Ask McGehee: What is the history of Baytreat at Battles Wharf in Baldwin County?
Baytreat underwent a $600,000 renovation in 2006 to become a first-class meeting facility. Members of Government Street Presbyterian Church recently gathered here to celebrate retirement of the debt associated with those improvements.
photo courtesy of Government Street Presbyterian
Nestled among the waterfront estates of Battles Wharf is a facility owned and operated by Mobile’s Government Street Presbyterian Church. While architecturally resembling many of its neighbors with its deep, screened porch overlooking a lawn and wharf, Baytreat boasts 10 bedrooms, 10 baths and a full commercial kitchen.
The property has a long history of hospitality. Around 1904, Arthur F. Hutchings, an English transplant, purchased the land complete with an 1842 structure built with hewn logs. The house contained six rooms, two porches and a separate kitchen and dining room connected by a boardwalk.
The Beach Hotel
Hutchings moved the log building and added a wing, calling it the Beach Hotel. By 1907, the facility had been enlarged again, now containing more than a dozen bedrooms on three floors and boasting an oversized dining room. Two floors of porches overlooked the tree-shaded lawn and Bay beyond. Atop the castle-like roofline was a square turret.
Guests arrived via Bay steamers at the nearby wharf at Battles, and the hotel was usually filled to capacity, especially on weekends. Mobilians flocked to the property for a summer vacation as well as day trips. Bay boats were rented to a variety of groups who would arrive on the Eastern Shore in time for dinner and dancing before returning home by moonlight.
Up in Flames
Hutchings died in 1930, and a few months later fire reduced the rambling hotel to ashes. The following summer a less ambitious replacement had been built with a large dining room, several bedrooms and two small frame cottages for rental. By this point, the retreat’s clientele was arriving by car, and gasoline rationing during World War II saw the traveling public dwindle. The hotel ceased operations in 1944, but the Hutchings’ daughter continued to run the resort’s popular dining room for several more years.
By the late 1940s, the property had been purchased by William M. Meador, of Mobile, as an investment. In 1957, he began a nine-year conveyance of the property to his place of worship, Government Street Presbyterian Church.
Over the next 50 summers, the building was used for a variety of church functions as well as family weekends for members. Each time a storm took the wharf, volunteers would come and rebuild it as well as make necessary repairs to the structure.
A New Start
In 2006, the session of the church voted to completely renovate Baytreat. The sleeping capacity was increased to 40, bathrooms were added and a new commercial kitchen was installed beyond the dining room. For the first time the entire building was both heated and cooled and could be used year round.
The property was further improved with a series of walking trails featuring hundreds of native plants, a prayer labyrinth and a worship site. A new and vastly improved Baytreat serves as a conference center for young Presbyterians from all over the United States who come to Mobile to participate in Urban Mission Camps. It hosts retreats, officer training sessions and summer day camps for children. Baytreat has also been donated for use by local Boys and Girls Clubs as well as Talladega’s Presbyterian Home for Children.
Visitors today enjoy the same Bay breezes and spectacular sunsets that were enjoyed by the occupants of a log house built there 170 summers ago. Thanks to the investment made by members of Government Street Presbyterian Church, the property will be enjoyed for generations to come.