Top 13 Haunted Places in Alabama: #11 Rocky Hill Castle

October 8, 2019

Though no longer standing, it is rumored that there were actually TWO ghosts of Rocky Hill Castle…That being said, I will try to keep this as organized as possible.

Rocky Hill Castle was once one of the grandest pieces of architecture in Alabama.  It was built in 1858-1861 on a sprawling 640 acres in Courtland, Alabama. It was built for attorney James Saunders by an unknown architect.  Rocky Hill’s architect was a Frenchman who blended Greek Revival and Italian style architecture beautifully with identical front and rear porticos, fluted columns, marble mantles, and an elegant walnut spiral staircase that greeted guests upon entering the home. The home was beautiful and grand..so grand that Saunders could not afford to pay for it – but let’s go back a little…

Construction of Rocky Hill was temporarily halted in 1861 due to the Civil War.  Since the home was nearing completion, Rocky Hill temporarily transformed and served as a hospital for confederate soldiers.  As the war continued and deaths occurred, some of the soldiers were buried in the Saunders’ family cemetery, which was located nearby. After the war, Rocky Hill was transformed back into a home, construction began again and the finishing touches were added.  Once complete,  the Frenchman met with Saunders and presented him with the bill for his newly completed mansion.  Saunders was shocked with the price of the home.  The construction cost, cost of materials, and the cost of Saunders’ opulent taste proved to be more than he could afford and Saunders lost his temper with the Frenchman.  After arguing and angrily insulting one another, the Frenchman stormed out of Rocky Hill empty handed, yelling and cursing the home and its “thieving master” for not paying him for his work.  After trading insults with the architect, Saunders moved his family into the home.  Shortly after moving in, they received word that the architect had died.  With a sigh of relief, Saunders now felt comfortable in the home – realizing he would not have to worry about paying for it or dealing with the angry Frenchman anymore.

Years later while sitting at the dining room table, the Saunders family heard loud noises coming from the cellar.  The noise sounded like someone was hammering away at the foundation of their home.  The family rushed to the cellar to investigate only to find that the noise subsided once they got to the cellar. The family went back upstairs to finish dinner and after dinner they went to bed.  That’s when the noises began again.  It is believed that the noises were from the ghost of the angry Frenchman who had returned to Rocky Hill to get payback for what he was owed – hammering away at the foundation of the home he built, still angry that he was not paid for his work. As the story goes, the sounds of ghostly hammering echoed though the castle for years until the house was demolished in 1961.

 

It wasn’t until after James Saunders passed away in 1896 that our second ghost took up residence at Rocky Hill.  After Saunders’ death, Rocky Hill changed ownership several times within the family and eventually ended in the hands of Dr. Dudley Saunders, James Saunders’ grandson. Upon arriving to the home for the first time, Mrs. Saunders rushed up the grand staircase to see the beautiful view from her bedroom window.  Once she reached the top of the stairs, she was surprised to be greeted by a woman standing on the staircase dressed in a blue gown.  Mrs. Saunders went to greet the lady and she vanished.  Mrs. Saunders was sure of what she saw but was teased by her family whenever she would tell someone about her encounter… that is, until Dr. Saunders had an encounter of his own.

Dr. Saunders was known to have a bit of a drinking problem.  Every night he would make his way to his wine cellar to relax and unwind after a day’s work.  Late one night, Dr. Saunders was drunkenly searching for another bottle of wine when he turned around to find the Lady in Blue sitting and smiling at him.  He locked the cellar in a panic from what he had seen and never returned to his wine again.

Dr. Saunders informed his wife of what he had seen. Mrs. Saunders was comforted knowing that she wasn’t crazy after all, but she was beginning to grow annoyed and impatient with the Lady in Blue. The next morning while getting dressed, Mrs. Saunders heard a noise and she angrily shouted “If there’s anybody there, speak up or forever hold your peace!” Immediately she heard someone say “Madam, I’m right here!”  Within two hours the Saunders family had packed their belongings and left, vowing to never return home to Rocky Hill Castle.

It has been said that the Lady in Blue was the widow of one of the Civil War soldiers who died in the home while it was being used as a hospital.  Upon his death, he was taken away and buried in the Saunders’ family cemetary. After learning of her husband’s death, The Lady in Blue fell into a deep depression until her death several years later.  It is believed that her ghost took up residence at Rocky Hill, waiting patiently for her husband to return home.

The Saunders sold the property to H.D. Bynum and R.E. Tweedy in 1920. Bynum and Tweedy purchased the property for its farmland only and never actually lived inside Rocky Hill.  While sitting empty, the home began to fall into a state of disrepair and decay.  Over the years, the condition worsened and Gordon McBride (Rocky Hill’s last owner) had it demolished in 1961.

You tell me, what do you see in a couple of the photos below? Maybe the photo of the arched interior doors…? What would your reaction be to the Lady in Blue? I can tell you one thing…there is NO WAY I would be living in that house after that!

Rocky Hill Castle rear of house by photographer Alex Bush 1935 (Library of Congress)

Rocky Hill Castle back of house by photographer Alex Bush 1935 (Library of Congress)

Rocky Hill Castle grand staircase by photographer Alex Bush 1935 (Library of Congress)

Rocky Hill Castle interior by photographer Alex Bush 1935 (Library of Congress)

Photo courtesy of photographer Alex Bush 1935 (Library of Congress)

Haunted Rocky Castle, Lawrence County, Alabama (Alabama Department of Archives and History)