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June 10, 1997

Mobile: Then and Now

Then Now

by Tom McGehee

The north west corner of Government and Joachim streets was a prime residential address in the early 1890's. The block was well shaded with oaks and handsome cast iron fences lined the sidewalks.

On the corner is the home of brothers Felix and Arthur McGill, Irish immigrants who had made a respectable fortune in the trade of "cheap boots and shoes." By 1882 the two had abandoned their over-store quarters at Dauphin and Water streets for this far more fashionable location.

The McGills' new home dated from the 1850's and had elaborate cast iron galleries in front and a beautiful curved staircase within. Its last occupant had been attorney Daniel Perrin Bestor, Jr. who had built an even grander home in the block to the east.

To the west in this scene, can be seen the three story home built by another attorney, Daniel Chandler. The house, with its four Ionic columns dated from 1850 and had been the setting for many a party in its day. Chandler was instrumental in raising the capital necessary to save Barton Academy from bankruptcy.

By the time of this photograph the house was empty. Chandler had died in 1866 and his widow Sarah in 1887 at the age of 78. Their daughter Florence would be charged in 1889 with the arsenic murder of her husband in Liverpool, England.

While Florence Chandler Maybrick languished in an English prison her family home was sold to the neighboring McGills.

When Arthur McGill died his brother sought to honor him with the establishment of McGill Institute to encourage young men to enter the priesthood. The mansion was enlarged to the east and prepared for an 1897 grand opening.

The first school year was delayed because of a yellow fever epidemic. The parochial school would then thrive in the former home of the savior of Mobile's public school system. In time few would even remember the Chandler connection to the property.

The McGill home on the corner would survive until the early 1930's. It was demolished to provide a site for the Armbrecht Tire Service Company of Conrad Armbrecht and Charles Leatherbury. Armbrecht had previously been president of the Firestone Service Store on St. Louis Street.

In the early 1950's, McGill Institute moved out to Old Shell Road and its birthplace was demolished along with the tire store to the east. The Admiral Semmes Motor Hotel would occupy the site until its own demise and demolition. The site now contains a parking lot which ironically is lined with an iron fence and planted with oaks.

A roadside marker notes the history of McGill Institute. The name Chandler is not mentioned.


Credit: The Museum of Mobile.


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