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Wills, Letters & Legends

The Drish House

See also:
"Ghost Tales from a Tragic Past"
article from the Tuscaloosa News by Camile Maxwell

 

 
 

Facts and Legends about the Drish House,  Tuscaloosa, Alabama

from Historic Houses, no 6; Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Part One: The House

 
     About the year 1817, three or four Owen brothers and a widowed sister (Mrs. McKinney)  came from the Norfolk district of Virginia to settle in Tuscaloosa.  They made the trip down in covered wagons, bringing with them their mahogany furniture and other heirloom and their negro slaves.  Each brother built a home; one, the house on Queen City Avenue later occupied by the Hemphills and the Murphrees (sp), one on the corner of 19th Avenue and 4th Street, and the other the old Wood Home.
     Mrs. McKinney, who had inherited a considerable fortune from her husband, was soon wooed and won by a certain Dr. John Drish, himself a widower with one daughter Katherine.  Dr. Drish was a well educated man, a skilled physician for his day, and possessed a great charm of person and manner.  He had in 1833 bought the land on which the Methodist College afterwards stood and built a two story brick residence there with a brick office for his medical practice at one side.  As was the general custom in old times, his wife's fortune was handed over to his management and he built the house once known as the Drish Place, later as the Jemison School.  Mrs. Drish was well acquainted with the beautiful homes in Virginia and many of her ideas were incorporated in the house and grounds.
     The house was a combination of the southern colonial influenced by the Greek and of the Italian Renaissance of the type seen in many villas in the valley of the Po.  It had originally, galleries on the sides with Doric pillars on the south side and Ionic on the north.  Later were added two story frame galleries on the east and west.  There was a large square tower in the center of the front with an arch before the front door and a square room above which opened from the upstairs hall.  From this square room a winding stair led to another square tower room above the level of the roof.
     Downstairs there was an immense hall with double horseshoe stairs in the back which rose in graceful curve to a landing from which two short straight flights, one on each side, led to the upstairs hall as large as the one below.
     There were four large rooms downstairs.  On the west side were two parlors with folding doors between.  On the east side were two large rooms also connected by folding doors.  Leading off from the east side at the back was a row of one story rooms containing store room, kitchen and the every day dining room.  Back of the house were brick houses for the servants, a smoke house and a carriage house.
     Upstairs there were four large bedrooms.
     The house was built of brick covered with stucco and all the work, even the beautiful ceilings of the rooms downstairs-still to be seen in fragmentary state-were built with slave labor.
     The parlor floors were covered in velvet carpets of a design ornamented with large pink vases.  Stiff lace curtains hung at the large windows, both mantle pieces - of white marble - had on them a candelabra hung with crystal prisms.  There were portraits hanging on the walls and one of them was that of the beautiful and unfortunate Katherine Drish.  The two parlors were furnished exactly alike with mahogany covered with black horsehair:  In each a sofa, arm chairs, single chairs, two small ottomans and one large one.  The hall had several large chairs, two bookcases and a sole table.
     The dining room furniture was also mahogany and the silver, linen and china were as fine as was to be expected in such a mansion.
     The house was set on a tract of eighty acres of land but the farmlands extended on both sides of the Greensboro road from 15th Street to where the A. S. C. station now is and ran west as far as the old Herman place north of Kaulton.  The main entrance to the estate was on what is now 15th Street.  By the entrance gate was a lodge, also built of stucco covered brick, in which lived a family of slaves whose principal duty was to open and close the entrance gates.  Elm trees bordered each side of the wide avenue which led up to the house.  In the front of the mansion was a formal garden planted in box, on the west side a shorter avenue planted on each side with alternating pink and white altheas led down to the Greensboro Road.  On the sides of the house were gardens of roses and other blooming flowers and further back was an orchard with pear, peach , apple trees, grape vines and the once highly prized quince and pome granate bushes.  To quote a poet dear to our grandparents:  "If ever there seemed an Elysium on earth it was this, it was this!"  But this beautiful place was to be the scene of tragedy and of years of sorrow and to be disturbed by seeming supernatural events which have never received any satisfactory explanation.
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