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April 14, 1998

Mobile: Then and Now

Then Now

by Tom McGehee

As the twentieth century arrived in Mobile the city's Government Street featured a parade of elaborate palaces for its leading citizens. Being a port city, business had been especially good for Captain John Quill who had recently enlarged his new home at 959 Government Street.

Here on the south side of the block just east of Charles the Quill home dominated the scene. To the west on the corner of Charles is the raised cottage of Lee Irwin, former assistant postmaster and the secretary of the Mobile Chamber of Commerce. Irwin will move to Selma Street allowing the construction of the St. Charles Apartments in 1922.

To the east is the shuttered residence of Julian Watters. Mr. Watters was the firm of J.A. Watters and Company, Cotton Factors.

Captain Quill had developed a bond with his up-river clientele and his Nettie Quill made regular runs for the planters' cotton loads, bringing needed supplies in return. Quill also acted as a vice president of the Southern Supply Company under mayor P.J. Lyons.

In 1899 the Quills had moved from North Jackson Street after remodeling with an elaborate Romanesque facade. Within were exotic hardwoods used in flooring, paneling and carved into exotic animals and even Chinese dragons. The dining room chairs had been custom carved and the fireplace mantels were of marble and carved stone.

The house not only was wired for electricity but had a burglar alarm system. with electric locks. Captain Quill could press a button in his bedroom and unlock the front door.

The most unusual space may have been the Oriental Room which adjoined Quill's library. Beneath a stained glass dome was a columned room with art glass panels concealing electric lights.

After the Quills departure the home survived for nearly twenty years as a rooming house run by former North Jackson Street resident Mrs. E.F. Hendon. The block's ultimate destruction began in 1945.

A Reverend Henry Grube obtained the old Quill house at the close of World War II. The neighbors first clue of the mansions' fate came when Grube erected a garish neon side at curbside announcing the long needed arrival of the "Mobile Gospel Tabernacle." The city fathers ignored the neighbors complaints over the sign as they cited religious freedom.

Grube found an audience with the masses of wartime arrivals in Mobile and went about enlarging the Quill home with a series of grossly incompatible additions of cinder block and galvanized metal. The Watters house became a parking lot for Tabernacle attendees.

By 1947 the institution had added a school and 600 seat auditorium for services. It eventually took the name Greystone for what was left of the Quill facade.

In the mid-sixties the school abandoned the location and moved to the western suburbs where it eventually folded. The old facility was placed on the market but it was decided that the lot would be more valuable without the house so it was demolished in 1968.

The lot has since become home to a Wendy's franchise. The St. Charles survives.


Left Photo: Courtesy of the Wilson Collection. Right Photo by Kevin Marston.


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