Hale County’s Hatch House: Alfred and Sara Warren are preserving historic structure

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 3, 2002

Only a brief glimpse of white columns peek through the trees that hide the mansion from Hale County Road 2. Few people, even those who live nearby, know the story of Hatch House and the part its builder played in the history of West Alabama.

Alfred and Sara Warren are doing their part to change that. The couple bought Hatch House in 1963, "more (for) the land than the house," said Mrs. Warren. But with six children ages 14 and younger, having a big house with plenty of acreage to explore didn’t hurt.

At that time Warren, now 75, still worked in Huntsville with NASA on the development of the space program, and he commuted to his family and the house and the land. Because there was so much work to be done on the property, "we rarely got anything done inside," said Mrs. Warren.

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When Warren retired in 1978, he and his wife began farming the land, which they did for the next 20 years until his second retirement. The couple lives in a small cabin behind the main house.

Now the couple is in the slow process of "preserving" Hatch House, said Alfred, stressing that they are not restoring it. They simply want to make it livable again. It helps, he said, that they always kept a good roof on the structure.

In the 40 years the family has owned Hatch House, they learned a lot about its history and the exceptional man who built it, Alfred Hatch. Warren self-published his first book, "Something of Pride: An Historical Novel of the Hatch House," in 1999 to explain "how the old house was made."

He was encouraged to publish what he had written, but Warren wanted to expand the story to include events both before and after the house was built. He wanted not only to tell the story of Hatch House but of four remarkable men &045; two white and two black &045;&045; who had a place in the house’s history.

The result is a blend of fact and fiction, real characters and events in history and fictional ones. "Only where there was no information, or the information defied logic, did I fictionalize," Warren writes in his introduction. "The material was written in the form of a novel so people might read it."

Most of the story, especially about the white characters, is based on research gleaned from several written sources, but he also used what he learned from stories told by descendants of Hatch and other families living in the area. His problem was in finding documented information on the black families.

The story extends from the Revolutionary War through the effects of segregation and the Civil Rights Movement on the area. Not one to keep his personal views to himself, Warren interjects his own cause and effect theories into the story.

Sara Warren typed the manuscript from Warren’s longhand, and Warren had Colony Office Products print, collate and staple the copies. The couple bound each one themselves.

One of the most striking differences in this self-published book is that the Warrens include 14 color photos and reproductions, not counting the two cover photographs. In addition, six black and white illustrations help tell the story. Several of the photographs are of portraits which now hang in Sturdivant Hall in Selma, and from Hatch’s descendants.

The couple sold several copies simply to break even on the cost of printing the book. "I’m prone to give them away," said Warren.

Since Sturdivant Hall allowed Warren to use photos of their portraits, he gave several copies to the historic home. Copies of the book are for sale at Bluff Hall.

The Warrens have corresponded and met several family members of the characters he writes about. Among them are the descendants of Hatch and his two wives. Warren said until he began talking and writing with them, the two sides had not met in 135 years.

Warren has an aversion to using the word "slave" or "slavery." He prefers the phrase "bonded servants."

In his research, Warren found "Hatch had an unusual rapport with his bonded servants, and they gave him loyalty and respect."

Hatch did everything he could do to help prevent the Civil War, Warren said. But when war became a certainty, Hatch, being the perceptive man he was helped to prepare his people for liberation. Because of his foresight, Warren said, the "transition from slavery to share cropping was easier."

Warren, a native of Memphis, grew up visiting family in the Hale County area. His father died when Warren was 12, and he remembers the funeral held at St. Andrew’s, "even the hymn they played."

The Warrens came to own Hatch House in a roundabout way. Their 14-year-old daughter was "horse crazy," but land near Huntsville was too expensive. Warren hunted in the area with his brother-in-law. "In going down this road, I saw this old house."