6 Things to Know About Henderson Brandon & Son, the Most Successful Black-Owned Business in Huntsville following Reconstruction
Written By: Laura Keigan
Harrison Brothers Hardware. If you’re a Huntsvillian, you probably know this store as THE destination for nostalgia-inducing gifts and local art. The Historic Huntsville Foundation wants to let you in on a secret, though. The Harrison Brothers building – and the literal bricks lining its walls– are connected to our area’s most successful Black-owned businesses at the turn of the century: Henderson Brandon & Son!
Henderson Brandon and his son, Daniel, directly shaped the Huntsville-Madison skyline by building some of Huntsville’s most iconic buildings. They also laid the foundations for Alabama’s early civil rights movement. Until recently, though, little was known about these men and their impact on our city.
In honor of the Historic Huntsville Foundation’s upcoming exhibition “Brick by Brick: The Legacy of Henderson and Daniel Brandon,” here are six facts you need to know about the lives of these incredible men.
1. Henderson Brandon went from being enslaved to owning a highly successful business.
Born enslaved, Henderson Brandon used his brick masonry skills to purchase his freedom, buy a mill, and found a successful brick masonry firm. Daniel Brandon joined the company in the 1880s and took the lead after his father’s death in 1901.
2. Henderson Brandon & Son built some of Huntsville’s most iconic buildings, including Harrison Brothers Hardware!
If you’ve been to Huntsville’s Courthouse Square, you’ve seen the Brandons’ handiwork firsthand. To our knowledge, they built eleven structures in the Huntsville-Madison area, three of which remain: Harrison Brothers Hardware and the Baker-Helms building in downtown Huntsville, and the Humphrey Bros. building in downtown Madison.
In fact, we have Daniel Brandon to thank for the Harrison Brothers Hardware we know today! When the original store burned in 1901, Daniel won the contract to rebuild it, adding a story (from two to three) and taking over the shop next door. It’s hard to imagine Harrison Brothers in its earlier, smaller form!
Most of the Brandon buildings met a sadder fate, though; all but the remaining three were demolished or destroyed. Just imagine if the corner of Eustis Avenue and Greene Street still boasted the c. 1899 U.S. Courthouse and Post Office instead of a asphalt parking lot!
3. Daniel Brandon was an elected official.
As if running a thriving masonry firm weren’t enough, Daniel Brandon set his sights on politics, and specifically the Huntsville city council. He was elected as a city alderman twice, in 1897 and 1901. To win these elections, Brandon garnered votes from Black and white citizens at a time when racial tensions ran high. Huntsville would have to wait until 1988 to see another Black man elected to public office.
4. Fighting for voting rights was a Brandon family value.
The Brandons took voting seriously. Henderson Brandon voted for the first time in 1867, which must have been a powerful moment given his formerly enslaved status. He was later chosen as a delegate for the Equal Rights Convention in 1874, which sought to protect the rights of Black citizens.
The next generation of Brandons picked up where Henderson Brandon left off. Daniel Brandon opposed legislation that striped most Black citizens of their voting rights after the ratification of Alabama’s 1901 Constitution. His wife, Ellen, became one of six Black Huntsville women to register to vote following the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
5. Henderson Brandon & Son helped build Huntsville’s first sewer system.
Huntsville was a bourgeoning city on the eve of the twentieth century, and more people equals more…waste. A lack of sufficient sewers presented a real public health crisis as communities expanded. Among all the Brandons’ accomplishments, their most impactful might be winning the contract to provide half a MILLION bricks for Huntsville’s first sewer system, constructed in 1897.
6. Daniel Brandon signed his name to his last-known building, located in downtown Madison!
Daniel Brandon’s last-known construction project was the c. 1919 Humphrey Bros. building in downtown Madison. This structure is unique because, like a true artist, Brandon signed his name. The datestone reads “Built by D. S. Brandon.” No other Brandon building includes this feature.
So, the next time you walk through downtown Huntsville or Madison, give thanks to Henderson and Daniel Brandon for how they shaped our city. And join the Historic Huntsville Foundation in welcoming the Brandons to their place in history! The 3rd Annual “Rooted in History” exhibition “Brick by Brick: The Legacy of Henderson and Daniel Brandon” will kick off next week at Harrison Brothers Hardware.
“Brick by Brick” Preview Party
Wednesday, February 22nd
5:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Harrison Brothers Hardware
124 Southside Square
Friday, February 24th
Harrison Brothers Hardware
124 Southside Square
To learn more about the “Brick by Brick” exhibition, please visit https://www.historichuntsville.org.
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