Drish House History


The Drish House is a historic plantation house built by Dr. John R. Drish in 1837. It is considered to be one of the most distinctive mixes of Greek Revival and Italianate styles in Alabama.


First recorded by the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) in 1934, it was

added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage on July 31, 1975, and subsequently to the state's "Places in Peril" listing in 2006. Following its purchase from the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society by Past Horizons LLC in 2013, current renovations began in earnest. The Drish House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.


The large stuccoed brick mansion was built at the center of a 450-acre plantation on the edge of town. A native of Virginia, Drish was among the earliest settlers of Tuscaloosa, arriving in 1822. A widower, he married a wealthy widow, Sarah Owen McKinney, in 1835. By this time, he had a successful physician's practice and worked as a building contractor with many skilled slave artisans. These individuals executed much of the early plasterwork in the city.


The first early incarnation of the house is usually credited to the influence of state architect William Nichols. The exterior of the house as completed in 1837 featured full width, monumental Doric porticoes to the front and rear, with two-story pilasters dividing each bay on all four sides.


The house was extensively remodeled in the Italianate style prior to the American Civil War, with a three-story brick tower being added, the front columns changed to the Ionic order, brackets being added to the eaves and overhangs, and two-story cast iron side porches to each side.


Drish died in 1867, reportedly from a fall down a stairway, and Sarah Drish died in 1884.


The mansion changed hands several times after the death of Sarah Drish; while it was still a residence the surrounding property was sold and subdivided to create Tuscaloosa's first major expansion. The structure eventually came to be owned by the Tuscaloosa Board of Education, who opened the Jemison School in the house in 1906. The house continud to be used as a school until 1925, after which it was purchased for use as a parts warehouse for Charles Turner's Tuscaloosa Wrecking Company. It was during this priod that Walker Evans took his famous photograph of it in 1936, which remains a part of the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.


In 1940, the structure was purchased by Southside Baptist Church, which added a sanctuary abutting the house on one side and a detached Sunday school building on the other. The church retained it for the rest of the 20th century. It was eventually threatened by proposed demolition in 1994, but was leased to the Heritage Commission of Tuscaloosa County instead by former church members when the church became defunct in 1995. The house was in a state of disrepair by 2006, when it was added to the "Places of Peril" listing. It was deeded to the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society in July 2007, the group made efforts to stabilize the structure. They had the church additions demolished in 2009.


The Drish House has been the site of purported hauntings since the early 20th century. It was featured in Kathryn Tucker Windham's 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey, in the short story "Death Lights in the Tower." Alleged supernatural events over the years have included people reportedly seeing the third-story tower on fire, when no fire is present, and ghostly lights coming out of the house.




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