1910s Masonic Temple is located on Lincoln.
The district also features historic street furniture and materials, including granite curbs, brick sidewalks, a few limestone-slab sidewalks, hand-chiseled limestone walls and gateposts, limestone carriage mounts, wrought iron fences and gates, and masonry retaining walls made of cobblestone, fieldstone, brick, and hand-hewn limestone. Many of these architectural elements were constructed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, span multiple properties, and are located within public right-of-way.
The Twickenham Historic District in Huntsville is a neighborhood that significantly embodies the stylistic evolution of architecture in Huntsville from the settlement period of the 1810s through the mid-twentieth century. The Period of Significance of c.1814-1963 was chosen because the oldest buildings date from c.1814.
The 1972 NRHP nomination emphasized the architectural significance of the Twickenham Historic District, which featured "excellent examples of the styles of homes built from 1840 to 1920." Preservation efforts for the district were formally initiated in 1962 when local preservationists chose the name "Twickenham" in honor of the city's original name from 1810-1811. At that time, the district contained 58 homes built prior to 1860, nine of which had been documented from 1934-1936 by the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Containing approximately 150 acres within 12 blocks and featuring some 300 buildings, the Twickenham Historic District was officially created by an ordinance of the Huntsville City Council on March 23, 1972.
The principle of the Twickenham Historic District is that it recognizes that every period of architecture, old or recent, is worthy of respect and that it is beneficial to study the various periods side-by-side. The district itself is a museum of architecture spanning 16 decades, containing all of the periods of architectural styles. A large percentage of the structures are architecturally noteworthy. They range from a two-room, two-story frame Federal, to large mansions of several periods. Style details peculiar to all of the major American architects—Latrobe, Nichols, locally famous George G. Steele, Downing, Richardson, and Wright are easily discerned within the district. Some of the best houses date from the 1920's, having modest echoes of Greene & Greene.
Huntsville's original growth period of the 1810s-1820s is expressed by a handful of Federal-style buildings in the district. The best example is the Weeden House, originally constructed in 1819-1821 at 300 Gates Avenue. The handsome two-story brick dwelling is distinguished by a symmetrical five-bay facade featuring Flemish bond brick-work, twelve-over-twelve windows with molded surrounds, and a central entrance with a fanlight transom with 64 window panes of leaded glass, sidelights with paneled shutters, and an intricately carved architrave with slender fluted pilasters. Featured on postcards in the early twentieth century, the home was documented by HABS in 1934 with measured drawings and photographs and restored from 1972-1981 for use as the city's first historic house museum.
The district also features several examples of Federal-style dwellings with side hall floor plans, most of which were later enlarged with side wings to create five-bay facades. Franklin Street has two examples of Federal-style dwellings that retain their original side hall floor plans with the c.1819 Erskine-Monroe-Clark House at 515 Franklin Street and the c.1818-1820 Grove-Bassett House at 600 Franklin Street.
Examples of Federal-style side halls that were enlarged in the mid-nineteenth century include the c.1824 Purdom House at 409 Randolph Avenue, c.1825 Yeatman-Geron House at 528 Adams Street, c.1825 Cruse House at 600 Adams Street, c.1818 Erskine-McCown House at 527 Franklin Street, and the c.1815 Perkins House at 401 Lincoln Street, which was documented by HABS from 1934-1937.
In the second quarter of the nineteenth century, homes in the district exhibited elements of both the Federal style and the Greek Revival style, which became fashionable in the mid-1830s. Many of these buildings were designed or remodeled by local architect George Gilliam Steele (1798-1855), including his own c.1824 Federal side hall at 519 Randolph Avenue, which was renovated in the 1840s. A Virginia native who settled in Alabama as a youth, Steele was Huntsville's premiere antebellum architect, playing a role in the design of the majority of the city's major building projects, including the Madison County Courthouse (1835-1840; demolished 1914) and the Branch Bank of the State of Alabama (1835-1836; NRHP-listed, 1978) on the north side of the Courthouse Square—both outstanding examples of Grecian temple-style civic landmarks. He also designed the original Central Presbyterian Church at 404-406 Randolph Avenue, a c.1845 Grecian landmark razed in 1898. Steele also operated brick kilns and a cotton mill.
Within the district, Steele designed Greek Revival-style side halls, including the c.1832-1836 Feeny-Barber House located at 414 Randolph Avenue; c.1832 Cabaniss-Roberts House at 603 Randolph Avenue ; c.1836 Thomas W. White House at 612 Eustis Avenue; and the c.1849-1851 President's House at 413 Randolph Avenue, originally owned by the Huntsville Female Seminary (1831-1909). Other homes in the district attributed to Steele include the c.1832-1845 William-Bibb-Figures House at 423 Randolph Avenue and the c.1855 addition to the J.W. Cooper House at 405 Randolph Avenue.
In 1849, Steele remodeled the c.1822 Fearn-King House at 517 Franklin Street by enlarging it with side wings and adding a single-story, center bay entry portico exhibiting triglyphs and metopes, fluted Doric columns, and molded trim. The front facade and south elevation exhibit brick pilasters supporting a plain, wide frieze, which originally exhibited pilaster capitals, taenia mould, mutules, and guttae ornamentation. The home was documented by HABS in 1934.
Perhaps the most extraordinary home attributed to Steele is Poplar Grove, the LeRoy Pope Estate atop Echols Hill at 403 Echols Avenue, a c.1814 Federal-style home that Steele remodeled in 1848. Steele added a monumental two-story front portico supported by six oversized Doric columns and exhibiting decorative moldings, pilasters, and an "odd, truncated pediment-enriched by reeded sunbursts framing a great elliptical fanlight and topped by a balustrade deck-unique in the state." In the early twentieth century, the home was featured on postcards, published in The Domestic Architecture of the Early American Republic, the Greek Revival, by Howard Major as one of Alabama's finest examples of Greek Revival-style domestic architecture, and documented in 1934 by HABS.
The Governor Thomas Bibb House at 300 Williams Avenue, a c.1836 Greek Revival style landmark was also featured in early twentieth-century postcards, Howard Major's 1926 book on Greek Revival architecture, and documented in 1934 by HABS. Architectural historian Robert Gamble noted that the "stately Greek Revival facade was skillfully adapted, in its entirety, from the pages of Chester Hill's The Builder's Guide, published in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1834." Attributing the house to local architect George G. Steele (1798-1855), Gamble documented that the front elevation combined elements from a pair of plates for the "Doric House" and the "Ionic House."
Many of these antebellum homes retain outbuildings that originally housed slave quarters, kitchens, smokehouses, washhouses, and other domestic workspaces. Over the years, these outbuildings were converted into servant's quarters, guest cottages, automobile garages, and other support buildings. From 1934-1936, HABS documented several of these former slave buildings, some of which are no longer extant such as those at the Cabiniss-Roberts House at 603 Randolph Avenue and the Lewis-Clay House at 513 Eustis Avenue. Good examples of remaining slave outbuildings in the district can be found at the Clarke-Dorning House at 603 Adams, Poplar Grove at 403 Echols Avenue, Thomas W. White House at 612 Eustis Avenue, Gov. Thomas Bibb House at 300 Williams Avenue, and the Fletcher-Lowe House at 210 Williams Avenue. In addition, slave basement kitchens were located at the George G. Steele House at 419 Randolph Avenue and the Mastin-Baston House at 516 Franklin Street.
Good examples of Neoclassical Revival-style homes can be found throughout the district, but especially at 503, 507, 524, 603, 604, and 609 Adams Street; 427, 503, 505, and 516 Eustis Avenue; 413, 415, and 426 Locust Avenue; and 418, 420, 425, 430, 437, and 450 McClung Avenue.
A handful of Tudor Revival-style buildings were constructed in the district. Good examples include the 1925-1930 Landman-Rosborough House at 407 Echols Avenue, the c.1929 Noojin-Berry House at 508 Franklin Street; the 1928-1929 Yarbrough-Caudle House at 420 Echols Avenue, and a 1929 apartment building at 408 Eustis Avenue. During the 1930s and 1940s, modest examples of Tudor Revival-style homes were built throughout the district, particularly at 406, 413, 420, 429, 430, 442, and 443 Newman Avenue. The Spanish Revival-style was rarely used in the district, with the only examples being a c.1930 home located at 431 Newman Avenue and a c.1925 apartment building at 301 Randolph Avenue.
In the 1930s and 1940s, several buildings in the district were designed by local architect Paul Meredith Speake (1908-1996), who operated his own Huntsville practice from 1938-1946 before relocating to Birmingham, Alabama. Speake graduated from the University of Alabama in 1927, Georgia Tech in 1932, 106 Linda and then attended the Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1930. He designed the 1940 Neoclassical Revival-style Johnson-O'Farrell House at 612 Franklin Street, the 1941 Minimal Traditional-style Browning-Wilde House at 300 California Street, and the 1946 Neo-Colonial Revival-style renovation of the Harris House at 423 Eustis Avenue.
† Robbie D. Jones, New South Associates, reviewed by Susan Enzweiler, Alabama Historic Commission, Twickenham Historic District, Update and Boundary Increase, Madison County Alabama, nomination document, 2013, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.