Drennen was the son of Reverend Walter Blythe and Matilda Cornwell Drennen of Walker and Blount counties. He attended the common school in Arkadelphia and came with his brothers to Birmingham where they pursued careers in business. Melville served as a member of the firm of Drennen & Company and president of the Martin Cracker Co.. He managed the Palos Coal & Coke Co. and was a member of the board of directors for the Birmingham Mutual Fire Insurance Company.
Drennen was a member of the Birmingham Board of Education, and served on the Birmingham Board of Aldermen in 1896 and took the lead in renegotiating the city's contract with the Birmingham Water Works on much more favorable terms.
Drennen was elected mayor in the 1899 Birmingham mayoral election and re-elected to twice to two-year terms. He also served as president of the Alabama League of Municipalities and was prominent in the national organization. He served on the executive committee for the North Alabama Good Roads Association and oversaw the expenditure of more than $1,500,000 for street improvements in the city.
During his tenure, Drennen generally had a reputation as a "man of progress," who oversaw improvements to the streets and public buildings, not least of which was the new Birmingham City Hall, which was completed in 1901. He also took a stand against the Birmingham Railway, Light & Power Company, a monopoly that had assumed sole control of electrical, gas, and streetcar service in the city by acquiring its rivals. Drennen refused to grant the company the perpetual lease it had requested and held out for the Alabama Constitution of 1901 to take effect, which limited municipal contracts to a maximum 30-year term.
Drennen was challenged by Ward 2 Alderman George Ward in the 1903 Birmingham municipal election. Ward, who had been a leader in the fight against BRL&P on the board, promised to move faster on Drennen's progressive path while opening up the city's finances to public scrutiny. Ward charged Drennen with using the city's payroll to build up a political machine.
Drennen survived the challenge and was re-elected, but he resigned within the year. The vacancy was claimed by Ward in the 1904 Birmingham mayoral election.
F. V. Evans
|Mayor of Birmingham
1899 - 1905
- Laird, H. W. (December 1901) "A Growing Southern City." Municipal Journal and Engineer. p. 278
- Dubose, Joel Campbell (1904) Notable men of Alabama: Personal and Genealogical 2 Volumes. Atlanta, Georgia: Southern Historical Association
- Owen, Thomas McAdory and Marie Bankhead Owen (1921) History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography. 4 volumes. Chicago, Illinois: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.
- Causey, Donna (June 14, 2009) "Drennen, Walter Melville (1851-aft. 1904)" Alabama Pioneers