Vintage Crimson

Adventures in Restoring Antebellum Houses in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Category: New South

“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.

 

 

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.”

 

 

Southern Ladies

Jennie Baker Caples (Feb 13, 1895 – Oct 17, 1994)

Married to Fred Caples (Oct 7, 1861 – Oct 20, 1934)

Burial – Tuscaloosa Memorial Park

I have recently been privileged to hear from several friends who lived in  my old house while they were students at the University of Alabama in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  I have really enjoyed all the memories they have shared.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s my old house was owned by Mrs. Jennie Baker Caples.   She is the ‘Caples’ portion of the house’s official name, the Foster-Murfee-Caples House.  Mrs. Caples and her sister, Sarah, are depicted with their nephew, Dave Sherman, in the photo below.   My thanks to Dave for providing this wonderful photograph.  They are standing on the front lawn of my old house.  Dave is wearing his ‘Million-Dollar Band’ uniform.

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By all accounts, Mrs. Caples was a real Southern Lady.  Southern Ladies were once more common in Alabama than they are today.  The real Southern Lady was a woman of strength and character, not the simpering belles depicted in most books and movies.  Think Ellen O’Hara rather than Scarlett.  Southern Ladies settled a frontier, built a civilization, endured a Civil War, suffered defeat and survived a painful reconstruction.  They lived through a great depression, two World Wars and the Civil Rights Movement.  They marched through history in pearls, high heels and tasteful cosmetics.  They were pillars of their communities, churches, and families.  And, through it all they remained genteel.

Genteel: a. well-bred or refined; polite; elegant; stylish: b. having an aristocratic quality or flavor.

To be a Southern Lady was to embrace all that life has to offer, the good and the bad, with style.

I wonder if my generation still embodies the qualities of the true Southern Ladies.  Few of us wear heels to the Piggly Wiggly, but I hope that (underneath our yoga pants) our spirits still burn as brightly as those of our mothers and grandmothers.  Do you agree?  I would love to learn what ya’ll think constitutes a true Southern Lady in 2013.

Trying to Connect the Dots

Today has been spent ‘trying to connect the dots’ between my old house and Alabama’s history.  It  is the 50th anniversary of a watershed moment in the Civil Rights movement, Governor George Wallace’s “stand in the schoolhouse door.”  The”stand” took place on June 11, 1963, when Gov. Wallace attempted to prevent two African-American students from enrolling in the university.  Only the intervention of National Guard troops enabled Vivian Malone and James Hood to enroll in classes.  This strange bit of political theater took place on the steps of Foster Auditorium, a landmark on the campus of the University of Alabama.

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My old house is the Foster-Murfee-Caples House.  I know the connections between the house and the Murfee family and that Mrs. Caples owned it in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  However, I have yet to discover the link between 815 17th Avenue, my old house, and any member of the Foster family. Can anyone help me discover a link? Connect the dots?

The Foster family played a prominent role in Tuscaloosa’s history and the University of Alabama.  For example, Robert Clarke Foster was the president of the university from 1937-1941.  Foster Auditorium, built by the Works Progress Administration in 1939, is named for him.   As the scene of the “stand” Foster Auditorium is a lovely building with an indelible stain upon its history.  So it goes with buildings.  They are associated with the events that took place and the people that dwelt within their walls.

My old house, however it is connected to the Fosters, was certainly in use during the Civil Rights era and would have been a silent witness to all the events that shaped a new South.  It’s first fifty years saw the end of slavery and the second hundred the end of legal segregation.  What changes may the next hundred years bring?  We have come a long way since 1963.  My oldest son has lived with two African-American roommates and students of all races and religions are comfortable on our campus and in our town.   They all welcome here, in my old house.

 

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