Cullman County Historical Society hosts Flying Fifty Hotel presentation

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Flying Fifty Hotel Owners Challie and Paul Knetter give a presentation on the hotel’s inspiration at the Sunday, June 23, 2024, meeting of the Cullman County Historical Society. (Nick Griffin/The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman County Historical Society hosted its regularly scheduled meeting at the Cullman County Museum Sunday afternoon and enjoyed a special presentation on the new Flying Fifty Hotel from Owners Paul and Challie Knetter.

The Knetters began working on this project in 2022 and it was important to them that the hotel reflect the history of Cullman and tell the story of how the community has grown into what it is today. After a video presentation on the history of the Flying Fifty, they shared more on the economic impact that the group helped bring to Cullman.

“The 50s were an exciting time for Cullman and they were in the latter half of those years but before the Flying Fifty flew down to Florida and brough the industry here, that was a really tough time in Cullman’s economic history,” Paul Knetter said. “There were very few jobs, they had a bad crop one year and a lot of families that were from up north were actually planning to move back north because the economy wasn’t doing very well and this kind of saved the economy for Cullman, bringing the King Edwards Cigar plant here. It saved a lot of jobs and brought a lot of new jobs in and it just built from there.”

The Flying Fifty Hotel’s website (The Flying Fifty Hotel) gives more information about the hotel’s inspiration and overall theme:

“Travel back in time and experience a one-of-a-kind stay at our centrally located boutique hotel in downtown Cullman. Newly designed with the 1950s in mind, our hotel’s namesake comes from the 47 men, known as the ‘The Flying Fifty,’ who played an important role in creating a brighter future for our community. We hope to carry on their legacy by highlighting the spirit of Cullman for years to come.”

The hotel features seven suites, each themed after a different, unique characteristic of Cullman: the Founders Suite, the Frankweiler Suite, the Heritage Suite, the Lakes Suite, the Steeples Suite, the Wallace Suite and the Wilderness Suite. Each one is decorated and furnished by local artists, craftsmen and businesses to make the hotel feel as local as possible and celebrate the history of Cullman.

“We tried to find books from Cullman authors, books about Cullman and Alabama history and those kinds of things. We wanted to really theme our library after that, so we’ve got old Cullman High School albums from the 60s and St. Bernard yearbooks from the 60s as well to try and really incorporate that history throughout the hotel,” Challie Knetter said. “They also saved the eagle that hung outside of the building of the old Cullman Savings Bank and we were able to hang it in the hotel. Pretty much every piece of art in the hotel is either created by a local artist or has something that ties back to Cullman’s history.”

The story of the Flying Fifty

“In the 1950s, during a time when many residents were forced to seek employment outside of Alabama, a transformative moment unfolded in Cullman. Mrs. Betty Bledsoe received a casual phone call from a friend, who had just eaten at the All-Steak restaurant and was bound for Mississippi with a group of men to locate land for a King Edward’s Cigar Plant. After the call, Betty alerted her husband, Dr. Leroy Bledsoe, and the Chamber of Commerce hastily convened.

“The following morning, a group of forty-eight men, self-dubbed ‘The Flying Fifty,’ boarded planes on a mission to meet with the board of directors at King Edward’s headquarters. During this meeting, the Flying Fifty effectively persuaded Swisher to designate Cullman as the location for their plant.

“However, the agreement came with a condition — Cullman needed to develop a suitable plot of land for the plant. Undeterred, the community rallied together, raising funds and erecting a modest structure affectionately known as ‘The Cigar Shack’ on the Courthouse lawn. Even the youngest members of the community contributed pocket change, demonstrating the collective commitment to the cause. Local radio stations joined the effort, suspending regular programming to champion the town’s initiative.

“This chapter of Cullman’s history stands as a testament to our community spirit and ingenuity. The Flying Fifty, with their determination and resourcefulness, played a pivotal role ensuring a brighter future for our town.”

To book your stay at the Flying Fifty Hotel, visit www.theflyingfifty.com/stay.

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