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A Story of the Jefferson Hotel: The Rise and Fall of Florence's Grand Dame

Florence Court House and the Jefferson Hotel

Today, we delve into the fascinating, but ultimately tragic tale of the Jefferson Hotel, once a prominent landmark in Florence, Alabama.

From City Hall to Grand Hotel (1903-1923)

Jefferson Hotel Lobby Florence, AlabamaIn 1903, the Florence City Council embarked on a unique venture. They decided to sell the city hall building for a remarkable sum of $10,000. The buyers, R. Lee Glenn and Mason J. Dillard, envisioned a grand transformation – the city hall would become a majestic hotel!

The conditions of the sale were clear: the building had to be converted into a hotel within 60 days and be operational by 1904. Additionally, the new owners were required to invest at least $5,000 in improvements and furnishings. Failure to meet these conditions would result in a hefty penalty for the buyers.

Thus, the Jefferson Hotel was born. Gus Norton, an experienced hotelier, was appointed the first manager, followed by C.W. Negley in 1905. Negley had six years experience in the hotel business in Florence, having been at the head of the Commercial Hotel for three years, and the Alabama House for three years. The Jefferson quickly became the crown jewel of Florence's hospitality scene, welcoming guests and serving as a hub for social gatherings.

The Jefferson Hotel had fifty rooms that were all furnished with antique oak-finished furniture and white and gold metal beds fitted with "perfection" mattresses and downy pillows. The hotel was heated entirely by top of the line steam heat, capable of keeping and even temperature of 70 degrees year-round, even if the outside temperature was at zero degrees.

A Devastating End (1923)

Jefferson Hotel burningSadly, the Jefferson Hotel's story took a tragic turn in April 1923. A fire, ignited by an explosion in the basement's dry cleaning establishment, engulfed the entire building. This devastating event, witnessed by a large crowd, left the grand hotel in ashes. The fire spread rapidly, defying the valiant efforts of firefighters from Florence, Sheffield, and even the nearby Nitrate Plant.

The wife of the dry cleaning company's owner was the only person in the room when the explosion occurred and was standing very near the explosion. Her clothing caught fire and she was painfully burned on the right foot, hands, and slightly on the face. Her hair was also badly singed. 

The fire made its way between the walls of a partition and reached the upper stories before it was realized that it was spreading. In spite of the best efforts of the combined fire departments of Florence, Sheffield, and the Nitrate Plant, the flames crept from room to room in an ever-increasing fury, until finally the entire building was a seething, blazing mass. Walls crumbled and fell, while a tremendous crowd of people watched the impressive spectacle.

A Phoenix, (Almost): The Hotel Negley (1925-1966)

Hotel NegleyJust days before the fire, C.W. Negley, a former manager of the Jefferson Hotel, had purchased the very hotel he once oversaw. Undeterred by the tragedy, Negley decided to rebuild on the same site. The phoenix rose from the ashes in the form of the Hotel Negley, which opened its doors in 1925. While the Hotel Negley carried the torch for some time, it eventually met its own fate and was demolished in 1966.

Though the Jefferson Hotel no longer stands, its story serves as a reminder of Florence's vibrant past and the city's spirit of resilience. The grand dame of hospitality may be gone, but its legacy lives on in the collective memory of Florence.


Jefferson Hotel, Florence Alabama