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Ed Griffin and Jimmy Dugger put braces on scaffolding as they work to renovate a pair of historic buildings that have been relocated to land near Big Spring Memorial Park in Athens.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Ed Griffin and Jimmy Dugger put braces on scaffolding as they work to renovate a pair of historic buildings that have been relocated to land near Big Spring Memorial Park in Athens.

Restoring a piece of Athens history
Trip down
Memory Lane

$250,000 grant helps gas station, College Inn return to 1940s heyday

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com · 340-2445

ATHENS — In its 1940s heyday, the College Inn was the place for Athens College students to eat burgers and drink shakes.

One reason was they could run up a tab that their parents paid when they visited the campus. Another was to catch up on the latest gossip.

The restaurant and gas station combo was also the hangout for young women who congregated there to meet soldiers home on leave and hear their tales about foreign countries.

Youngsters scrambled there after school to be first in line to buy homemade ice cream.

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The College Inn and Newby Gulf Station during their heyday in the 1940s, and today. The gas station was one of the first full-service gas stations in the state when it opened early in the 20th century.
These are the memories Mary Newby Duncan has of the business her family ran from the late 1940s to the late 1990s.

Duncan’s father, Cloyde Mason Newby Jr., bought the business in 1947 and named the gas station portion Newby Gulf Station. He got a 100-year rental on the lot and finally bought that in 1982, she said.

Duncan said her father told her the building was constructed in the late 1920s.

Local historian Milly Caudle said her research indicates it was built in 1933.

Duncan’s father said it was one of the first full-service gas station’s in the state when it first opened.

Rare prairie style

Robert Gamble, senior architect at the Alabama Historical Commission, said it is one of only two service station/cafe structures of the prairie style left in the state.

The prairie style is often associated with Frank Lloyd Wright.

Unfortunately for the College Inn, as Athens grew, it no longer had the distinction of being one of a few restaurants in the city.

Traffic patterns also changed. In its heyday, its location was on Clinton Street and Old Highway 31, which was the main junction going north or south in Athens. Old 31 became Pryor Street, and U.S. 31 moved further east, moving the main junction out of downtown.

The Newby family sold the building and lot to First Baptist Church in 2003.

The church then gave the building to the city for restoration.

The city got a $250,000 grant and allocated another $90,000 to move the building to a lot adjacent to Big Spring Memorial Park in downtown and restore it. Linda Beasley donated the lot. Public Works employees now are doing much of the renovation work.

Caudle said the gas station side will be a children’s museum with 1940s era decor. There will be ice cream, a jukebox with 1940s records, a bubble gum machine and vintage gas pumps.

The interior view of the building that once housed the College Inn Restaurant in Athens. The building is being renovated to house office space for Athens Beautification.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
The interior view of the building that once housed the College Inn Restaurant in Athens. The building is being renovated to house office space for Athens Beautification.
The restaurant side will become headquarters for Keep Athens-Limestone Beautiful.

“I think it’s absolutely wonderful that it’s being renovated,” Duncan said. “I’ve been a realtor for about 30 years, but I had my very first job as a waitress there.”

She remembers that as a toddler that her home and her church, First Baptist, were within walking distance of the College Inn.

“One guy used to see me walking at night and say, ‘Hey Little Newby, aren’t you afraid to walk by yourself?’ I would say, ‘I’m not alone. God’s with me.’ ”

Duncan knew her dad was with her, too. From inside the business, he could watch her walk for a block.

“I still enjoy walking down that Memory Lane,” she said.

Take a trip down Memory Lane

Athens officials are seeking your memories about the College Inn, which operated on Clinton Street for nearly 70 years.

The city is restoring the former gas station/cafe back to its 1940s heyday décor.

The business was popular with Athens College (now Athens State University) students, GIs and townsfolk who could pay their gas bill once a month.

To share your memories, e-mail Public Works Director James Rich at jrich@ci.athens.al.us or call him at 233-2224.

Holly Hollman

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