Relic Unearthed During Recent Downtown Construction Work

A surprise discovery at a job site leads to a race against time.

📅   Mon May 11, 2015 - Southeast Edition
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) - A relic from Huntsville’s past was unearthed recently at the site of a future downtown apartment building.

In April, workers digging near the corner of Jefferson Street and Holmes Avenue stumbled upon some cast iron railroad tracks that had been buried for decades. An architect who works nearby, Frank Nola, alerted developer Charlie Sealy III to the discovery.

Sealy and his wife, Sasha, are building a large mixed-use apartment building called The Avenue on the property, which for about the past 40 years has been a public parking lot.

Charlie Sealy knew at once that he wanted to keep the old metal tracks and called Toneka Dorsey-Lindsey, an assistant city engineer assigned to The Avenue project.

Bad news: the tracks had already been loaded into a dump truck bound for the landfill.

But Sealy was determined. He went to the construction site and found the foreman, who radioed the dump truck driver just before he got to the landfill.

Now that the tracks are safe, the Sealys want to display them at The Avenue in some way. Charlie likes the thought of using the twisted, rusty rails as the base for a glass table; Sasha is leaning toward a wall sculpture in the building’s courtyard.

”Charlie and I just like incorporating the new with the old,’ she told AL.com.

Henry Turner, who has been researching the history of the site for the Sealys, said the tracks were part of a rail spur off the main Memphis & Charleston line that once ran through Huntsville.

He said the railroad company built the spur between 1908 and 1912 to ferry goods to and from businesses at the northwest corner of Jefferson Street and Holmes Avenue, including a feed store and cotton warehouse.

”It ran right up the backsides of those buildings,’ Turner told AL.com.

Hugh Easley opened the first businesses at The Avenue site -- a hotel, cabinet shop and undertaker -- before the Civil War. As the decades passed, other businesses came and went: Alabama Grocery; Curry Fackler Billiards; Little Furniture; Donnegan Pharmacy; Brocato Fruit Co.

Many of the merchants lived in second-floor apartments above their shops.

Three of today’s best-known Huntsville businesses -- Harrison Brothers Hardware, Lewter’s Hardware and Peggy Ann Bakery - also got their start on that corner.

Charlie Sealy said the $30 million-plus, five-story apartment building will return the downtown property to its retail and residential roots.

Plans call for 21,000 square feet of street-level retail and restaurant space with 197 loft apartments above. The first apartments should be ready by May or June 2016, said Sealy.

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Information from: The Huntsville Times, http://www.al.com/huntsville