If you are around my age, chances are that “Once in a Lifetime”, the Talking Heads existentialist classic from the album “Remain in Light”, was one of the defining songs of your youth. Now that I am (sigh) middle aged, I think of it less in terms of sacrificed ideals, and more in terms of sheer reality. We all ask ourselves David Byrne’s question, “How did I get here?” Or, in my case, how did I come to possess this beautiful old house? Here’s the story.
Southside Baptist Church flourished in the Drish House for many years, even adding two additions (seen in the above photograph) to accommodate their congregation. However, as more of their membership moved away from the downtown area, church attendance began to decline. Without funds to maintain the entire church property, the congregation retreated into the large addition and sealed the off the Drish House, using it for storage.
In 1990, the church sought estimates to tear down the house. However, the $30,000 in estimated demolition costs was well above their budget. Unable at last to maintain any part of the property, the church leased it to the Heritage Commission of Tuscaloosa County.
The Heritage Commission continued using the Drish House as storage for architectural elements salvaged from other houses, including some items believed to have been made by Drish slaves. They boarded the windows and doors, and for seventeen years the house was closed, enormous and silent. At last, the Heritage Commission lost its funding, and the house was once again in danger of demolition.
In 2007, city inspectors found the property to be in complete disrepair and threatened to condemn it. The Drish House had been invaded by bats, birds and other pests. The floors were covered in refuse and some areas had rotted through. The drop tile ceiling had collapsed in several rooms. The electricity and plumbing no longer worked. The Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society (TCPS) stepped in just in time to save the house from demolition.
The house had to be cleaned and stabilized. Where once ladies in silk gowns and gentlemen in fine coats had walked its halls, workers in Haz-Mat suits were found cleaning toxic debris. The roof was repaired, the house resealed and the floors patched. The awkward additions were torn down, and the house stood alone again in the middle of its circular lot.
In 2008 the house was host to a special event for the University of Alabama. Over 100 faculty and students had a chance to tour the the house which had been inaccessible for so many years. In another instance, over 300 attendees turned out for “An Evening With Dr. Drish”, a fundraiser hosted by the TCPS.
In 2013, I entered the picture. The TCPS was seeking a new owner for the Drish House, and I was approached by its Executive Director. We entered negotiations and in May 2014 I became to new owner of a piece of Alabama’s history.
“And you may find yourself in a beautiful house…
And you may ask yourself
Well..How did I get here”