Historic Structures

Robbins Hotel, Beatrice Alabama

Date added: July 27, 2019 Categories: Alabama Hotel

The Selma to Pensacola rail line was chartered in 1858 but construction was barely completed 40 miles south of Selma when the Civil War broke out. Intermittent postwar construction and financial entanglements left a 45-mile gap through rural Monroe County in the line's completion that was not completed until 1899. The Daniel Robbins farm, with the exception of the Robbins House, was among land purchased by railroad contractor Robert M. Quigley for purposes of establishing the railroad right-of-way which subsequently passed approximately 200 feet east of the house. The Robbins House immediately became a haven for railroad people, commercial travelers, sportsmen and other guests brought to town by the new railroad. It was this close proximity to the railroad line that necessitated the c. 1905 enlargement of the Robbins House and gave it its present identity. The Robbins House turned hotel, served the rail traveler and subsequently the automobile tourist of the 1920s-1930s.

While Monroe County was created in 1815 and general settlement in the county was very early by Alabama standards, there were several communities that were not born until the railroad bisected the county in 1899. Beatrice, Alabama is one of them.

The rail line which would ultimately connect west Alabama to the Gulf Coast at Pensacola was actually chartered in 1858 but construction was barely completed 40 miles south of Selma when the Civil War broke out. Intermittent postwar construction and financial entanglements left a 45-mile gap through rural Monroe County in the line's completion when it finally defaulted in 1879. Purchased by the Louisville and Nashville Railroad in_1880, it was not until 1899 that the line was finished between Pineapple and Repton.

In January of that year (1899) the line was chartered between the two towns and Robert M. Quigley, contractor for the road bed set about buying land for the right-of-way.

Barbara Robbins retained the home she and husband Daniel had purchased in 1860 from George W. and Mariam Dubose Davison. Little is known about the Davisons at this writing except that there were apparently two George W. Davisons in Monroe County at the time. It is certain, however, that George W. and Mariam married in 1853 shortly after G. Wę Davison began buying up the 40-acre parcels surrounding the house site.

William A. Hutto, listed in the Lowndes County Census of 1830, purchased the 40-acre house site from the U. S. Government in 1836. He subsequently appears in the 1840 Census of Monroe County but not in the 1850. Interestingly, it was not until about 1850 that the surrounding parcels were sold by the government. No record is found of Hutto's sale or any other transfer of the property to G. W. Davison but some kind of exchange apparently took place since the parcel is included in Davison's sale to the Robbins in 1860.

Carpenter lock sets manufactured before 1844, floor plan and construction materials as well as historical circumstance thus seem to indicate that the one-story, sixroom house which forms the nucleus of the Robbins place was built by William Hutto sometime around 1840.

By the time Davison sold the property in 1860, appurtenances included a gin to the north of the house which the Robbins subsequently operated.

While relatively little is known about this early period of the house, the dwelling's "second life" began with Mr. Quigley. Reselling a portion of his Robbins purchase on October 25, 1899, to the L & N Railroad, Quigley filed on October 26, 1899, a plat for the town of Beatrice, drawn from Robbins' lands. Central to the new town and approximately 200 feet west of the railroad tracks was the Robbins Home.

The Robbins house situated thus and the Robbins family having consisted of some 19 children, it is not surprising that they soon gained a reputation for taking in and "feeding railroad men." In fact, by January 23, 1902, the Monroe Journal records that an "oyster supper to benefit Quigley Institute" will be held at the Robbins House, just the first of such social events recorded over the next 60 years.

The Robbins House apparently developed into a full-fledged hotel between Barbara Robbins' death in 1906 and 1910 when the newspaper begins recording hotel guests for the week. Family tradition and physical evidence indicate that a second story was added to the house at that time to accommodate the ever-growing number of guests.

Quigley developed two other towns along the Pineapple to Repton line. Kempville (renamed Tunnel Springs in 1902) and Monroe (commonly called Monroe Station) were to the south of Beatrice. Kempville received the most advertisement and boomed between 1900 and 1905; Beatrice for some reason lagged behind. Perhaps the troublesome "element" referred to in the Monroe Journal of February 9, 1905, had some bearing on growth.

"Our town is very quiet now, there have been no disturbances here lately. Beatrice has quite a reputation for brawls, but it is made by people who do not live here. So many from the surrounding country come here for different purposes. The residents are peaceful law abiding citizens."

And too, Pineville, a few miles west of Beatrice was an established agricultural community by 1840, so it offered some competition to the new hamlet.

Whatever the case, by 1905 exuberant descriptions of construction and commercial activity were being reported from Beatrice. As the newspaper editor had put it in 1901 "the construction of the Selma and Gulf railroad marks a new era in the history of Monroe, and as an instrumentality is a vigorous factor in promoting a new life and energy upon the eastern border..."

Reports of timber camp production, new businesses, new residences and new churches emanated from Beatrice. The Peoples Exchange Bank was established; a Stave Mill was opened; the Knights of Pythias and Masons "finished a nice hall" and telephones came to Beatrice all before the end of 1910.

It is no wonder then that the Robbins Hotel register was crowded with commercial travelers: Mr. B. F. Hale, Cudahy Packing Co., Mobile; Mr. William M. Weaver, purveyor of farm implements, Selma; and, of course, Mr. C. E. Jones, engineer with L and N from Montgomery, for example. Visitors from as far away as St. Louis, Nashville and New Orleans stayed at the hotel.

In addition, the Robbins Hotel harbored residential guests like Mr. and Mrs. W. R. Sawyer who lived at the hotel c. 1907 when he came to town as Vice President of the Peoples Exchange Bank. The Deasons from Hopkinsville, Kentucky, stayed at the "celebrated Robbins House" when they came to Beatrice to open the Stave mill in 1908. The hotel was also residence to school teachers and ministers. As one Beatrice native recalls, "the Robbins Hotel, especially in the 1930s, as I remember it best, was the epitomy of old Southern hospitality and culture, with 'Miss Minnie 1 (Aunt Minnie to me - my great-great aunt), as the gracious hostess, its wide verandas with swings and rocking chairs, inviting friendly fellowship among the guests; its beautifully-appointed dining room, with white table cloths, flowers on each table . . . and delicious meals ... It was such a delightful place to be that even the young Baptist minister and his wife chose to live there rather than find a home of their own and so did the principal of the high school and his wife. I remember lovely teas and receptions being held there during that period."

In fact, the hotel was of such a fine reputation even when it was sold to Mr. O. B. Finklea in 1948 that his plans to resell the property changed and he made "improvements" instead.

A 1954 article from the Ford Times, a magazine for "your motoring pleasure and information," captures the essence of the hotel in its golden years. Entitled "the Hotel Nobody Runs," the article describes a visit to the Robbins.

"No doorman greets you as you alight here. No bellboy reaches for your luggage as you enter the lobby. No room clerk stands behind the huge oak table that serves as the desk. You call for service and your echo comes back at you, rollicking through highceilinged empty rooms and halls. Then it begins to dawn on you that you may be the sole guest.

You find out from the lady who lives down the street (she has nothing to do with the hotel) that you must sign "the book" and select any room, upstairs or down, which is not occupied.

The vast rooms are always ready for occupancy. Under the quilted counterpanes of sumptuous four-poster beds, the linens are snow-white, immaculate. There are flowers in the vases. On each giant bed the coverlet is turned back a little in a gesture of warm and homey welcome.

In the lobby, a newcomer to the place eventually observes a small sign on the wall saying, "See Nellie." But he does not see Nellie who is virtually invisible. One can remain here for days without catching a glimpse of Nellie.

Another scrawled message on the desk reads, "Leave Your Dollars On The Bed When You Check Out." This guests faithfully do, after consulting the blotter on the table to see if they have occupied a $2.50 or $3.00 room....."

In 1954, however, the colorful Robbins Hotel's days were numbered just like so many other small wayside hotels. New highway systems were bypassing small towns and passenger train service was diminishing. By 1962, the Robbins Hotel was threatened with demolition when it was purchased instead by a group of hunters who had grown to love the Robbins. The building has served as their lodge and a cherished community gathering place since that time.