The Public Inn: From Huntsville’s first hotel to historic home

single-meta-cal May 30, 2019

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.

The Public Inn, built by John Adams in 1818, was first opened for business to travelers and boarders on October 29, 1819, on what is now Williams Street in the Twickenham Historic District. Huntsville was a young city and much like today had an influx of people pouring into the area from places as far away as New York and Pennsylvania to Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia and Mississippi Territory. The governmental structure of the new state of Alabama was forming only a stone’s throw away where Constitutional Hall Park is currently located.

Due to the close proximity of the assembly drafting the state constitution, many local historians believe that early state delegates could have been guests of the newly built hotel. The original location of the inn was on the northeast corner of Williams Avenue and Madison Street until 1927 when it was moved on timbers to its current location at 205 Williams Avenue. The inn has changed significantly since it was first built with several additions, nearly doubling its size.

After passing through the hands of several owners, and having been set on the chopping block for deconstruction in the 1970s, the inn was ultimately divided into two apartments in the 1980s.

Doug Martinson and his family bought the property at an estate sale in the early 1990s and have owned the property since. Martinson describes his family as having a passion for history and the city of Huntsville.

“I’ve always liked old homes, the history of Huntsville and the history of Alabama,” says Martinson.

The Martinson family called upon local architect Harvie P. Jones to help restore, preserve, and replenish the beauty of the home that previous owners started. Harvie was a close friend of Martinson’s father, who was a local lawyer. Martinson says they ripped some of the oak flooring installed in the 1920s to expose the beautiful heart-of-pine flooring original to the home. The family also installed modern amenities to make the apartments livable.

“I remember when we bought it,” said Martinson. “It had a leaky roof and the home was filled with pigeons.”

Even though the old inn needed work, Martinson’s family knew it was a solid structure. He says if you crawl under the home, you can see the hand-hewn timbers that could date back to as early as the 1700s. Martinson lived in one of the apartments for a short time and has fond memories of the home which is just down the street from his office, where he currently practices as a lawyer.

“You can even see where a piece of coal jumped out of one of the fireplaces and burned a small mark into the wood,” said Martinson.

Every year, locals host a ghost tour and stroll by the Inn. Some have claimed they hear fiddle music playing from the home.

When asked about the music, Doug chuckled and said he had never heard or experienced any kind of supernatural beings when he lived at the property. He likes that people take interest in homes like his because it keeps the history and character of the state in the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Martinson says he sees working with the city’s historic preservation commission as a benefit to the city to help keep the integrity of the neighborhood and surrounding homes intact for years to come.