Remember When: The Brunson Hotel and Café – 1923
Published 2:00 pm Friday, February 17, 2023
In the old newspapers, I ran across an ad in the February 1923 edition of The Andalusia Star. It reads as follows: CITY HOTEL where “U R” welcome to stop and rest and get more food for less money at our NEW CAFÉ – Opening Monday, February 19th, M. E. Brunson, Proprietor.
This hotel was on South Cotton Street where Alan Cotton’s Florist and Gift Shop is located today. Next to the flower shop is the site of the Sullivan Furniture Company and formerly the Ritz Theatre where a new roof has been installed recently.
You readers have probably noticed that row of buildings down the hill on South Cotton, storefronts of days gone by, in what used to be called “The Bottom.” I will just mention one of those structures where my great grandfather operated his café 100 years ago.
If one lodged at the City Hotel, meals were served there to the guests and the family. The business letterhead read “Clean Rooms, Hot and Cold Water, The European Plan.”
The Brunsons had 12 children who had rooms downstairs. Upstairs were the guest rooms. The family enjoyed the parlor and for twenty years or so, the food was prepared in the basement and brought up to the dining room. In the early 1920s, the health department required the baking to be moved to the ground level so that was done.
Two of the oldest Brunson boys opened a bakery across the street and went into business selling bread, cakes, and other baked goods to the public. That must have been about the time that “Papa” Brunson opened his café several doors down from the hotel. He also sold popcorn and hamburgers to passers-by out on the sidewalk in front of the café. There was always a steady stream of people walking from the square to the depot where the trains came in.
The family story goes like this. Growing up in the hotel, the entire family participated in the day to day operation. Sometimes the boys would walk to the L & N Depot with their father to get luggage and baggage from the travelers getting off the train. There were traveling salesmen and other visitors arriving especially about the time of World War I.
The boys also were awakened early mornings to walk to the farm at the end of Carlton Street to work the garden, hoe the weeds, and gather vegetables such as sweet potatoes, cabbages, and corn. They milked the cows, slopped the hogs, and tended to the chickens in the back area behind the hotel. This was the routine before they ever went to school each week day. They had a mule named “One-Eyed Jack” that they took turns riding back and forth to the farm. Their good friend Johnny Crenshaw would accompany them quite often.
The girls helped in the housekeeping duties of the hotel such as cleaning the rooms, changing the sheets, washing clothes, sweeping, ironing, sewing, cooking and baking, and serving the customers.
Well, it seems that one by one as the boys grew older, they would run away from home. The first one headed to Texas which was a popular place to go back in those days. Then a few years later, another would run away and follow the first brother.
Eventually, there were just two brothers left in town, Charlie and John Brunson, who had opened the Andalusia Bakery in a building across from the hotel. Bread was baked in brick ovens. The building where that first bakery was located was torn down this past year to make way for the Heritage Park.
The two brothers who were young adults by then finally decided to flip a coin and see which one would stay in Andalusia and which one would join the other brothers in Texas. They realized that the bakery would not financially support two families. Charlie Brunson won the toss and got to stay in Andalusia. Brother John headed to Texas. Brother Ellie (Buddy) who was single his whole life would go back and forth from Texas to home base in Andalusia.
A couple of years, or maybe more, later, one of the brothers, Matt, decided to come back to Andalusia for a visit. He arrived at the café and sat up on one of the bar stools. Hanging his head, he placed his order and after some time, he declared, “Papa, you don’t even know who I am, do you!” What a surprise that was.
The other brothers in Texas did quite well. They partnered up and opened a family grocery store. One of the brothers owned a chain of theatres, the Brunson Theatres, in Baytown, Texas.
The oldest daughter Eva married a Mr. Purefoy, and they settled in Talladega where Eva opened her own hotel. The Hotel Purefoy became a landmark where she served a buffet lunch that the locals and even celebrities visited Talladega to eat at the “groaning board.” Her cookbooks became popular and well-known, and the hotel which housed antiques in every room was featured in Look magazine.
In 1930 when “Mama Brunson” died suddenly, the girls had to go to live with sister Eva Brunson Purefoy, and the boys were established mostly in Texas by then any way. “Sister” Purefoy sent the girls, her younger sisters, to college.
The parents Matthew Brunson and Minnie Jane Seale Brunson came to Andalusia at the turn of the century around 1900. Matt had helped to build the railroad into downtown Andalusia when the railroad line was extended from Searight. He and some of his brothers from Elba had attended the Highland Home College. When the train project was finally complete, Matthew Brunson thought that Andalusia might be a good place to rear his family.
In 1900 when they first arrived in town on a wagon pulled by mules, they pulled in to the Brown and Broughton Drug Store on Court Square with five children but the number in the following years grew to an even twelve. The Brunson children in order of age were Eva, Howard, Charlie, Sue, Matt, Ann, Edna, Ellie (Buddy), John, Dot, Helen, and Mary. They were born from 1892 to 1915.
Charlie Brunson continued to operate his bakery later moving from South Cotton Street over to South Three Notch Street. His Blue Bird Bread brand was eventually baked in the new gas revolving oven about which time the bread slicing machine was invented that stream-lined operations. He retired in 1959 after being in business for 45 years. His sister Eva was also in the hotel business in Talladega for 45 years. She branched out later in her career in nearby Anniston at the Noble Inn.
Businesses and business owners have come and gone through the years in Andalusia. If you have ever wondered lately what businesses used to be down in “The Bottom,” this is just one of those told about in this story that we can Remember When.
Sue Bass Wilson, AHS Class of 1965, is a local real estate broker and former choral music teacher. She is a long-time member of the Covington Historical Society and can be reached at email@example.com.