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Fayette County, Alabama

~ The Whitney House ~

Ina Jeane Lockart-Neilon

Aubrey Whitney in front of The Whitney House
Fayette, Alabama
(circa 1920)

The Fayette newspaper, The Broadcaster, dutifully reported the demise of The Whitney House in pictures.  The article, dated Thursday, Sept. 11, 1977, was entitled, The Broadcaster goes to a 'funeral.'  The fuzzy black-and-white pictures show a sad, crumbling, 2-story wooden structure long past its prime.  The first paragraph of this article reports, "La vie moderne passes it by ... FAYETTE'S FAMED WHITNEY HOUSE began its demise Monday morning as workmen got underway tearing down the landmark.  Sitting in the midst of Fayette, the old hotel and later boarding house, was almost invisible to the busy traffic racing by its grounds grown up with aging oaks, wisteria, and ivy.  The house survived the fire of March 24, 1911, which burned most of downtown Fayette."  The article continues with a picture taken of the long first-floor front porch, "On the glass transom above the front door is written 'The Caine House' its original name.  A former sheriff, Marion Caine, built the house because he was weary of using his own home as a free hotel, especially during sessions of court when citizens from outlying areas made themselves 'guest' of the sheriff."

Marion Caine purchased the original property from Balus (Baylis) E. Grace in 1884.
The State of Alabama }
Fayette County            }

Know all men by these present that in consideration of the sum of Eleven
Hundred Dollars to us, Balus E. Grace and wife, Annie E. Grace, in hand paid
by Francis M. Caine the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, we do
grant, bargain, sell and convey unto the said Francis M. Caine his heirs and
assigns forever the following described real estate, to wit:  Two acres if land
in the S.W. 1/4 of the S.E. 1/4 of Section SIx, Township Sixteen, Range Twelve
West described as follows ... In witness whereof we set over hands and seals
this the 28th day of April 1884.

Signatures of B.E. Grace and A.E. Grace
Notarized by E.K. Fulton Notary Public and Justice of the Peace, Jefferson
County, Alabama
Recorded  6 June 1884
Volume 9
Record of Deeds
Page 387 & 388
Receiving Fee $.75 [1]

Marion Caine built the original 6-room, one-story structure about 1885-1890.  It was reputed to be one of the few houses on the Birmingham Road at the time.  Upon the death of Mr. Caine, his heirs decided to sell the property.

Meanwhile, 'down on the Whitney Farm in Newtonville,' Jane Paralee Shepherd, wife of Richard Graves Whitney, decided that she was tired of the Whitney Family farm and ceremoniously hitched up her wagon announcing that she was going to Fayette to 'buy a house.'  According to Ruby Whitney Trammell, their daughter, who witnessed this little scene, her father said, "She'll be back 'directly,' she don't have any cash money to buy anything!"  Directly came the next day when Jane Paralee returned stating that she had purchased The Caine House.  Ever the skeptic, Richard Graves Whitney asked what she had used for money and she retorted that she had 'made arrangements!'

The State of Alabama, Fayette County }

Know all Men by the Presents, That for and in consideration of Fifteen Hundred
($1500.00) Dollars to the undersigned grantors Susan M. Caine, W.P. Caine,
Magnolia G. Williams and S.L. Caine in hand paid by R.G. Whitney the receipt
whereof is acknowledged by ... do grant, bargain, sell and convey unto the
said R.G. Whitney the following described real estate, to wit: ... said parcel of
land being all the lands conveyed to F.M. Caine by B.E. Grace, Jr. and his wife
A.E. Grace by a certain deed recorded Volume 9, Page 387 & 388 of the Deed
Records of Fayette Alabama ...

This deed also conveys the household goods contained in the building
which is located on the above described lot, such as is the property of the
grantors at this time, such building being known as "The Caine House"
In witness Whereof we have hereunto set our hands and seals this 16th day of
November 1906.

Original Signature of S.L. Caine, G.S. Caine, J.S. Williams, Magnolia  G. Williams,
Susan M. Caine, W.P. Caine, and M.E. Caine
Recorded 11th December, 1906
Volume 24 Record of Deeds, Pages 579 & 580
Thomas E. Goodwin, Judge of Probate
Recording Fee $1.25 [2]

The Caine House thus became The Whitney House.  The original status as a hotel was maintained to pay the mortgage.  A room and bed for the night was 25¢ and three meals were 75¢.  To supplement their income further, meals were furnished to train passengers passing through Fayette.  The railroad would wire ahead how many passengers were on the train and Mr. Whitney would furnish lunches of country ham, biscuits, and other trimmings for the passengers.  Mrs. Whitney's cooking became quite well known from Columbus, Mississippi, to Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.

The Whitney House, as a business, grew and prospered.  About 1910, Mr. Whitney added the second story, which mirrored the first in every way including a second-floor front porch, except for the large dining room, which Sheriff Caine had used for court proceedings and he had called the jury room.  This expanded the house to 12 rooms with the double, upstairs and downstairs, front  porches.

Pictures taken 1910-1912 show the whole extended family on the front steps of The Whitney House: Richard Graves Whitney, Jane Paralee Shepherd Whitney, Elizabeth Ann Baker Whitney (Mr. Whitney's mother), Margaret Catharine Reed Shepherd Minton (Mrs. Whitney's mother), Ruby and Aubrey Whitney (pictured above), their daughter and son.

The decades passed: World War I, the flu epidemic of 1918, the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War and the initial stages of the Vietnam conflict.  The Whitney House stood and sheltered three more family generations and hosted many other members of allied families over the years creating many memories.  Successive photographs of family in front of the house mirror the history of the century and document the aging of the family and the structure.  The original oak trees planted by Sheriff Caine grew to be towering giants.  The small wisteria vine planted by Mrs. Whitney in about 1915 ran the length of the front porch and framed it with constant fragrant shade.

And the years marched on.  Time changed, but The Whitney House stood unchanged ... the same huge rooms with their fireplaces and creaky wood floors, the windows with the original wavy glass, the wood stove monster that lived a life of its own in the corner of the kitchen, trunks full of collected treasures of the century, the same original furnishings still stood in their original places ... it was a 'constant' in a changing world.  Mrs. Ruby Whitney Trammell assumed the duties of The Whitney House upon the death of her mother, Mrs. R.G. Whitney in 1957 and continued until her own death in 1967.

Time and progress finally passed The Whitney House by.  The aging house could no longer be insured and was so large that the cost of renovation was unthinkable.  It was sold by Mrs. Trammell's daughters, Frances Whitney Trammell and Ruby Jeane Trammell Lockart, in 1969.

The Broadcaster article about the 'funeral' of the Whitney House concludes, "Amidst the debris as workmen began razing the old house Monday morning was a handwritten sign that implored boarders to keep the bathrooms clean.  What's to take the place of The Whitney House?  The present owners, Charles Nolen and Dewey Lowery, Jr., have not announced what the property is to be used for."

Messrs. Nolen and Lowery subsequently sold the property to the City of Fayette.  The trees were cut down and the structure was demolished.  A beautiful new modern building was built.  It is now the headquarters for the City of Fayette Fire Department and the Fayette Police Department.

But the memories still linger ... the front-porch swing and rocking chairs, the Court House tower clock peaking through the treetops, the church chimes floating on the breezes, wonderful kitchen smells, thick quilts on feather beds, the screen doors creaking ... it was a wonderful home!

[1] Original Deed in the possession of Ina Jeane Lockart-Neilon, Beaumont, Texas
[2] Original Deed in the possession of Ina Jeane Lockart-Neilon, Beaumont, Texas

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14 Sep 2003  |  21 May 2010