One of Huntsville’s most historically significant homes is the Weeden House. It was built in 1819 in the Federalist style for Huntsville entrepreneur Henry C. Bradford. He was forced to sell the house to John Read in 1820 following the loss of his mercantile business in the Panic of 1819. In 1824, the home was purchased by John McKinley, who went on to become an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Three years later, the president of the Huntsville Bank, Bartley M. Lowe, moved into the house. His portrait by John Grimes is prominently displayed there. The next owner, Martha Chambers Betts, sold the home to Dr. William Weeden in 1845. At the time he purchased the house, the property stretched from Gates Street to Weeden Street. His wife, Jane Eliza Brooks Urquhart, transformed the yard into one of the city’s most beautiful gardens. The house remained in the Weeden family until 1956, when it was purchased at public auction by Mrs. B. A. Stockton. She sold the house to the Twickenham Historic Preservation District Association in 1973. The Huntsville Housing Authority took over the old home in 1976. The Weeden House has been open to the public since 1981. Some docents and visitors believe that the home is still inhabited by the ghost of its most famous occupant.
Maria Howard Weeden was born in 1846, six months after Dr. Weeden’s death. She was educated at Huntsville Female Academy, where she exhibited a talent for painting. Eager to develop Maria’s gift, Mrs. Weeden hired a local portraitist, William Frye, to give her private lessons.
During the Federal occupation of Huntsville in 1862, Maria and her family moved to her older sister’s Tuskegee plantation. When they returned to their Huntsville home in 1866, Maria helped support the family by giving art lessons and painting notecards. She also painted 200 species of wildflowers growing on nearby Monte Sano. She submitted inspirational poems to the Christian Observer. Outraged by the way artists were depicting freedmen and women as caricatures at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, she began painting realistic portraits of the type of freed people she had known all of her life. In 1897, her art was published in a book titled Shadows on the Wall. Other published collections of her paintings followed, including Bandanna Ballads (1899), Songs of the Old South (1901), and Old Voices (1904). Maria died in the Weeden House, in the room where she had lived most of her life, on April 12, 1905. She was buried in Maple Hill Cemetery in Huntsville.
Even in Maria Howard Weeden’s lifetime, the old house had a reputation for being “strange.” It was known as a “weeping house” because paint will not adhere to certain parts of its exterior. Ghostly activity occurs inside as well. Lynn Williams, the director of the Weeden House Museum and Garden, said that a chair in one of the upper rooms has been known to change locations during the night. Two women who were taking a tour were listening to the docent relate the history of the house when they were frightened by the chiming of a grandfather clock that had not worked in years. Passersby have reported seeing spectral figures staring out of the windows. One of these apparitions appears to be a man wringing his hands. Docents who have stayed late have heard phantom footsteps inside the house. It is little wonder that Spirit House Tours of the Weeden House Museum and Garden were given October 30-November 1 in 2013.