STATUS: Open as a historical site
Dr. John R. Drish came to Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1822, moving from Virginia. He was a widower, but he later married wealthy widow Sarah Owen McKinney in 1835. A successful physician and building contractor, Drish was able to afford many skillful slave artisans. The slaves helped build early Tuscaloosa.
In 1837, Dr. Drish built a 450-acre plantation with a brick mansion. Prior to the Civil War, the home was built in the Italianate-style, featuring a three-story brick tower, front columns, brackets being added to overhangs, and two-story cast iron side porches on each side. After falling down a stairway, Dr. John R. Drish died in 1867. His wife Sarah Drish died almost 20 years later in 1884.
After her death, the mansion changed owners several times. In 1906, it became known as the Jemison School after it was purchased by the Tuscaloosa Board of Education. The school was purchased by Charles Turner to use as a parts warehouse in 1925. It served as storage for the Tuscaloosa Wrecking Company. The Southside Baptist Church bought it in 1940 and added a Sunday School. The building belonged to the church for the rest of the 20th century.
Eventually, the building was threatened by proposed demolition in 1994 but was leased to the Heritage Commission of Tuscaloosa County instead of the church, as it closed in 1995. By 2006, the house was falling apart and was added to “Places in Peril” by the Alabama Historical Commission and Alabama Trust For Historic Preservation. In July 2007, the deed was given to the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society. They have since made efforts to fix the structure, and hope to raise enough funding for its restoration.
All of the church’s additional buildings were demolished in 2009. Since the early 20th century, the house has been the site of rumored hauntings. People have reported seeing the three-story tower on fire when no fire is present, and ghostly lights coming out of the house.
In Popular Culture
- The story of the Dr. John R. Drish House’s haunting has been featured in Kathryn Tucker Windham and Margaret Gillis Figh’s 13 Ghosts and Jeffrey in the short story “Death Lights in the Tower”.
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