The best history of Huntsville College is Joberta Wasson’s “Prominent Private Schools 1908-1929” in Historic Huntsville Quarterly. The 1922 and 1923 issues of the Wills-Taylor School yearbook are found in Ancestry.com. Huntsville Times carried some school news.
Huntsville College traced its roots to 1907 when Madison County superintendent of schools S. R. Butler took over a small, private school. The school became known as Butler Training School, with Butler as Principal. In 1913 Butler sold or leased his school to James Goodrich, who maintained it until 1918, when he sold it to Professor Reuben P. Wills. In 1920 Edward I. Taylor joined Wills, and the school became known as Wills-Taylor school, a co-educational elementary/high school.
The 1923 yearbook shows nine male students listed as “posts,” presumably taking college-level coursework. That year Wills enlisted eighty citizens who pledged $75,000 to add a junior college to Wills-Taylor School. Huntsville College was chartered and began classes in September 1923. It added courses in mechanical drawing and accounting to the strong academic program and offered an Associate of Arts degree. But enrollment remained low. In the first year, only 19 of 192 students enrolled, were doing college-level work. According to the Annual Report of the Department of Education, junior college enrollment reached only 30 in 1925.
Huntsville had a very strong music department under Bessie Pettus. Performances by the College Glee Club are often mentioned in the Times; the group performed during National Music Week celebrations in Huntsville in 1925. Yearbooks show a Christmas cantata and spring recitals. There were two literary societies—the Wilsonian and the Taylor. Wasson notes that weekly debate and declamation contests were a feature of the school. Huntsville College students also participated in the county declamation contest. Huntsville College was a non-denominational school but had a strong Hi-Y chapter.
Huntsville College never achieved accreditation so students who transferred to a four-year school found that their Huntsville credits were not accepted. A name change to Huntsville Collegiate Institute suggests that the college-level course work gained little traction. With low enrollment and in financial difficulties, Huntsville Collegiate Institute was forced to close in the spring of 1928.
Bricks and Mortar
The original building dates from 1908 when it became home for the Butler Training School. It was a two and one/half story brick and concrete building with electric lights and a furnace, containing seven classrooms, a second floor assembly hall, and a bell tower (yearbook image upper right). Through the school went through a series of name and ownership changes, the building was generally known as Butler Hall. The campus also included Taliaferro Hall, a smaller brick building used for elementary classes. The campus was located in a block surrounded by White, Wells, and California streets and Eustis Avenue.
The Butler Building was auctioned off in late 1928, ultimately becoming a junior high school for the Huntsville School District. In 1960 the assembly hall became the distribution center for the Salvation Army’s school clothing project. The building was razed in 1962. The Google Map shows the site is now a parking facility.
Google image of Taliaferro Hall in 2016. It is an office building for educational services provided by the city and federal governments.
1923 Wills-Taylor basketball team. Some of the players are "posts." Image from the 1923 WisT
Team name: Purple Demons
College Football Data Warehouse shows college-level games between 1923 and 1926. Opponents included Cumberland, Bryson, and Jacksonville State. Most opponents were from the high school or prep schools ranks. These included St. Andrews School and Morgan School in Tennessee and St. Bernard Prep in Alabama, a team the Purple Devils once defeated 100-0.
The 1923 WisT yearbook shows that even with “posts” playing, Wills-Taylor claimed the high school championship of Alabama. The Purple Demons lost to Gulf Coast Military Academy of Mississippi in a playoff of state champions.
The yearbook shows that W-T fielded teams in football, basketball, baseball and track.