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April 13, 1999

Mobile: Then and Now

Then Now
(Click on a photo to see a larger version)

by Tom McGehee

The twentieth century was new when this photograph was taken of the north west corner of Government and South Conception streets. This was still a peaceful neighborhood for the city’s elite and the automobile was a very expensive toy for the very rich. The noisiest vehicle at the time was the electric trolley seen here headed south on South Conception.

At center is the Millard Kirkbride home, number 200 Government Street. Mrs. Kirkbride had been a Philipe before her marriage and the house had been in her family since about 1880. Prior to that the Philipe residence had been on the intersection’s south east corner since at least 1869.

The Kirkbride’s neighbors’ homes are partially visible here. Number 206 Government is to the west beyond an intriguing walled garden. It has been in the Bull family since the mid- 1850’s when former New Yorker Alfred Bull moved into it. By this century it is occupied by Miss Mary Bull, former principal of the Boys Primary School out at Barton Academy.

To the north on Conception Street can be seen the tall brick town house of the Gibbons family. Judge Lyman Gibbons had built it in 1855 sparing no expense in its construction or elegant furnishings. Between the two houses is a frame dwelling which will long belong to physician Dillon Spottswood. The magnolia is in his front yard but the house is out of sight here.

The new century brought rapid change. The gleaming new YMCA had been completed across Conception Street in 1898 and would be expanded in 1907. In the block facing the Kirkbrides came the Elks in 1901 and the Loyal Order of Moose in 1914. The owners of 201 Government Street just walked away from it and moved into a rooming house bemoaning the servant crisis as they went. The house was allowed to deteriorate.

Miss Bull had moved to a St. Francis Street boarding house by 1915. The following years her old home and its garden disappeared and were replaced by the Cadillac dealership of Charles Harrington. Traffic and noise were increasing.

As the twenties roared, the widowed Mrs. Kirkbride selected a new home in bucolic Ashland Place. She was determined that her fine old Italianate villa be spared the fate of becoming a lodge or rooming house so she demolished it. The result of this architectural euthanasia was the undramatic Kirkbride Garage.

The building was leased to George Barnes for the sale of Chryslers and Plymouths to an auto-crazed populace. When car dealers left for the west the building was converted to other uses. In 1960 it was leased for the Serv-Ur-Self Department Store. In more recent years it has been remodeled for offices.

The Spottswood home was replaced by a non-descript commercial building but the Gibbons house survives. It had been mangled into the Willison Building after World War II but more recently it has received a sympathetic restoration into law offices.

The Cadillac dealership which replaced the Alfred Bull house was short-lived. The structure housed an auto-supply business, a cigar store and finally South Central Bell. It has been vacant for many years requiring repeated replacements of the “For Lease” signs.

The entire block across Government Street has been obliterated by the Government Plaza complex. The corner to the east still holds the remnants of the YMCA in a dilapidated state awaiting its fate.


Photo courtesy of Museum of Mobile Collection, USA Archives.


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