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Commerce Street: History Happens Here


Mike Watson
For almost 200 years, Commerce Street has served as the main mercantile, transportation and business artery for the city of Montgomery. From that day in October of 1821 when the steamboat Harriott reached the Montgomery landing after a treacherous ten-day journey up the Alabama River from Mobile, the citizens of the recently united settlements formerly known as Alabama Town and New Philadelphia were connected to the markets around the globe. Montgomerians now had access to all types of finery from Europe and Asia. After that cargo was offloaded onto the wharfs at the foot of Commerce Street, the empty space on the decks was replaced with hundreds of bales of short staple Alabama cotton headed for the textile mills of Europe. There were over 300 pick-up spots at river wharfs between the ramps and slides at the foot of Commerce and the port in Mobile. The rudimentary feeder system allowed area farmers to arrange for wagonloads of their cotton bales to lade aboard the broad decks of the steamships bound for the transoceanic cargo ships and lucrative foreign markets. In this part of antebellum Alabama, "Cotton WAS Commerce." 

Commerce Street was also the conduit for receipt and distribution of items shipped by railroad from across the country, and magnificent warehouses sprung up around the street to support the process. Montgomery's train depot was always bustling with activity and individuals who framed our history. Presidents, vaudeville stars, musicians, politicians, businessmen and large numbers of United States soldiers could frequently be found here. Among the most important visitors of the era was Wilbur Wright of Dayton, Ohio. On the morning of February 13, 1910, the famous Wright brother stepped off of a train at Union Station, claimed his bag, and walked south on Commerce Street towards the Montgomery Commercial Club. Wilbur was well received, as his reputation preceded him, and he was literally given the "Key to our City." The business community offered free land on the nearby Kohn Plantation to build a flying school. The aviator accepted the proposal, and he and Orville proceeded to organize the world's first school for civil aviation. That site is now Maxwell Air Force Base. Wilbur's visit was perhaps the most significant event in the history of Montgomery, and certainly the reason that Montgomery is the epicenter of all Air Force professional education today. 

As our city and state prepare to celebrate their bicentennials in 2019, Commerce Street and historic downtown continue to evolve into a premier destination for cultural/historical enlightenment, lodging and hospitality and loads of entertainment.

Endless Options Recently the district has added Common Bond, a craft brewery offering outstanding beers. Bibb Street Pizza Co. and Mellow Mushroom stay packed with their tasty “to die for” pies. Escapology continues to baffle guests with its high-tech history games and wizardry. The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) opened "The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration" and "The National Memorial for Peace and Justice" to rave reviews and well exceeded the number of projected visitors. Our Montgomery Biscuits are under new ownership this year, and the management team has a renewed focus on the fan experience. The team is competing for 2019 Southern League Pennant. Dreamland BBQ and Railyard Brewing continue to bring satisfaction after a pint or two from Alabama's original brewpub. The Exchange patio continues to provide unprecedented live music every day of the week with two different acts on stage nightly. SaZa Serious Italian rarely waivers from legendary Chef Joe DiMaggio's creations that were inspired from his grandmother’s kitchen. The five-story, 118 room Staybridge Suites is on tap to "fluff the pillows" before the end of the year, and the revitalization of Lower Dexter Avenue continues its amazing progress!  

ON THE HORIZON… There will soon be two new additions opening at 166 Commerce. They will be branded as "HIRAM + A WhiskeyBAR with a Historic Perspective" and "Commerce BeerWorks."

Ranked near the top of Montgomery's icons is HIRAM King Williams, the given name of perhaps the most significant and influential singer / songwriter in country music history. The man better known as “Hank” was born in 1923 in Mount Olive, and moved to Perry Street in Montgomery with his mother after short stints in other small south Alabama towns. In 1937, the 14-year-old won a talent contest at the Empire Theater, singing his own composition of "WPA Blues." In the audience were local WSFA radio executives who "discovered" the young prodigy and immediately gave him a weekly morning radio show. Shortly thereafter, Hiram assumed the more marketable name "Hank" as his popularity soared onto the fast tracks of his long country road. For the next 15 years the Hillbilly Shakespeare rode a rollercoaster which took him all the way to the top at the Grand Ole Opry and back down, with many dips along the way. Hiram King Williams died on New Year’s Day in 1953 in the back seat of his baby-blue Cadillac. He was only 29 years old, but left behind a legacy of music that may never be equaled. Learn more about his life and times by visiting the Hank Williams Museum at 118 Commerce Street. HIRAM + A WhiskeyBAR with a Historic Perspective is dedicated to the musical genius of Hank Williams. Learn more at

Commerce BeerWorks will boost "99 Beers Taps on the Wall" and over 500 different beers from around the world. Emphasis will be placed on offering every craft beer that is currently being brewed and distributed in the state of Alabama. The room features a large stage for musicians, a 20-foot HD projection screen, raised decks away from the action, and a 40-foot long beer bar created from a recycled dragon boat. A menu featuring an eclectic offering of pub fare will be available at all hours. Commerce BeerWorks is interconnected with AlleyBAR, AviatorBAR, and their new neighbor HIRAM + A WhiskeyBAR with a Historic Perspective. It will be open seven days a week until 2 a.m. You can learn more at


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