As part of the 2019 “This Place Matters” campaign, the Huntsville Historic Preservation Commission salutes Alabama’s Bicentennial by profiling homes built in the community more than 200 years ago.
When you arrive at the Jude-Crutcher House off Winchester Road, James Crutcher will greet you with a smile from ear to ear and a warm handshake. According to James, the Jude-Crutcher House is the oldest log cabin home in Madison County. The cabin dates back to the early 1800s where slaves lived in close quarters underneath the floors of what is now the living room.
A Vietnam veteran and retiree of General Motors in Ohio, Crutcher spends his days with family, barbecuing on a smoker he built with pride, and looking after the home that has been in his family for centuries. His tie to this home, which is listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage and National Register of Historic Places, is personal and intimate.
It was his ancestor, David Crutcher, born on an adjacent plantation, who went in with two other men to purchase the home in 1906 along with 154 acres. They were all former slaves. The Crutchers operated a successful farm on their portion, and the home has remained in the family to the present day.
Crutcher grew up in Ohio but would travel south to Alabama to spend time with his grandparents who occupied the family home. He describes his grandmother as a prayerful woman and one of the best cooks. He’s made certain the kitchen remains much the same as it was when he was a child. The same fridge and stove where Crutcher says he woke up to the smell of biscuits and bacon in the mornings.
A Photo Tour
“Back then, the hospitality was when you go and stay at someone’s house and they’d be mad if you didn’t eat,” says Crutcher. “I’d go back into the factory and tell them ‘Oh man, the hospitality in Alabama, you can’t beat it!”
Crutcher promised his grandmother he’d return one day and build a new house on the property. About 20 years ago, Crutcher moved into the historic cabin for nine months while he built a home next door. Despite offers to purchase the land and its contents, Crutcher has deep roots in the community and is trying his best to keep the property in the family. “I love it down here.”
A plaque at the front of the cabin says 1812, but Crutcher believes the home may date earlier because a nearby cemetery has graves dating before that time. The historical significance of the site fills him with responsibility. He’s tried to keep the integrity of the home as intact as it was the day it was built.
Crutcher says he’s worked preserve the natural wood on the exterior of the cabin. He points to the foundation of solid timbers, built with wooden pegs, not nails, that look like they were installed yesterday.
One of the only additions to the home is a bathroom, an upgrade from the outhouse Crutcher used as a young man. Work to preserve the home is far from done, and Crutcher envisions a time when people can come and truly appreciate the history of the cabin. It would make his grandmother proud.