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April 8, 1997

Mobile: Then and Now

Then Now

by Tom McGehee

In the late 1850's Charles Gage spent $110,000 on a classic Italianate villa on the southeast corner of Government and Chatham streets. Within were floors of marble, inlaid hardwoods and a large stained glass dome above a winding staircase. The property extended back to Church Street and contained stables and a large two-story building to the east for housing a staff of servants.

Gage had prospered in the importing of New England ice. The valuable commodity was packed in sawdust and shipped within his fleet of schooners. His ownership of several of Mobile's most profitable wharves had added to his wealth.

After Gage's 1868 death the house sold for the bargain price of $50,000 to physician George Augustus Ketchum.

Ketchum was a University of Pennsylvania graduate and was a founder of the Medical College of Alabama in Mobile. He served as the first secretary of the Medical Association of Alabama as well as president of the Board of Health in Mobile.

With his involvement in the area of health he sought a clean source of water for Mobilians in the founding of the Bienville Water Works. For his efforts he was honored with the dedication of the Ketchum Fountain in Bienville Square.

Ketchum's success allowed he and his wife to travel extensively in Europe and furnish their Government Street home with paintings and other treasures from abroad. The couple entertained frequently and the dinner table was set with a gold dinner service.

The Ketchums had one child, daughter Georgia. Her first husband was ice importer Robert Gage, a descendant of the builder of the house on Government Street. The young couple moved in with the Ketchums in 1887.

Mr. Gage died in 1902 and Dr. Ketchum became a widower in 1906. Soon after Georgia married William Stratton, a New York state resident who had come to Mobile as an executive with the Mobile, Jackson and Kansas City Railroad. The couple's hospitality was well known in Mobile and New York circles.

Mrs. Stratton died in 1919 and was buried at Magnolia Cemetery as Georgia Ketchum. The house went to her only child, George Augustus Ketchum Gage.

George Gage's mother had mortgaged the property to construct two stucco houses behind the main house with Chatham Street frontage. Designed by George Rogers the houses were designed for the higher end rental market and they had been quickly occupied.

George Gage boarded in rooms on St. Joseph Street and occupied himself as a car salesman for Adams Motor Company. His other occupation was an expensive one during the inconvenience of prohibition.

To make ends meet, George began selling off the contents of the house on Government Street. Out went canvas after canvas so proudly collected by his grandparents in Europe. Room after room of fine furniture went as did the gold dinner service.

As the twenties roared toward its crash, 1009 Government Street stood dark and vacant. The neighborhood children found their way inside and climbed out on the roof to fly kites. Then the mortgage came due and there was nothing left for George to sell.

The house was lost at a public auction as a curious crowd watched. A hush fell over them as George Gage strolled out of the house and into his car at the curb. He died in a Mississippi veterans' hospital in 1935, five years after the still vacant Government Street house was burned to the ground.

The lot at 1009 Government Street stood vacant until the late fifties when a church was constructed on the corner. The stables and the former servants' house next door survive.

(photo courtesy of the University of South Alabama Archives)


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