Top 13 Haunted Places in Alabama: #1 The Drish House

October 30, 2019

We’ve made it! We have officially arrived at our #1 choice on the #TrickOrTerpoCountdown! Before we get into it, let me start by saying thank you for following along on this countdown and joining in on the Halloween fun! We will get back to the real estate posts soon enough, but it’s always fun to take a break and do something off-script.

Throughout this countdown, I have had several people ask me if I believe in ghosts and I reply “No!” for one simple reason, I’ve never seen one!  Now,  let me go ahead and say that I am fully aware you are going to think I sound crazy.  However, I am fully 100% convinced that I saw what I am about to describe to you on the way back to Tuscaloosa late one night my freshman year…

Our #1 spot on the #TrickOrTerpoCountdown goes to The Drish House located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama!  The Drish House is a stately historic plantation home considered by state preservationists to be one of the most distinctive mixes of Greek Revival and Italianate styles in Alabama.  The home is a large stuccoed brick mansion originally constructed in 1837 in the middle of a 450-acre plot of land. The exterior originally featured full-width monumental Doric porticos to the front and rear of the home and two-story pilasters.  After the Civil War, the home was extensively remodeled in the Italianate-style with a three-story brick tower being added, the front columns changed to the Ionic order style, and a two-story cast iron side porch added to either side.

The home was constructed for Dr. John R. Drish.  Drish was one of the earliest settlers in Tuscaloosa, moving there from Virginia in 1822 after the passing of his wife.  After moving to Tuscaloosa, he married Sarah Owen McKinney in 1835.  McKinney was was also a widow and had been left quite wealthy after her husband’s death.  By the time they married, Drish had opened a very successful physician’s practice in Tuscaloosa.

Over the years, due to a stressful job and still coping with the loss of his first wife, Drish had developed an addiction to alcohol and gambling.  In 1867, after a night of drinking and trying to sober up, Drish developed the shakes and leapt out of his bed upstairs.  In a hallucinatory state, he charged over to the bannister, flinging himself over the railing where he plummeted to his death on the lower level of the home.

Possibly sensing something, Drish left elaborate instructions for his burial which included lying in state, upstairs near the tower, surrounded by candles.  Sarah, heartbroken at the loss of her husband, became obsessed with his funeral and her own grief.  She was sure to thoroughly carry out each individual detail and also began drafting elaborate details for her own funeral. Sarah insisted that when her time came, she was to have the exact same treatment.  After Drish’s funeral, Sarah made sure to save the candles and hid them so no one would throw them out.  Her wishes were that they might also burn at her own funeral – surrounding her body just as they had surrounded her husband.

Sarah lived in the home for several years after her husband passed away, becoming increasingly unstable as she grieved the loss of her second husband.  Sarah passed away in 1884 and as she wished, she had the same funeral treatment that her husband John had but with one exception, there were no candles.  Sarah had hidden the candles too well and no one could find them – so she lay in state without them.

Now, let’s go to 2009.  I was driving back to Tuscaloosa late one Sunday evening after a weekend at home.  It was my fall semester of my freshman year and although I had been going to Tuscaloosa for games and events my entire life, I had never really paid much attention to the downtown area.  I took my exit and as I was turning and navigating the downtown streets to get back to my dorm, I saw something off in the distance that looked like a building on fire.  I didn’t think much of it because I knew parts of Tuscaloosa were quite industrial.  I continued on my route home and didn’t really think of it again.  The next day, I was driving around and noticed I was in the same location that I had been the night before when I had seen the fire.  I saw the building in the distance and drove until I was in front of it.  I realized that the building I saw was not an industrial building but was actually a house, the Drish House.  I thought surely it had not been on fire…there were no signs of burning and there was no ash and the most interesting part, the windows in the tower at the top of the home were boarded up.  I thought, “Wait….I know I saw that last night! I know I’m not making this up!”  I eventually just moved on and kind of forgot about it, figuring there was some strange explanation for it that I didn’t really have the time or care to investigate.  Well, flash forward to fall of 2011, my junior year.  A group of friends and I went to see a halloween movie and after the movie, a couple of us were talking about scary stories, haunted places, etc.  One thing led to another and somehow haunted places in Tuscaloosa became the topic of conversation.  I had never told anyone my story because I figured there was some kind of rational explanation for it. Thats when we discovered the stories of the haunted Drish House and the rumors that surround the property.

Many see the failure to carry out Sarah’s final wish as the primary event that triggered the Drish House haunting.  It is believed that Sarah’s ghost began haunting the Drish House as a result of  the candles from her husband’s funeral not being used for her own.  It is believed that every once in a while, she will light the tower with candlelight as a way to be sure she is never forgotten.

There have been multiple reports of fire at the top of the tower in the Drish House.  If you search hard enough, you can find 911 recordings of people who have called in with reports of seeing flames in the top of the third-story tower when no fire is present.  The story of Sarah’s ghost and the flames are even told in Kathryn Tucker Windham’s book 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey, in the short story “Death Lights in the Tower”.

So do I believe in ghosts? Still no! I haven’t seen one! However, there is no denying what I saw and I have absolutely no explanation for it!

Since Sarah’s death, the mansion has changed hands several times.  While it was still a residential structure, the area around it was sold off and subdivided to create Tuscaloosa’s first major expansion.  The Drish House was eventually purchased by the Tuscaloosa Board of Education who opened the Jemison School in 1906.  It was later purchased in 1925 and used for a parts warehouse for Charles Turner’s Tuscaloosa Wrecking Company.  In 1940, the property was purchased by Southside Baptist Church, which added a sanctuary abutting the house on one side.  The churched retained it for the rest of the 20th century.  The structure was in a steady state of decline and was in a state of disrepair in 2006 when it was added to a “Places in Peril”  listing by the Alabama Historical Commission and Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation.  It was deeded to the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society in July 2007.  The church additions were demolished in 2009 and in 2012, the Drish House once again changed hands and was purchased by Nika McCool of Past Horizons LLC.  Renovations on the Drish House began and in May of 2016, the Drish House opened its doors once again as an event venue – breathing new life into a home with a ghostly past and a promising future.

Thank you again for joining me on the #TrickOrTerpoCountdown!! Do you think I have completely lost it with what I saw in Tuscaloosa that night? Did you enjoy the countdown? Do you have any ideas for future countdowns? Feel free to DM me your thoughts on Instagram! Thanks for following along and have a happy and safe Halloween!



The Drish House as originally built, on 450 acres (Photo Courtesy of Alabama Pioneers)


The Drish House after post-Civil War remodel (Photo Courtesy of Alabama Pioneers)


The Drish House being used as an auto parts warehouse in the 1930s.  Walker Evans took this photograph as part of a collection depicting life in America during the Great Depression.  The photo (along with many others) were displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Photo Courtesy: Walker Evans)


The Drish House, sitting in a state of disrepair following its usage as an auto parts warehouse. (Photo Courtesy of Frances Benjamin Johnston via Shorpy)


The Historic Drish Home as it appears today (Photo Courtesy AL. com)