Participants enjoy 14th annual Candlelight Walking Tour

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Michael Sullins and Julie Burks host the 14th annual Candlelight Walking Tour on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023. (Tiffany McKoy)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The 14th annual Candlelight Walking Tour was held Thursday, Sept. 28,  opening night of Oktoberfest. Michael Sullins and Julie Burks hosted the tour once again and had fun portraying characters from the past while sharing the rich history of Cullman.

Sullins portrayed his great-great grandfather Nicholas Andrew Ruehl (1849-1938). Ruehl came to Cullman in 1873 to raise his family. He was trained as a blacksmith, carpenter and cooper, and built many of the first structures in Cullman and helped clear the land. He was also a gentleman farmer and a founding member of St. John’s Evangelical Protestant Church and was known around town as “Uncle Nick.”

Burks portrayed Julia E Hartung (1854-1928). Hartung was related to Col. John G. Cullmann and married into the Hartung family who established People’s Drug Store in Cullman. She was known around town for her hospitality and love of music.

Sullins and Burks shared the background information about the buildings along First Avenue.

Stiefelmeyer Building

  • It was originally a residential dwelling. 
  • In 1888, C.A. Stiefelmeyer founded his business on the corner.
  • A native of Hamburg, German, Mr. Stiefelmeyer came from Canada to Cullman in 1882 at the age of 17.
  • After several years as a clerk in the GA Prinz Store, Cullman’s first mercantile house, he opened his own store which burned in 1892. Mr. Stiefelmeyer promptly rebuilt the store. 
  • Stiefelmeyer’s sold groceries, men’s clothing, women’s clothing, housewares, etc.
  • The department store expanded over the years.
  • Across the street from the Stiefelmeyer Building, on the railroad side of  First Avenue Southeast, three beer storage units were erected in the late 1890s.

The Merchants Hotel/ Casper Arnold Home

  • Was one of the first businesses to be erected on this block by John Fromhold. 
  • The Merchants Hotel was established in the middle of this block around 1879. 
  • Just south of The Merchants Hotel stood the Caspar Arnold Home. 
  • Both were destroyed by the 1892 fire that swept most of this block.

The Cullman Hotel/The Burr House/The Palace Saloon

  • Around 1880, Joseph Hibbeln opened a partial brick and wooden framed building called The Cullman Hotel on the corner.
  • In 1886, Col. F.T. Burr acquired The Cullman Hotel and re-branded it the Burr House.  This building had a small wooden platform facing First Avenue and burned down in 1892.
  • Around 1897, a two-story wood framed building was completed and became home to The Palace Saloon. 

After the tour concluded Sullins said this year might be the last walking tour despite the big turnout.

“I am not sure what the future holds for the walking tour – whether that be ending on a great turnout, moving the venue or something new entirely,” he said. “I am humbled every year at the folks that walk with us and share their family history with us. I hope that whatever the future may hold, people will continue to invest in the treasures that can be discovered in our community’s rich history.”

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