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November 25, 1997

Mobile: Then and Now

Then Now

by Tom McGehee

At the start of the twentieth century, Mobile's Government Street was a parade of elegant homes for the city's elite. By 1910 when this photo was made, the end of the street near the Loop was as yet unpaved and unimpressive wire fences had been erected to keep out neighboring cattle.

This is the south side of the street, just east of where Dauphin Island Parkway begins. In those days the "Parkway" was Fulton Road and the trolley was being extended this far out to give the area its name of the Loop. The two frame houses seen here are numbers 1959 and 1963.

Number 1959 with its Classic Revival features is home to J. Blocker Thornton and his wife, Fannie. Mr. Thornton was in practice with one of the city's best known attorneys of the day, Peter J. Hamilton. President Woodrow Wilson would appoint Thornton to be Mobile's Postmaster in 1914 and he later had a 15 year term as a Circuit Court Judge as well.

The Charles Ollingers reside at number 1963. Mr. Ollinger had interests in real estate as well as businesses in dry docks and dredging. By the 1930's the house was occupied by an insurance agent named James Beard. He would later run the property as Beard's Tourist Home.

By the end of World War II much has changed in the world and in Mobile as well. The trolleys were gone and a long-paved Government Street was now Highway 90 with its steady stream of interstate traffic rushing by, day and night.

J. Blocker Thornton died at his home in 1945 on what was his 75th birthday, and his wife passed away five years later. The Thornton home was purchased by Ralph Thurman who was the proprietor of a Holcombe Avenue filling station.

The neighborhood was rapidly becoming commercialized. Just across the street Johnnie's Drive Inn Restaurant arrived as did a few First Federal Savings and Loan. Delchamps built a location on the lots to the west of the old Ollinger home which came crashing down to provide parking.

By the mid-fifties the Thurmans had moved west on Government Street and their house had been replaced with a "Jet Car Wash." Its descendant still occupies the site while the asphalt grave of the Ollinger property sprawls beyond. Delchamps long ago chose another location and its former home houses a drug store.


Above Left: photo courtesy of University of South Alabama Archives. Above Right: photo by Kevin Marston.


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