Edistone Hotel: The unknown historic hotel

Published 7:28 am Monday, March 27, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Travis Gupton

The Selma Times-Journal

From monuments to buildings to bridges, Selma is a living breathing example of history. One place full of history that does not get much attention sits on the corner of Water Avenue and Green Street, the  Edistone Hotel.

Email newsletter signup

Also known as the Central City Hotel, the massive building stands three stories tall and seems to have fallen into the dark of Selma’s history.

The first part of the hotel was built during the early 1850s. The hotel was built on top of one of the biggest slave auction marts in the south, according to Dallas County Historic Preservation Director Linda Derry. Architecturally, the building has fallen into disrepair over the years but according to retired state architecture historian Robert Gamble, it still has a lot of uniqueness.

“What struck me is that we have virtually no mid-early 19th-century hotels left in the state,” Gamble said. “The uniqueness was, here this fairly pristine, pre-civil war hotel sitting right here in Selma and it’s unrecognized by many many people in Selma for the architectural significance that it represents.”

The Edistone along with the St.James hotel are the only two hotels in the state that remain standing from the pre-civil war era according to Gamble.

Despite all of that there was one thing that makes the Edistone Hotel very special according to Gamble.

“The one thing that makes the hotel very special and highly significant within the state context and of the two hotels the St.James and the Edistone, what makes it really important is its interior is so intact,” Gamble said. “The St. James lost much of its interior several years ago then in the restoration they had to modify it much more inside. The St.James is pretty much a modern hotel inside.”

Gamble continued by saying that difference between the St.James and the Edistone is that the interior had not been modified in the Edistone which makes it a very special part of historic architecture.

“The Edistone or the Commercial was largely intact as an example of a large pre-civil war hotel or a post-antebellum hotel,” Gamble said.

As Selma continues to struggle to preserve the history it has Gamble says that visually the hotel is important for the streetscape of the city.

“As Selma struggles to preserve what’s left of it’s still a very interesting and very nice old commercial area despite the economic woes that they are having it’s a very important part of the streetscape,” Gamble said. “If that hotel goes down it would be a huge chunk of water street history and the architecture is going to go with it.”

The importance of the hotel’s preservation was reiterated by Atlantic Heritage’s Ed Barnes

“It is a very important part of the urban fabric and streetscape of Selma,” Barnes said.

The hotel will be featured in the 2023 Alabama Heritage Magazine Spring Edition as a “Place in Peril” due to the fact that the building is in serious condition on the inside.

Gamble said that he believes that the Edistone’s preservation is important to the city of Selma but not, in the same way, most people would think.

“I don’t think tourism is the only thing,” Gamble said. “I think if we know how to read buildings and if we know the history of these buildings. Then they speak to us of our own past and they are part of our own cultural identity.”