BUILT: c. 1840
STATUS: Still standing
The Purefoy House was built around 1840 by Edmond Hobdy. It belonged to the Purefoys, one of the earliest families to settle in Wilcox County, Alabama. Dr. John H. Purefoy possessed a sizable well on his property; with the hot weather over the summer, it had gone dry. Being rather preoccupied with caring for malaria patients, Dr. Purefoy did not have time to build a new well. He had his servants gather water from a spring nearly a mile away in Savage Hill. The servants didn’t want to fetch the water and instead returned from the venture with empty buckets. They claimed that a witch guarded the spring and emptied the water from their buckets as they tried to leave. They also claimed a black cat with “mean eyes” watched them. Though Dr. Purefoy doubted these claims, he hired a crew of well diggers to take the place of the servants.
The soil surrounding the Purefoy House was sandy. Dr. Purefoy advised the well diggers to build a wooden casing to support the sides of the well. They selected a site for the well and began work, with the doctor supervising for a brief while as they dug to ensure they followed his instructions. For a while after the doctor left, the crew continued building the casing, but eventually concluded construction would be completed more quickly without it. The crew took turns entering the well and digging, while the other members hauled out buckets of dirt. By nightfall, the crew still had not reached water and they decided to cease construction for the day. Without the casing holding the well together, the hole caved in entirely, trapping one of the men beneath tons of soil. The other crew members frantically dug for hours in efforts of rescuing him. Dr. Purefoy arrived home from work and helped to direct the rescue efforts through the night, though hope for the man’s survival grew dimmer and dimmer. The workers insisted they heard faint cries for help from beneath the sandy soil, but they eventually had to abandon the search. The worker’s body was never recovered from the tragic accident.</p.
The Purefoy House remained in the hands of the Purefoy family until 1987, when it was purchased by the Holleman family. In 1998, John and Kathy Estes purchased the estate, later selling it to Robert Lipscomb and his family in 2000.
Grass refuses to grow over the sunken area where the well collapsed centuries ago. It is said that the worker’s tears burned the grass away. Several witnesses have seen the spirit of an African American man, sitting hunched over the top of the well, crying, “Get me out of here! Please, please, get me out!” Disembodied sounds of sobbing and cries for help have been heard.
In Pop Culture
- The Purefoy House was featured in Kathryn Tucker Windham’s 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey in the story “Man in the Well.”
- Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory
- Haunted History. “Old Purefoy House,” www.Facebook.com