“School Bells”

by Nika

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After investing so much time and effort in restoration of the Drish House,  Judge and Mrs. Cochrane sold it in 1904 to Rev. James George Snedecor, Superintendent of the Stillman Institute, Tuscaloosa’s historically African-American college. As seen in the photo above, the house was beautifully kept at this point in its history.  However, a dramatic change was on the horizon.  The Snedecors were to own the house only three short years before selling it to the city of Tuscaloosa for use as a public school.  The city fathers appropriated $8,000.00 to purchase the house.

The turn of the century saw a large population increase in Tuscaloosa.  In 1890, the census records 4,215 citizens of the city, but that number had grown to 8,407 by 1910.  The population had doubled in twenty years, and there was a great demand for a new school.  The Drish House seemed a good choice.  The house had spacious rooms and a large yard for children’s play.  Thus, the Drish House was transformed into the Jemison School for the next twenty years.

The two decades of use as a school were incredibly hard on the house, and the city government showed little interest in its preservation.   The marble mantels were discarded, the plaster uncared for and the floors worn by the pounding of children’s feet.  The great gasoliers were taken down and replaced with Edison lighting.  The magnificent spiral staircase that led to the tower room was pulled down, and the delicate double ellipse stairs in the cross hall were replaced with a more utilitarian flight of stairs.  Woodwork and decorative elements on the exterior of the house fell into disrepair and the elaborate cast iron gallery porches were removed and sold as scrap. As safety measures for the children, the third floor tower balconies were removed and the front and back galleries were stripped away.  The ornamental garden that Sarah Drish had lovingly installed and cared for was overrun by children until nothing but packed earth remained.  The road leading to the house was widened to accommodate school traffic, sacrificing the stately avenue of elm trees that had once led to the house.

All in all, the Drish House was a tattered shadow of its former glory by the time the school relocated in 1925.  The city still owned the property and prepared to lease it to its next occupant.  Unfortunately, things were to go from bad to worse.