Vintage Crimson

Adventures in Restoring Antebellum Houses in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Category: Dream Home

Southside Baptist Church



During the Great Depression, there was a revival in American spirituality.  Many churches were expanding as their memberships grew.  Originally a ministry of First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa, Southside Baptist Church was organized in 1921 as an independent congregation with 73 founding members.   In 1940, the church purchased the Drish House from the City of Tuscaloosa for $4,000.00.  Services began there in 1942.  The two year interim was spent altering the house to fit the needs of its new owners.  The Drish House was transformed once again.


The Baptist church did not allow ornamentation, so the elaborate plasterwork was ripped away.  The walls separating the cross hall from the double parlors were removed so that the newly enlarged space could be used as a sanctuary.  The wide heart pine floors were replaced with narrow oak planking.  The dining room was converted into a church kitchen, with an original door cut in half to become a ‘Dutch’ door to allow for serving food.  In the kitchen, the wood floors were covered in linoleum and a door was fitted into the former dining room window.


The interior of the upper story was completely gutted and rearranged into a dozen small Sunday School rooms around the perimeter of the floor.  The ceilings were dropped with the installation of acoustic tile and fluorescent lighting was installed.


The few remaining shutters were removed from the exterior of the house, along with the bulk of the brackets and trim.  Even the columns were re-plastered to remove their delicate fluting. Only the top of the tower was left untouched. The six-over-six windows were removed and replaced with large paned two-over-two windows.  Dr. Drish would have been shocked at the changes to his former home, but he would have been pleased to meet its new occupants.


I have enjoyed hearing from some of the former congregants of Southside Baptist Church; they have such heartwarming memories. Some are found at…/remembering-southside-baptist-…

It seems to have been a wonderful church with amazing people and a deep spiritual life.  To me, this community of Christians seems underserved in the documented history of the Drish House and I would like to change that.  If you were a member of Southside Baptist I would love to have you share your stories or photos!

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.





When Playboy Came to Town…Looking for a Southern Belle

The Southern Belle is a peculiar stereotype, based on daughters of the affluent plantation owners in the Antebellum South.  Chaste, yet flirtatious, the belle was “laced-up” tightly both literally and figuratively.  The Belles were as iconic an image of the times as columned mansions in which they lived.


After the Civil War, the economic system that supported the Southern Belle was shattered, but image survived.  Young Southern women were still expected to play the coquette.  Think of Scarlett O’Hara entertaining the Tarleton twins in the opening scene of Gone With the Wind.  Again, the mansion is part of the total image; inseparable from the Belle.


In the Fall of 1982, Playboy Magazine came to Tuscaloosa.  They were searching for a genuine Southern Belle to represent the University of Alabama in the first “Girls of the SEC” issue.  In addition, they were looking for the ideal spot to pose the chosen girl.  They found a lovely young woman and and, more importantly, a beautiful old house.  Even in the late twentieth century, the girl and the mansion are intertwined in the eyes of the South.  Look closely at the woodwork behind the girl (perhaps harder for some of you than others) and it is plain that this is the second floor balcony of my old house.  My neighbors remember the day of the shoot well.  This is, I suppose, a modern twist on the Belle.  The house, of course, remains the same.


Three Mysteries – Solved!

Every old house has an element of mystery, and 815 17th Avenue is no exception. There are so many things about the house that have had us scratching our heads. This week I found the explanations for three of those mysteries.


The first mystery is: when was the house divided into six apartments? I know that the house was built in 1838 and occupied by the same family until 1912. I always suspected that it was divided into apartments soon after, but had no clues about an exact date. The answer to this mystery involved the claw-foot bathtubs.


This is a photo of the bottom of the claw-foot tub, a perspective rarely seen. It is clearly dated July 17, 1915. Mystery solved! The bathrooms were added in 1915 and that was likely the year the house was divided – no family home would need six bathrooms in that configuration. I am so happy we are refinishing the old plumbing fixtures. They will be gorgeous and keeping them really helps maintains ‘soul’ of the old house.


Mystery number two: When the house was last painted in the late 1980s, why were the third floor gables left off? I have really puzzled over this question. Did they run out of paint? Or, lose momentum (something i can empathize with)? Why paint two stories and then just quit?


A chance internet search yielded an answer, which was seconded by my lovely neighbor. The house was painted by a local crew using scaffolding. Safety regulations precluded building the scaffolding tall enough to reach the third floor gables. Rather than rent a personnel lift, the painting was halted. Another mystery solved.

The third mystery: what are those openings at the bottom of the four first floor windows that face the front porch? At first, I thought of them as transoms. Alabama is very hot and humid in the summer (which lasts from May-September) and I thought it logical that ventilation was the purpose. But why have them at the bottom instead of the top of the windows? A visit from an architect friend yielded the answer to this mystery. The openings are called “jib doors’ and when they are opened and the windows are up, they provided a way to move easily between the double parlors and the front porch.


It is a good week of work at the old house.

“There’s No Place Like Home”

“Can we know who we are by looking at where we live?”

Clare Cooper Marcus


I would argue that the answer to Professor Marcus’s question is a resounding “yes!”  We choose our homes, just as we choose our clothes, in an effort to match our exteriors to an internal self-image.  We all carry a vision of our ideal selves in our ideal surroundings, and spend a great deal of effort and resources to make that vision a reality. Imagine if you could have any home you wanted.  If money was no object.  What would it look like?  How would it feel?  Many people are never lucky enough to find that special place where they feel at ‘home’ –  at rest.  For others, we are blessed to find the home where we belong.  It welcomes IMG_1065IMG_1125


 us to come in and breathe.  It just feels ‘right’, because it expresses our truest selves.  That is the essence of ‘home’.  It is  a place of both physical residence and also spiritual refuge.  My son knew this old house was his special place immediately.  He felt at ‘home’ here, as do I.

In his famous work, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Carl Jung describes the gradual evolution of his home on Lake Zurich.  Jung spent more than thirty years working on his house and believed that building a house was a symbol of building a self.  He saw it as an act of spiritual growth, and placed a plaque near his front door which read, “Vocatus Atque Non Vocatus Deus Aderit”, or “Bidden or Not Bidden, God is Present.”  I believe that God is present, not in the building of a house, but in the making of a “Home.” And, that is the work we are undertaking in our old house.


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