The house was built in 1837 by Dr. John R. Drish, a physician and avid architecture enthusiast in early Tuscaloosa. While originally being fashioned as a Greek Revival-inspired plantation home, Drish remodeled the house in the 1850s to add columns and an Italianate-type tower to the front of his mansion. Although he filled it with elegant decorations and architectural nuances, Drish and his wife, Sarah, could never have imagined the rich history that would fill the halls of their home following their deaths.
The home remained a private residence for twenty-two years after Sarah Drish’s death, and then the house was converted into the Jemison School in 1906. However, its new purpose would be temporary. By the 1930s, the building changed hands again and was turned into an auto parts garage and wrecking service.
Unsightly as the Tuscaloosa Wrecking Company made the historic home, the Drish House would be saved once again in the 1940s by Southside Baptist Church, when it purchased the property to be its meeting site. After the addition of an attached sanctuary and separate Sunday school building, the church thrived until 1995 when they were forced to close due to lack of attendance and funding.
The Heritage Commission of Tuscaloosa County took over the lease from Southside, but it did not have the financial resources to support the home. By 2007, after being faced with no purchasing offers and city threats to condemn it, ownership of the Drish House transferred to the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society.
The Preservation Society began cleaning up the property thanks to a $32,600 grant from the Alabama Historical Commission and opened the doors again to the public after several months. In May 2014, the Preservation Society decided to sell the property to Past Horizons LLC, headed by Nika McCool. McCool quickly set in on renovating and restoring the space and now plans on revamping it into an event venue.
When she purchased the property last year, McCool knew it needed immediate work—especially on the exterior—to maintain the building’s structural stability. Stucco was resealed, broken windows were replaced, and the roof was repaired during the first summer of the home’s new ownership.
After dealing with the needs of the exterior, McCool had to plan her restoration of the home around the fact that the previous residents had altered much of the interior. “The Drish House was so stripped by Southside Baptist Church,” she explained. “It was kind of sad; not much of the original interior remained. But in a positive way, this was also freeing. The inside can have a fairly modern, chic feel while still respecting the history left.”
At present, the downstairs of the house consists of three spacious rooms, one of which was formerly the church’s sanctuary. There is also a kitchen perfectly set up for catering and an old adult Sunday school room that will be remodeled into restrooms. Upstairs, there are twelve individual Sunday school rooms that will become restrooms, dressing rooms for brides, and general multipurpose rooms for events.
McCool is working closely with an architect, Jim Berry, on a plan for the interior remodel, and she hopes that the project will be finished in order for the Drish House event venue to be opened by October 2015.
The Drish House was also officially added to the National Register of Historic Places in March 2015, due primarily to efforts by McCool—a feat that has deemed this multipurpose house, so unique in its long, tumultuous history, worthy of preservation for many years to come.
http://vintagecrimson.me/ (McCool’s blog)
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