Vintage Crimson

Adventures in Restoring Antebellum Houses in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Month: June, 2014

“Glory Days”

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Monroe Place, the Drish plantation that included the Drish House, was sold at public auction in 1869, as Dr. Drish had died an impoverished man.  The plantation and house were purchased by a Northport, Alabama merchant and lawyer named E. A. Powell.  Mr. Powell graciously allowed Sarah Drish to continue living in the house until her death fifteen years later.   Sarah’s stepdaughter, Catherine, moved out of the house after her father’s death and went to live with one of her sons. Once one of the wealthiest women in Tuscaloosa, it is easy to imagine that Sarah Drish lived out her life in lonely genteel poverty, as her once grand house fell into disrepair.  Although it is hard to guess her emotions about the house, as she grieved for her husband and former life, I am sure she was saddened by its decline.  Perhaps she saw the house as a metaphor for her own aging.  They were both the products of a South that no longer existed.

After Sarah’s death in 1884, the house soon caught the eye of a another lady, a friend of Sarah’s, who was to give it an injection of new life.  Mr. Powell sold the estate to The Tuskaloosa Coal, Iron and Land Company in 1887.  The company subdivided the old plantation and started building houses on the lots.  The house itself was sold to Judge William Cochrane.  He  and his family subsequently undertook a major renovation.  On May 3, 1888, The Tuscaloosa Gazette reported “Mr. Cochrane is having valuable improvements made to the old Drish place which will ad much to the grandeur of that beautiful mansion.” The renovations took about a year to complete.  The work was primarily on the interior of the house, since no large scale architectural changes were made. Mrs. Cochrane likely modernized the kitchen and redecorated.  I like to think that she and I are kindred spirits, both us seeing potential in the Drish House!  The Cochrane’s were to live in the house until 1903.

 

 

“Just the Facts, Ma’am”

There is a lot of speculation involving my new project, the Drish House. It is an old and complicated house, and has certainly had an unusual history.  Over the years rumors have spread concerning possible paranormal activities.  Many of these are quite entertaining, but I thought it best that we begin with “just the facts.”   In this post, I wanted to share the “facts” concerning the builder and original owner, John Drish, and his family.

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Dr. John Drish was born in Virginia in 1795, where he trained as a physician and married a wealthy widow, Catherine Washington.  He had one daughter born to this marriage, also named Catherine.  Unfortunately, the first Mrs. Drish died while her daughter was still quite young .

Following his wife’s death,  Dr. Drish left his daughter with relatives in 1822 and came to seek increased fortune in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  He married another wealthy widow, Sarah Owen, in 1825.  There are many first-hand accounts of his good looks and charm – he certainly used them to his advantage in marriage!

Dr. Drish used his second wife’s money to buy 160 acres on the southern border of Tuscaloosa and dubbed the new plantation “Monroe Place.”  He began construction on his house in 1837.  Originally, the house would have quite plain, in the Federal style, but it was one of the largest houses in the county.  Catherine Drish came from Virginia to live with her father and step-mother and the family moved in the new house.

An avid builder, Dr. Drish was not content to just live in his new house.  In the 1840s, as Greek Revival style swept the South in the wake of Greek independence, Drish added massive porticos of columns to the house.  He chose the more formal Ionic style for the front and the Doric style for the rear.   Later, in the 1850’s as Italianate architecture came into vogue, Drish added a large, three-level Italianate tower to the house, along with many new trim details.  The house fit his stature as one of the wealthiest men in the state.

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The Civil War devastated the fortunes of the South’s planter elite, and John Drish was no exception.  The house survived the war, likely because the invading Yankees had received news that Confederate forces under General Nathan Bedford Forrest were nearby.  However, there was no money left for upkeep of the grand house and it fell into disrepair.  Dr Drish died in 1867 and Sarah followed in 1884.  They are buried in Tuscaloosa’s Greenwood Cemetery.

There are many more “facts” to come before we delve into other realms.  Be patient and let the story unfold.

The Many Faces of the Drish House

The Drish House has a colorful past.  It has been a home, a school, an auto parts store and a church.  Here are some historic photos of its many faces.  Views of both the front and rear facades are included.

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“Hey Ya’ll, Watch This!”

 

“Hey Ya’ll, Watch This.” is more than the punchline to an old joke, it s a comment on southern character.  We in the south are nothing if not stubborn.  Just because something is difficult (or crazy) doesn’t mean we won’t jump in and give it a try.  So, I would like to announce that I have taken on a task thought by many to be impossible – renovation of Tuscaloosa’s famous Drish House.

I am sure I can hear ya’ll laughing…and these may be famous last words.  But, I have fallen for another old house and I am determined to find it a place in our new century.

 

 

 

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view of the front (north) facade.

I have been the owner of this old house for about two weeks, but it has been on my mind since I first toured it last fall.  My friends at the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society had owned the house since 2007 and were looking for someone to guide it into the 21st century.  I am honored that they have entrusted me with this task.

There will be much more to come – “Hey Ya’ll. Watch Me Do This – Again.”

 

 

The Gravitas of Old Houses

 

 

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The Gravitas of Old Houses

Look around, we are all frantic.

Seeking something we have collectively misplaced.

Wasn’t it here a minute ago?

Our appetite for more coexists with the emptiness of loss.

Always in motion, we are frenzied and doubting.

Where will we seek shelter and solace?

What breath can soothe us?

We seem exposed, lonely and fretful.  We can’t sleep.

Fear and absence haunt our dreaming.

Always moving, there lives in each of us a desire for steadfastness.

We need the peace of place, the mercy of history.

The dignity and virtue of the past.

The only skill we have mastered is leaving.

Carelessly we have left behind the things that could heal our spirits.

Charity, community, hospitality, piety lie abandoned in the garden.

Needing solidity, we seek old walls, heavy with stone and brick.

Heavy with the weight of lives lived long ago.

Breathing air filled with dust motes like flecks of gold in slanting sun.

The gravitas of old houses.

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