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Historic Drish House

Christopher Maloney, Auburn University
The Historic Drish House in Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa County, was constructed in the 1830s by noted physician and contractor John R. Drish and originally known as Monroe Place. The home has seen many uses over the decades and is now an events facility.
Historic Drish House
The house was the centerpiece of a large plantation at a time when Tuscaloosa served as the state capital. It was built on the edge of town at the end of a tree-lined avenue extending to a gate and keeper's lodge approximately two present-day blocks to the home's north. Originally from Virginia, Drish was a wealthy landowner, and preservationists believe the house was richly adorned, given the description of carpets they have found in Drish's letters. His one child, a daughter, was married at the house in 1840. Skilled enslaved labor, including iron and plaster workers and wood carvers, were involved in the home's construction. to perhaps show off their talents. Drish died in 1867, and his second wife, Sarah Owen McKinney, lived in the home until her death in 1884, when the house passed out of the family.
Covered in stucco, the house is an "eclectic combination" of Greek Revival and Italianate elements and is considered "eccentric" by a prominent Alabama expert. The north-facing front features a two-story porch with four Ionic columns. It is divided in the center by a three-story multi-arched arched Italianate tower that was added by Drish sometime in the 1850s or early 1860s, depending on the source, replacing two Ionic columns and distinguishing the front from the rear. The tower bears some resemblance to the nearby Italianate Jemison-Van de Graaff Mansion constructed between approximately 1859 and 1862 by state senator Robert Jemison Jr. Some sources suggest that the homes may reflect competition between Drish and Jemison. The south-facing rear, which would have looked over Drish's land, showcases a two-story, six-columned Doric portico. A separate kitchen building was located away from the house on the east side so as not to interfere with the views from either porch.
After the house passed to other owners, it was remodeled in the late 1880s and extensively altered in the early to mid-twentieth century. An elegant curved marble and iron staircase (from which Drish reportedly fell to his death) and decorative woodwork were removed from the interior and exterior modifications included the removal of a balcony. Owners since the Drish family include the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Light Company and the Tuscaloosa board of education, which took over the property around 1906 and operated the Jemison School in the building. The Historic American Building Survey recorded and photographed the building in 1934 and Walker Evans photographed it in 1936, during which time it served as a used auto parts and salvage business. Southside Baptist Church bought the building in or around 1940 from the city and added a red-brick three-story sanctuary on the west side and removed some of the ornate plasterwork. A smaller building on the east side was added at some point where the kitchen stood.
Experiencing falling membership and unable to keep up with repairs on the building, the Drish House fell into disrepair, and the church considered demolishing the structure in the 1990s. It was deeded to a local heritage organization in the mid-1990s and was listed as "in peril" by the Alabama Historical Commission in 2006. The following year, it was given to the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society, which tore down the large brick addition in 2009. That group stabilized the structure, but it remained vacant and vandalized and was sold in 2014 to private interests. It has since been converted into a for-profit events venue that is available to rent for a variety of affairs, including weddings, receptions, and musical performances. The house is popularly believed to be haunted and is mentioned in Alabama writer Kathryn Tucker Windham's book 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. The Drish House was listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage in 1975 and on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015. It is located at 2300 Seventeenth Street in the middle of a traffic circle.
Published:  February 6, 2018   |   Last updated:  February 6, 2018