|City/Town: • Montgomery|
|Location Class: • Residential|
|Built: • 1896 | Abandoned: • N/A|
|Historic Designation: • Historic District (1976)|
|Status: • Abandoned|
|Photojournalist: • David Bulit|
Cottage Hill District
The Benjamin W. Walker House at 301 North Goldthwaite Street is the best example of Queen Anne-style architecture in the Cottage Hill District. The district was planned out in the 1830s by Edward Hanrick and is Montgomery’s first and oldest historic district. It is situated on a low hill overlooking the Alabama River located just west of downtown. The district contains more than 90 houses constructed prior to 1910, most of which are simple, frame residences with touches of Victorian and classical details. After the early years of the 20th century, the city’s more prominent families to the east along Court and Perry streets, leaving Cottage Hill to the middle and working class. Before the depression, several small cottages and apartments were constructed as well as a row of small stores were built along Goldthwaite Street.
During the late-1950s and 1960s, the area declined and was slated to become an industrial warehouse complex according to the city’s master plan. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the area was recognized for its irreplaceable architecture and its potential as a downtown residential area. The district was placed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage on April 16, 1975, and on the National Register of Historic Places on November 7, 1976.
Benjamin Winston Walker
The district is surrounded by quite a few abandoned properties but none are more impressive than the mansion that stands on Goldthwaite Street, considered one of the last examples of the Queen Anne style of architecture in the area. Completed in 1896, it once belonged to Captain Benjamin Winston Walker from Tuskegee, where his great-uncle General Thomas Woodward was one of the founders.
Growing up on a farm, Walker was a crack shot having won first place at a tourney at the Montgomery Shooting Club in 1876. One year prior to that, he was arrested after killing W. G. Clarke at Cowles Station in present-day Milstead. According to witnesses, Clarke took offense to Walker having hired an African-American and wrote a letter to Walker threatening his life, plainly intimidating him that he would kill him on sight. On August 11, 1873, Walker went to Cowles Station, and wasn’t long before Clarkes showed up with two of his friends. Before Clarke could fire a shot, Walker leveled his revolver and fired three shots, killing Clarke instantly. He was acquitted of the killing on account of the letter sent to him and witness testimony claiming Clarke had previously tried hiring them to kill Walker.
Walker was a plantation owner owning much land in Macon County; in 1886, he represented Macon County in Alabama State Senate for one term, and was the first Republican to be elected from that county in twelve years; in 1889, he was appointed U. S. Marshall for the middle and southern districts of Alabama by President Benjamin Harrison which prompted his move to Montgomery, and was the receiver for the Mobile and Gerard Railroad which was owned by the U. S. Government.
Walker was married to Josie Jerrol Alsop, the daughter of Thomas J. Alsop, a wealthy businessman who owned much of the land along Whitman and Goldthwaite Streets. When her father died in November 1893, much of his estate, including the property upon which this house was built, was split amongst his wife and children. According to a previous owner, the Walkers soon separated and the home was rented out to a Montgomery judge. This claim is debatable though as his obituary states that, although Benjamin Walker had retired and spent much time in Macon County overseeing his vast farming interests, he died on December 30, 1907, at his home on Goldthwaite in Montgomery.
B. W. Walker House post-death
As far back as 1915, apartments were being rented out “at the home of Mrs. B. W. Walker” according to one snippet in The Montgomery Advertiser. It should be noted as well that Thomas Woodard Walker, son of Benjamin and Josie Walker, had his residence at 301 North Goldthwaite Street in 1918. One notable resident of the home was Judge Charles Edward McCall and his wife Mary Rebecca Collins who moved into the home in the early-1930s. McCall served as probate judge of Choctaw County from 1898 to 1909. Appointed State Examiner of Accounts in 1909, he was elevated to Chief Examiner of Accounts in 1911 and held that position until 1931, when he became Assistant Comptroller. He was elected State Auditor in 1934 and was elected State Treasurer in 1938, a position he held until his death in 1941. Funeral services were held at 301 N. Goldthwaite Street as well as for his wife when she passed in 1948.
Apartments and office space
By the mid-1930s, part of the house was being used for the offices of the J. W. Gannon & Company, a wholesale automotive supply and equipment firm, which occupied the space until 1959 when the company was dissolved. W. E. Walker owned the house during this time and applied for a building permit in 1952 for further additions to the home. Apartments continued being rented out of the house well into the 1970s. In the early-1970s, the home was briefly occupied by Mann’s Antiques, and later The Heritage Shop antique store. According to the previous owner, the house was later bought by a man with the intention of renovating it and gifting it to his newly-wed daughter and her husband. After a lot of demolition work, the project was abandoned and sold away.
Reversion to a family home
The home was purchased by a couple in the 1980s who lived there for the next 30 years, restoring it and repairing the mistakes of previous owners. Despite having made substantial repairs and restoration work, a decision was made to sell the house but only to someone with the intention of continuing to restore it, rather than having it demolished. A local developer approached them numerous times offering to purchase the property but was declined on every occasion. Finally, the home was purchased by a local woman under the guise of completely restoring the house to its former grandeur. In reality, the property was purchased under an LLC owned by the developer that has been wanting to acquire it for so many years.
Development and future
The developer had also purchased other properties in the area such as the Hilltop Arms Apartments and the former Capitol City Motors dealership. They planned on converting the old apartment building into a luxury boutique hotel with construction being completed by Fall 2019. This plan never came to fruition, some speculating that the Hilltop Arms Apartments had significant foundation issues. Others speculated that the cost to renovate the aging apartment building was much higher than anticipated.
In February 2021, both the Walker House and the Hilltop Arms Apartments were sold to the Equal Justice Initiative for $1.4 million. The Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is a non-profit organization that provides legal representation to prisoners who may have been wrongly convicted of crimes, poor prisoners without effective representation, and others who may have been denied a fair trial. On April 26, 2018, EJI opened the nearby Legacy Museum as well as the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Plans were developed by BDW Architects of Montgomery in May 2021 which call for the restoration of the B. W. Walker House and the addition of a two-story structure behind the home featuring an elevator and walkways connecting to the main house.
The Montgomery Advertiser, Brad Harper. (February 13, 2022). Investments in Cottage Hill drive anticipation in Montgomery’s first integrated neighborhood
The Montgomery Advertiser. (January 24, 1874). Report on the killing of W. G. Clarke
The Montgomery Advertiser. (December 31, 1907). CAPT. WALKER DEAD
The Tuskegee News. (April 8, 1937). Thos. W. Walker Dies Suddenly at Milstead Tuesday
BDW Architects. (May 5, 2021). Architectural Plans for Renovation of the Benjamin Winston Walker House