“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.
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.
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.