STATUS: Open as a historical site
The Mansion’s Construction
Dr. John R. Drish arrived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1822 from Virginia. Drish, a widower, remarried in 1835 to Sarah Owen McKinney, a wealthy widow. Being a successful physician and building contractor, he was able to afford many skilled artisan slaves, who helped to build early Tuscaloosa. In 1837, Dr. Drish built a 450-acre plantation with a brick mansion in an Italianate-style, featuring a three-story tower, front columns, brackets on the overhangs, and a two-story cast iron porch on each side.
The Death of Dr. John R. Drish
Dr. John R. Drish died in 1867 after falling down a stairway. Heartbroken, Sarah Drish lit dozens of candles around his coffin. After extinguishing and putting them away, she requested the same candles be used in her own funeral. As the years went by, she became increasingly more obsessed and insistent about having the candles lit beside her coffin. When Sarah died twenty years later in 1884, her relatives were too busy to locate the candles and she was buried without the requested ritual.
Within months of Sarah’s passing, strange reports of fiery lights inside the center of the house’s shuttered tower were made, leading to dozens of false alarms of the tower being on fire. Subsequent residents of the mansion saw Sarah’s apparition in the front parlor.
The mansion changed owners several times after the deaths of the Drish couple. In 1906, it was purchased by the Tuscaloosa Board of Education and used as the Jemison School. It was later bought by Charles Turner in 1925 to use as a parts warehouse, serving as storage for the Tuscaloosa Wrecking Company. For most of the remainder of the 20th century, the mansion belonged to the Southside Baptist Church, who had purchased it in 1940.
The building was threatened by a proposed demolition in 1994, but was leased to the Heritage Commission of Tuscaloosa County after the church closed in 1995. In 2006, the Drish Mansion was added to the “Places in Peril” list by the Alabama Historical Commission and Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation. The deed was transferred to the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society in July 2007; they have made efforts to repair the structure and hope to raise funding for its full restoration. All of the buildings built by the Southside Baptist Church were demolished in 2009.
In Pop Culture
- The story of the Dr. John R. Drish House’s haunting was featured in Kathryn Tucker Windham and Margaret Gillis Figh’s 13 Ghosts and Jeffrey in the short story “Death Lights in the Tower.”
- Wikipedia. “Dr. John R. Drish House,” www.Wikipedia.org
- Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory
- Haunted Places. “Drish House,” www.HauntedPlaces.org