The M in MASCH
I just love houses with cupolas, don't you?
Remember in grade school when you'd play MASCH? You'd draw a square with the letters MASCH above it, and they stood for mansion, apartment, shack, cottage, house. This is just the sort of house I imagined when I landed on M.
Believe it or not, I've never taken the time to go inside for a tour. My mother told us long ago that it was once the public library, and I've always thought of it as the perfect library. Books floor to ceiling, sliding ladders, dust motes, cushy chairs in secret corners. I kinda hate to go inside and ruin my mental image.
According to the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society's website, Historic Tuscaloosa, and the mansion's own website, the house (one of only a few Italianate houses in T-town) was built in 1859-1862 by Senator Robert Jemison Jr. to serve as his town house. The architect was John Stewart from Philadelphia, who along with his partner, Samuel Sloan, designed Bryce Hospital (the state mental hospital, also in T-town).
Most of the building materials came from Jemison’s plantations and sawmills, and the majority of construction was performed by skilled slaves under the supervision of Philadelphia craftsmen. The house had indoor lighting fueled by coal gas manufactured in a machine located in the basement.
If I was living in antebellum Tuscaloosa, I totally would've sidled up to the Jemisons and tried to make friends because their house was the first in town to have an indoor bathroom, including running water, flush toilets and a copper bathtub. (Of course, my family was po' white trash, so I would've been more likely to hang out in a dogtrot cabin snuggling with the family hogs.)
The house also featured a boiler for producing hot water, a gas stove, and a deep dry well in the basement that kept food fresh even in hot Alabama summers.
The house's construction was interrupted when the Civil War began, much like Eutaw's own showplace mansion, Kirkwood, leaving many finishing touches undone. According to legend, it barely escaped being burned by Union troops when boys playing a prank ran down the street yelling, "Forrest is coming, hurrah for Forrest!", and the Union commander skedaddled.
The home remained in the family until the 1940s, when it was purchased by J.P. and Nell Burchfield, who undertook a major restoration.
After serving as the Friedman Public Library from 1955 to 1979, the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society and Heritage Commission of Tuscaloosa set up a joint board to oversee restoration of the house, which is ongoing. The Tuscaloosa Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has its offices in the basement of the house. The main floor has been carefully restored to its original 1860s appearance, and it is available to the public for weddings, parties and receptions, none of which have I been invited to attend.
I half-wanted to get married there, but Darwin was insistent on one point for our wedding, and that was that it must take place at his family's church. So that's what we did, and I still haven't seen the inside of that lovely gray house on Greensboro Ave.
I guess it's fitting. Po' white trash like me can't go places that don't provide a spitoon.