Then and Now
October 19, 1999
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by Tom McGehee
The south east corner of Government and Franklin streets has been occupied by two homes for mayors of Mobile. John Stocking was living on this corner in the wee hours of New Year 1830 when the newly formed Cowbellion de Rankin Society members came to call. Despite the hour the mayor invited them in for refreshments and the oldest mystic society in the United States was born.
The Stocking home was replaced with the house in this snapshot in 1872. Henry Bernstein had made a comfortable fortune in the sales of shoes and boots. He hired architect James l. Hutchisson, and some $15,000 later he had a grand new home.
Mrs. Bernstein died in 1888 and her death may well have contributed to Bernstein’s decision t0 sell the house in 1891. The new owner was John Curtis Bush, Sr., a prosperous cotton factor who would also serve as the city’s mayor.
It was under ownership by Bush that the house was the setting for glittering parties and a regular stop for New Years callers. Each year the street was filled with carriages on that day, filled with ladies and gentlemen in evening clothes, though it was early afternoon. The afternoon was spent going from one great house to another to welcome in the New Year.
Mayor Bush’s widow sold the home in 1922 to Frank Roche. The new owner was a mortician and the once noisy home was reduced to a funeral parlor. Where one generation came to celebrate a New Year, a new one would come to mourn.
When the funeral emporium closed its doors the house stood vacant with its future in doubt. It was the late sixties and Government Street was still a very busy highway. The house to the east had been replaced by a parking lot. The block to the west was razed for Spanish Plaza and the old Bush home was the only original residence still standing between Franklin Street and the riverfront.
The savior of the house was William Hearin whose Chandler Foundation grant was matched to bring Mobile its own museum. That entity is said to be a museum honoring Mobile’s Mardi Gras.
Photo Credit: Then photo, courtesy of University of South Alabama Archives; now photo by Kevin Marston.