A Tuscaloosa real estate company is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, and it could be considered even older, depending on how you count its age.
The company now known as Duckworth-Morris Realty has its roots in the insurance business, and technically first began in 1867 with the formation of the J.H. Fitts Insurance Co.
In 1918, agents J.A. Duckworth and Charles Morris purchased the Fitts’ family’s interest in the business and changed its name to Duckworth-Morris. Two years later, they established its real estate and rental departments.
Whether that makes the company 100 years old or 150, the Duckworths have been doing business in the Druid City for four generations now, and they don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
"The business started in 1867, became Duckworth-Morris in 1918, and it’s continued to grow year after year, and our family has stayed here and been a part of that," said Joe Brown Duckworth, the president of the company. "We’ve been in business for much longer than anybody else, and while that’s not any great thing, it’s not bad, either. It shows that we’re not going out of business tomorrow after we’ve been here this long."
The company sold off its insurance business in 2000 and helped create the Tuscaloosa branch of Keller Williams Realty in 2015. Keller Williams now oversees the company's real estate brokerage, leaving Duckworth-Morris to specialize in property management and development.
Joe Brown, the grandson of J.A. Duckworth, manages the company's real estate development, which has included the creation of some of Tuscaloosa and Northport's best-known and established subdivisions, such as Reston Place, Hartford, the Gates of Wellington and Northwood Estates. He joined his brother, John C. Duckworth; his son, Joe Duckworth Jr.; and his son-in-law, Warner Johnson, for a recent interview with The Tuscaloosa News.
Asked what has allowed the company to survive for more than a century of good times and lean years alike, the four men offered a variety of reasons.
"It’s reputation," said Joe Jr., a partner at Duckworth-Morris and the director of commercial sales at Keller Williams Realty Tuscaloosa. "I think people like doing business with honest people."
John Duckworth, who worked in the company's insurance department until his retirement in 2000, attributed the company’s success to its employees.
"We’ve been fortunate to have a lot of really good folks to work here — that’s the key to it," he said. "We had ladies that came out of high school and worked 35 or 40 years at Duckworth-Morris. They stayed until they retired. It gets back to the people that work for you. You just treat them right and try to make sure they feel like part of the family."
Joe Brown Duckworth said the company’s success has hinged on adhering to business fundamentals, pointing out that without a solid business plan and the ability to adapt to changes in the market, none of the other stuff matters much.
"It’s about profitability," he said. "If you don’t have that, you’re not going to be a business. It doesn’t make a difference what else you do."
Johnson, who heads the company's property management efforts, said their inventory has grown from just a few properties 50 years ago to more than 3,700 residential and commercial units now. He said the properties they manage run the gamut, with units in the wealthiest parts of town and its areas of lowest income. The company manages everything from apartments and single-family rental homes to office buildings and retail space.
"When people ask me about our property management, we touch all areas of the community," Johnson said. "We do everything from Section 8 housing to managing the homeowners’ association in the Gates of Wellington. We literally touch every segment of this community through that business."
The family has also been been dedicated for decades to giving back the Tuscaloosa community, serving over the years in leadership positions in the Rotary Club and on the governing boards of the YMCA, the Boy Scouts, DCH Regional Medical Center and more.
The Duckworths said they haven't tied the company's centennial to a specific date, but will spend this year celebrating its history, whether you count it 100 years or 150.
Reach Stephen Dethrage at email@example.com or 722-0227.