Bettie Hunter House
This beautiful two-story Italianate style home was built by a Black businesswoman and ex-slave Bettie Hunter who had moved to Mobile after the Civil War to find her fortune. With the help of her two brothers Henry and Robert, she started and managed a successful hack and carriage business transporting goods from the port to warehouses and the local market. With the fortune she amassed, she was able to purchase the piece of land for her home at auction, commission an architect, and build the home at the age of 26. Hunter died of anemia a year later at the age of 27, leaving her newly built home to her mother, brothers, and other family members. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on March 7th, 1985. Today the building remains in the Hunter family who hope to restore the home to its former glory.
Backstory and Context
Bettie Hunter was born into slavery in Cahaba, Alabama around 1852. Her younger years involved the standard agricultural work that was forced upon many Black Americans at the time. Bettie Hunter was only 11 when Abraham Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation and after the Civil War moved with her family to Mobile to seek better opportunities instead of continuing a farming life.
In 1876, Bettie and her brother Henry established a Hack and Carriage business that transported goods between the port and the markets of Mobile or the warehouses within the city. After the collapse of the New Orleans port in 1862 during the Civil War, Mobile had swiftly become the major Gulf port for the south. Seeing a business opportunity Bettie cornered the carriage transportation market in Mobile. She partnered with her brother Henry since it was illegal at the time for women to own a business. With her two brothers, Henry and Robert, helping as drivers, she ran the business end to massive success.
The marker of her success comes from this home that has survived over 140 years. With the wealth she was able to accumulate, she was able to purchase the piece of land for the home at auction, hire an architect to design the home, and built the home at the age of 27. The home itself is built in the Italianate style of architecture, having elaborate and sensitive decorative detailing. Beyond her beautiful home, however, one of the markers of her wealth is a diamond ring, fashioned in the shape of an H that remains in the family today as a symbol of her success.
Unfortunately, Bettie died childless at the age of 27 due to anemia, leaving her home to her family in her will. An obituary for her in the Mobile Daily Register read, “...after a long and painful illness…” Bettie Hunter, “...departed this life, leaving behind… a large circle of acquaintances…” The obituary continued, “She bore her days of suffering with the satisfaction of … having faithfully done her duty to her fellow beings...” This tribute to Hunter, written by “A Friend,” is of enough length and praise that it can be gathered she had gained admiration and influence in Mobile before her untimely death.
The home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 for architectural and historical value and is still owned by Bettie Hunter’s descendants. The home was partially damaged by hurricane Frederic in 1979 and the family hopes to restore the home soon for use as an event space or art gallery, returning it to its former glory.
Boone, Sara. The Bettie Hunter House: A Story of Perseverance, Focus. February 18th 2020. Accessed December 9th 2020. https://focuswc.com/2020/02/18/the-bettie-hunter-house-a-story-of-perseverance/.
Dora Franklin Finley African-American Heritage Trail. #4 Bettie Hunter House, Dora Franklin Finley African-American Heritage Trail. Accessed December 9th 2020. https://www.dffaaht.org/tour2/index.html?id=b&point=3.
Qualls, Shirley. Hunter House, National Register of Historic Places. March 7th 1985. Accessed December 9th 2020. https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/AssetDetail?assetID=dbdc9d4c-20ae-4b79-b2d1-e9cdfb226ff9.
Hilton, Mark. Bettie Hunter House, Historical Marker Database. July 28th 2015. Accessed December 9th 2020. https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=86389.
Image taken by: Mark Hilton. Image sourced from HMDB.org: https://www.hmdb.org/PhotoFullSize.asp?PhotoID=318677