OLIVER HARDY AND THE TURNELL BUTLER HOTEL
Oliver Norvell Hardy, the consummate comedian of the team Laurel and Hardy, was a Madison boy – at least, for the first eight years of his life. The comedian’s given name was Norvell, the maiden name of his mother Emmie. Oliver, his father, was manager of the 1892 Turnell Butler Hotel that sat here at the corner of Jefferson and Hancock Streets (you’ll notice the historical marker). Oliver and Emmie moved to Madison in 1891, and in January of 1892, Emmie returned to Harlem, Georgia and her family to have her baby, returning to Madison afterwards. On November 22, 1892, just two weeks short of his 51st birthday, Oliver Hardy, Confederate soldier, farmer, tax collector, and hotel manager, died suddenly of an apparent heart attack.
Oliver Norvell Hardy, only ten months old and the youngest of five, moved with his mom to a boarding house that she opened just a few blocks away. The Hardy House, as it was called, was situated near the depot in the current location of Town Park. Oliver Norvell Hardy, who took his father’s name by the age of18, once reported that he had picked up the habit of “lobby watching” as a child – sitting in the lobby of his mother’s boarding house observing the mannerisms of the travelers who passed that way. He used these observations in later life to inform his acting. By 1895, the Hardy House was doing quite well, for this note appears in the December 25, 1894, issue of The Madisonian: “The Hardy House…with (its) home and transient boarders enjoys a splendid patronage and has at times many more than it can accommodate. Mrs. Hardy, the genial landlady, needs a more roomy building, and we hope she may soon procure one. Her house is the traveling man’s home, and one and all speak highly of its management.”
By January of 1899, competition between the then Turnell Butler Hotel, turned the New Morgan Hotel, and the Hardy House had grown, and by May of 1899 the Hardy House closed its doors. Emmie Hardy tried to make a boarding house work a few blocks away, but by May of 1900, she and her family moved on. Oliver Norvell Hardy is listed on the school register as attending first grade at the Madison Grammar School, now known as the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center (located at stop 11).