Remember When: Brunson Hotel, a part of Andalusia history

Published 4:25 pm Friday, July 26, 2019

Recently, Joe Nix posted a picture on social media that caught this writer’s attention. It was a scene of South Cotton Street in the area referred to for many years as “The Bottom.” Looking from south to north toward the “Public Square” that we now call “Court Square,” this view showed the old City Hotel or called by some, the Brunson Hotel. It was a two-story building with a balcony and is now occupied, restored and preserved, by Alan Cotton Florist.

In the spring of 1900 shortly after the birth of their 5th child, the Matthew E. Brunson family pulled into Andalusia bringing everything they owned on a wagon pulled by two mules. M. E. Brunson, son of M. E. and Nancy Elizabeth Brooks Brunson of Coffee County, Alabama, was the 2nd child of 15 children and was born in 1868 near Elba. He was affectionately called “Brother” by the members of his family and “Matt” by his friends. He grew to maturity on his father’s farm in Brunson, Alabama 7 miles from Elba on the Pea River in the Woodland Grove Community.

A frequent visitor to the home of his aunt, Missouri Brooks Colley of Greenville, he would often drive the surrey for his mother on these trips where he met Miss Minnie Jane Seale, daughter of Henry Oliver Seale and Susan Henderson Seale. They were married at the Seale residence in Butler County on December 31, 1890.

The couple returned to Coffee County briefly, but Matt soon decided to go to college in Highland Home in Crenshaw County along with his brother Arthur who lived in the Jordan house with Matt and Minnie for 3 years until they all graduated.

Oldest children Eva and Howard were born in Crenshaw County. Another child of Matt’s born later was named Ellie Barnes Brunson after the president of the college. Arthur who returned to Elba to live also named one of his sons Ellie Barnes Brunson. An historical marker at Highland Home is located at the site of the old college.

Returning in 1895 to Coffee County, Matt farmed until an opportunity arose in 1899 for him to help build the railroad beds establishing rail lines into Andalusia from Searight. He became a construction engineer/supervisor and in 1900 moved his family establishing a permanent home in Andalusia.

Arriving in town, the wagon stopped on the Public Square at the Brown-Broughton Drug Store for water for his little 2-year old daughter sick with scarlet fever.

Matt’s children, Eva, Howard, Charlie, Sue, and Matt called him “Papa.” Two more children, Annie and Edna were born at their home on South Three Notch Street in 1903 and 1905.

By 1905 or 1906, Matt had saved enough money after the railroad projects were completed to purchase property to build the hotel on South Cotton Street. Ellie, the 8th child, was the first child born in the hotel originally a wooden structure that was only a block away from the railway station, the L & N Depot. The wooden structure was later bricked up and added on to. The last of the children in the family, John, Helen, Dot, and Mary, were born at the hotel.

“Mama” and “Papa” finally had a fine family of 12 children to help with the chores and operations of the hotel. When the trains came in, “Papa” went himself down to the depots with the other porters, the Central of Georgia and the L & N, to choose the travelers he wanted to stay in his hotel. After all, his family lived downstairs and the guests lodged upstairs. An influx of soldiers that came through during and after World War I created a steady stream of travelers seeking lodging, therefore, the hotel business was quite lucrative during that period of time. The hotel’s proximity to both of the railroad stations was a great advantage.

An old letterhead reads, “Clean Rooms, Hot and Cold Water, and “European Plan” which denoted room accommodations included the price of one’s meals. Food was served in the large dining room with everyone gathered around a tremendous oval-shaped table.

On the 40-acre farm which Matt Brunson purchased one mile from the hotel at the end of Carlton Street, most of the vegetables were grown for his family and lodgers. About five acres a year were cleared without modern machinery by Brunson and his five sonsHoward, Charlie, Matt, John, and Ellie.  Sugar cane, cabbage plants, and sweet potatoes were among the larger crops.

A curing house was located behind the hotel where Brunson killed his own hogs and made sausage, bacon, and ham. A specialty of the house served at the hotel was squab with gravy and French fried potatoes or grits. The baby pigeons were raised in the back of the hotel in cages. Descendants of these pigeons now inhabit downtown Andalusia and plague the rooftops and gutters of many buildings, the writer hesitates to say! If it’s not the pigeons, it’s the buzzards (They all love Andalusia!).

“Mama” Brunson also had a vegetable garden in the back yard of the hotel that was adjacent to the Presbyterian Church property. In that area, she raised chickens. One of the young children was remembered as saying, “’Mama’ Brunson will whip you if you bodder her bitties!”

Each morning, some of the boys would arise at 4:30 a.m., walk to the farm, one mile down, bring at least two cows back to the hotel for milking, then take them back  – all before they went to school at 8:00 at the East Three Notch School. A day’s work including chopping wood would be done in the early morning hours to begin hotel operations and to enable Brunson to provide for his family of twelve children.

The family remembers that there were many beautiful pieces of furniture in the hotel. A floor plate at the entrance read M. E. BRUNSON. A piano stood in the parlor. The hotel had one of the first radios in town. The family living quarters was on the ground level. Steps led upstairs to guest rooms which were all numbered. A large hall was through the middle with rooms on either side. Iron beds were found in most rooms. The hotel was heated by fireplaces to begin with but steam heat was later added.

An upstairs porch or balcony looked out over the street. Rocking chairs were placed there as well as in the lobby where overhead ceiling fans cooled guests in the summertime.

Food was cooked on a large wood stove. The baking operation of bread, rolls, and cakes was done in the basement which lower level still exists today under Alan Cotton’s Flower Shop. In the early 1920s, the health department mandated that all baking must be above ground so two of the older boys moved the baking right across the street and established the Andalusia Bakery that son Charlie Brunson eventually operated for the next 45 years. The two brick ovens are still on the east wall of that building.

At least four of the children were married in the hotel. In 1917, this writer’s grandparents, Charlie and Foye Mathis Brunson, were married in the hotel where they honeymooned and lived for the next two years while they planned and built their home at 409 South Cotton Street about two blocks south of the hotel in a lovely growing residential section of town at that time in the early 1920s. They lived happily in that home for over 60 years.

In the tradition of her father, the oldest daughter Eva for many years owned and operated with her husband the famous Purefoy Hotel in Talladega. Featured in national magazine, the Purefoy Hotel was noted for its family-style meals and featured an international collection of antiques and fine art. “Sister” Purefoy served many celebrities, governors and legislators, and Hollywood personalities in her over 45 years of being in business.

The City Hotel closed in 1931, a year after “Mama” Brunson died on the operating table undergoing cancer surgery. Some of the grown children had already moved to Baytown, Texas and Talladega although some were still teenagers. Those younger children went to live with the older children and their families, the girls to Talladega and the boys to Texas. “Papa” no longer had the help of all the children he once had in operating and managing the hotel business, and it became no longer profitable. Charlie Brunson, this writer’s grandfather, was the only child of 12 who remained and lived out the rest of his life in Andalusia. He made his living for 45 years as the town baker which business started out in the basement of his father’s hotel.

“Papa” was known to be a firm and stern disciplinarian as many fathers of that day had to be in order to raise a large family, but his spirit of generosity and love for his family will be remembered foremost. He gave away an unknown quantity of hamburgers, popcorn, watermelon, peanuts, and soda pop from his City Café, a storefront adjacent to the hotel. Tables in the café and the hotel dining room were always reserved on Sundays for diners coming in after church.

“Papa” Brunson died in 1943 in Talladega while residing with his daughter Eva due to his failing health. Matthew Eugene and Minnie Jane Seale Brunson were both laid to rest in the Magnolia Cemetery in Andalusia along with their son Ellie Barnes Brunson.

Today one can visualize the old hotel when riding down South Cotton Street. This picture from Joe Nix’s photograph collection caused me to Remember When Alan Cotton so graciously allowed me and my Brunson relatives to walk upstairs in the old hotel building which he now owns to look at the guest rooms he now uses for storage and to imagine things as they once were. “Gone – glimmering through the dream of things that were.” Lord Byron from Childe Harold

     Sue Bass Wilson, AHS Class of 1965, is a local real estate broker and long-time member of the Covington Historical Society. She can be reached at