Dr. Jonathan R. Drish moved to the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, area from Louden County, Virginia, in 1822. Within a few years, Dr. Drish had established himself in the community as both a prominent physician and a building contractor.
In 1835, Drish married a local widow by the name of Sarah McKinney, and to commemorate their union Dr. Drish purchased a 450-acre tract on the outskirts of Tuscaloosa. Immediately, he began construction of a large two-story
Italianate mansion designed by architect William Nichols. As was commonplace in the antebellum South, Drish’s slaves provided labour for the mansion, which was completed two years later in 1837.
As soon as Nichols completed the mansion, Dr. Drish immediately began to make several modifications to the mansion’s interior and exterior from 1837 until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. One of the most prominent
modifications was the construction of a large three-story brick tower on the front of the mansion, which became the
building’s most prominent feature.
Dr. Drish died in 1867 from complications due to falling down a staircase inside the mansion. The viewing and funeral took place at the Drish Plantation House a few days later with family, friends, and other plantation owners coming from all over the state of Alabama to pay their final respects to Dr. Drish.
While Jonathan Drish’s body lay in state, Sarah lit candles in honour of her husband and made certain that they remained lit next to her husband’s body until the funeral services had been concluded. After the funeral service, Mrs. Drish extinguished the candles with the instruction that they were only to be lit again upon her own death.
A few years before her death in 1884, Mrs. Drish became increasingly obsessed with burning candles of all kinds. She would reportedly have dozens of candles burning in several rooms throughout the mansion at all hours of the day and night.
After Sarah Drish passed away, it was discovered by family members that she had not made out a will, or made any plans whatsoever as to what she wanted to do with the plantation. There was a great deal of confusion and debate in regards to how the estate would be divided and what would happen to the property. It was not known what Sarah’s wishes were for her funeral, so her family had to improvise.
In making preparations for Sarah’s funeral, one minor detail was overlooked. Seventeen years earlier, Sarah had requested that the candles that were lit next to her husband would be lit at her own viewing and funeral. The candles lay untouched and were not lit at her viewing, funeral, or at any time prior to her burial a few days later. After Sarah was buried, the mansion remained vacant for several years.
In 1906, Drish Mansion was purchased and used as a schoolhouse for nearly thirty years until it closed in 1935. In
1940, Drish Mansion was purchased by the Southside Baptist Church and was used as a church until the 1990s. After this, the mansion fell into a state of disrepair and was in danger of being lost until the property was purchased by Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society in 2007.
The vast majority of the paranormal activity associated with the Drish Mansion is centred around Sarah Drish and her candles.
A few months after Sarah Drish had been buried, the third-floor tower of Drish Mansion appeared to have caught fire, although nobody was living in the mansion at the time. The blaze was reportedly so bright that it could be seen for several miles. When neighbours and a local fire brigade approached the mansion, they found that the mansion was not on fire and that there was no sign that it had ever been on fire. Over the next few years, the fire appeared two or three more times. Each time the fire brigade and neighbours went to the mansion and found that there was no fire to put out.
After the third appearance, the fires stopped being seen. By this time, the Drish Mansion had the reputation of being haunted, and curious thrill-seekers began to walk by the building. When this started, there were several accounts that the ghost of Sarah Drish was seen either in front of the mansion or looking out the third-story window of the tower, which was where the phantom fires had been seen.
When Drish Mansion was used as Jemison School in the early 1900s, the school’s official stance was that no
paranormal activity had ever taken place on the property. However, people who walked by the mansion claimed to have
seen Sarah Drish’s ghost sitting in the third-floor window of the tower.
After the school closed in 1935, and long after it was purchased by the Southside Baptist Church, there were reports of floating lights, often described as candlelight, through the windows of the entire mansion. It is believed that the light is coming from candles that Sarah Drish lit in memory of her husband.
Haunted Plantations of the South written by Richard Southall. © 2015 by Richard Southall.