Once a grand mansion that served as the focal point of a 450-acre plantation on the edge of town, Tuscaloosa’s historic Drish house has an interesting past. Built in 1837 by Dr. John R. Drish, the large stuccoed brick home is considered by state preservationists to be one of the best examples of a mix between Greek Revival and Italianate styles in Alabama. In addition to being a private residence, the mansion has been home to a school, an automobile warehouse and wrecking company, and a church.
From Near-Demolition to Cherished Landmark
It was condemned by the city and came dangerously close to demolition until 2007, when the Southside Baptist Church donated the property to the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society. After much repair and renovation, the home stands today as a reminder of the past and also a popular venue for special events.
The Tragic and Complex Legacy of John Drish
A native of Virginia, John Drish was an early settler in Tuscaloosa, where he established a successful medical practice and also worked as a building contractor. It is believed that the house was built for Drish by his slave artisans and that the style of the home was heavily influenced by state architect William Nichols. Drish led a troubled life, and by the end of the Civil War had lost his fortune to war and gambling, and had ruined his health with heavy drinking. He fell to his death–supposedly in a fit of delirium tremors–on the elegant curved staircase of the house in 1867.
But the story doesn’t end there. The Drish house has long been thought to be haunted and was featured in Kathryn Tucker Windham’s popular book 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey in a story called “Death Lights in the Tower.” According to the story, Drish’s wife Sarah, held a wake for him in the tower that still sits on the front of the house.
One year later, Sarah jumped from the tower to her death. Her dying wish was that the same candles that burned at John’s wake be burned at her funeral. But, for some reason, they were not. Some say the candles were never looked for, and others say that they were searched for but not found.
Sarah Drish’s Eternal Vigil
But rumor has it that Sarah Drish still haunts the tower to this day, and that mysterious lights have been seen in the tower room, often causing people to fear that a fire was burning the house. The old woman’s servants believed that her spirit had returned to the house to burn her own death candles. To watch a video of WIndham telling the story of this haunted mansion in her unique Southern voice , click here Death Lights in the Tower
Unraveling Tuscaloosa’s Enigma
Although Tuscaloosa is home to many historic and storied places, perhaps none can rival the mystery surrounding the historic Drish house. To learn more about the home in its modern day state or to book a special event, check out their website here The Historic Drish House
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