Howell School as it appeared in 1926
Backstory and Context
Before the Howell School building had been constructed between 1901-1902 Dothan already had a grammar school building built-in 1898. This previous grammar school had cost the city $15,000 but was burnt down in 1901, only three years after its construction. The new building was built for $40,000 with funding gathered by municipal bonds.
Designed by architect J. W. Baughman, the school building has a blend of styles featuring Late Victorian, Romanesque Revival, and Renaissance Revival Styles. When the building was first constructed, Baughman installed a Mansard style tower to cap the building which had a fire escape slide. In the original design and configuration, the building had two floors of classrooms on either side of a hallway that was in the center of the building which ran the entire length.
Once the building was built it was most likely named the “Dothan College Grammar School.” A 1907 version of the Sanborn map refers to the school as “Dothan College,” no other record of this name exists, and other editions of this same map from 1920, 1924, and 1932 list the building as “Dothan College Grammar School”. Despite all this, in 1916 the school was renamed the Howell School after the passing of Dr. John Robertson Graves Howell. Dr. Howell was a physician who had moved to Dothan to establish a practice in 1887. Once a resident of Dothan, Dr. Howell served as mayor of Dothan when the first grammar school had been built.
Howell School served as Dothan’s primary grammar school for white children while it was still a school, never seeing a desegregated school thanks to its closing in 1942. A second grammar School, the Rose Hill School was constructed in 1911. In 1915 Howell had 428 students enrolled, Rose Hill had 156, and the local high school had 180. In 1942 the Howell School building closed as a school thanks to its replacement by Minnie T. Heard Elementary School.
During WW2 the building was converted for use by the Salvation Army’s Red Shield Club. It operated exclusively for soldiers to provide them with sleeping and shower facilities. The organization spent $2,500 to convert the building for this use, with the organization planning on spending another $2,500 on beautifying the building and repairing its condition.
Following the war on Dec 31st, 1946, the Dothan Chamber of Commerce took out a full-page advertisement in the Dothan Eagle with the title “Let’s look at the future.” In the ad, the Chamber announced that nine new manufacturing plants would soon be built, totaling an investment of $4,000,000 and would bring employment to 2,000 people. The companies that were announced moving into Dothan included:
- Huntingburg Furniture Co. (furniture)
- The Nurre Companies Inc (mirrors)
- Indian River Textile Co. (pajamas, shorts)
- Covington Planter Co. (farm implements)
- J. E. Howell Lumber Co. (veneers and plywoods)
- King Furniture Co. (furniture)
- An expansion of the Dothan Silk Hosiery Mill (hosiery)
- Kingan Packing Co. (meat products)
On January 21st, 1947, the Dothan Eagle announced that production would begin at the new plant in the Old Howell School Building. The building had been converted into a textile factory that year for the Indian River Textile Company. The renovations were part of the Dothan Chamber of Commerce’s active promotion of the city as a place of industrial development following WW2. The building’s interior was converted with the first and second floors being cleared into viable factory floors, with machines and an automated sprinkler system installed among other amenities. Once complete the plant employed around 100 people.
The 1948 update for the Sanborn map shows the building listed as “Indian River Textile Co.” manufacturers of Cotton Garments. When the map was published it listed the building as still having the “watchman with clock,” referring to the original tower. It also listed the building as having electricity, steam heat, and a cutting room on the first floor, a sewing room on the second, and a pressing room at the first-floor auditorium, and supply rooms on the second floor. The plant closed not long after in February 1949.
In June of 1950, Ozark Industries reopened the facility as a pajama factory. The factory produced 250-275 pairs of pajamas daily and employed around 200 men and women. Ozark had bought the building for $45,000 and spent $10,000 on its renovations to change the plant to its specifications. From 1951 to 1953 the plant was listed in the city directories as Ainsbrook inc, clothing manufacturers. Ainsbrook was based out of New York City and was organized on July 26, 1950.
The building after this point rapidly changed hands between successive owners until it was eventually given to the Dothan Downtown Redevelopment Authority in 2009. The plant was owned by the Dothan Manufacturing company who produced pajamas there from 1953 until 1991. The Dothan Manufacturing Company was organized December 16th, 1952 in New York City with Max Scharf serving as an incorporator and company president. The company operated out of the Howell School building in 1953 but didn’t acquire the property from the City of Dothan until May 1956. The company continued to operate the factory until 1997 when it finally ceased operations.
In March of 2003, the holding company of the building sold the property to the Southern Alabama Regional Council on the Aging. The building was then re-acquired by the City of Dothan in May of 2008 and then transferred to the Dothan Downtown Redevelopment Authority in 2009. Efforts to renovate the now aging and empty building began in 2008 but were delayed until 2014 thanks to multiple contractors backing out of the extensive project. The project was able to begin after Rob Coasts of the Banyan Foundation agreed to help in 2014.
Construction was also delayed considerably thanks to the building being located in the Newton-Burdeshaw-Cherry-Appletree-Range National Historic District. In 2013 on June 26th the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places for its historical architecture and local significance to the industry in Dothan. The developers of the renovation project had to get approval from: the Historic Preservation Commission, the National Park Service, and the Alabama Historical Preservation thanks to the Howell School being such a historic building for the area.
Before renovations the building had been vacant for 21 years, making the renovations and repairs to the building expensive. The project cost around $14 million with $1.5 million being given by the city for the project. Today the building is now a 23-25 unit senior living facility and opened in October of 2020.
The University of Alabama. Howell School, Dothan, Houston County, 1902 (Places in Peril 2012), Alabama Heritage. October 22nd 2012. Accessed December 1st 2020. https://www.alabamaheritage.com/places-in-peril/howell-school-dothan-houston-county-1902-places-in-peril-2012.
Armstrong, Jessica. HOWELL SCHOOL CONVERTED INTO AFFORDABLE SENIOR HOUSING, DesignAlabama. December 17th 2017. Accessed December 1st 2020. https://www.designalabama.org/howell-school-converted-into-affordable-senior-housing/.
Howell School, National Park Service. June 26th 2013. Accessed December 1st 2020. https://www.nps.gov/nr/feature/places/13000406.htm.
Historic Howell School Rehabilitation & Adaptive Reuse, Studio8 Design Architecture. Accessed December 1st 2020. https://www.s8darchitects.com/historic-howell-school.
Centers, Kinsley. Howell School Senior Apartment cuts ribbon for grand opening, WTVY.com. October 29th 2020. Accessed December 1st 2020. https://www.wtvy.com/2020/10/29/howell-school-senior-apartment-cuts-ribbon-for-grand-opening/.
Maxie, Chasity. Local organizations get sneak peek of Howell School Apartments, WTVY.com. October 18th 2019. Accessed December 1st 2020. https://www.wtvy.com/content/news/Local-organizations-get-sneak-peek-of-Howell-School-Apartments-563412891.html.
Wise, Jeremy. Construction begins on project to convert Howell School building to senior living apartments, Dothan. September 15th 2018. Accessed December 1st 2020. https://dothaneagle.com/news/business/construction-begins-on-project-to-convert-howell-school-building-to-senior-living-apartments/article_a33b468c-b86a-11e8-82a1-7ba75cd38581.html.
Schneider, David B.. Howell School, National Register of Historic Places. May 26th 2013. Accessed December 1st 2020. https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/AssetDetail?assetID=17792384-5634-4b35-99be-d5aa5f95f79d.
Photo sourced from: https://www.designalabama.org/howell-school-converted-into-affordable-senior-housing/