Mobile, Alabama’s historic homes capture 300 years of history told through grand staircases, antique furnishings, and plenty of Southern charm. Peer into the lives of the Southern elite and their servants in any one of Mobile’s incredible historic home tours.
The Greek Revival-style Bragg-Mitchell Mansion, built in 1855, is one of the most photographed buildings in Mobile, Alabama. Judge John Bragg built the mansion for his wife to enjoy during the Mobile social season – Thanksgiving through Mardi Gras. The home’s massive double parlors, sweeping circular staircase, and grand rooms encapsulate the height of Southern social entertaining.
The stately mansion sits under a canopy of century-old oaks draped in Spanish moss, though during the Civil War, they cut down all the live oak trees and put canons on the front lawn to help defend against any approaching Union troops. During this time, Bragg was so concerned about Union troops attacking his mansion that he moved all the furniture to his plantation outside of Montgomery. Ironically, that plantation was burned down in Wilson’s Raid, and Mobile never became the battleground it was expected to be, leaving the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion to become the city icon it is today.
My time at the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion was short as they were closing early due to a private party, and I had missed the last tour. But the ladies who worked there, full of Southern hospitality, were nice enough to give a quick 10-minute tour before the private party arrived.
Of course, no historic home is complete without a few ghost stories. A ghostly cat roams this mansion’s grounds. Sound strange? How about a ghost that sneezes? While these hauntings may seem a little silly, the mansion has plenty of other more normal occurrences of supernatural activity: doors opening and closing on their own, the elevator moving of its own accord, disembodied voices, and even the ghost of Judge Bragg himself. But the real mystery is the woman who can be seen staring out the upstairs window. The story goes that she fell in love with a slave and that even after death she continues to wait for her forbidden love.
Built in 1833 in what was at that time considered the country, Oakleigh House is now a 5-minute drive from downtown Mobile making it easy to get to on your visit.
Oakleigh is Mobile, Alabama’s premier period house museum with each room highlighting a specific period of its many residents, spanning four families and three centuries. As you walk through the house, you experience Mobile’s 300 years of history – from cotton farming, urban slavery, and railroad expansion to the Civil War and emancipation – through the lives of its residents. Socialite Madame Octavia Walton LeVert is responsible for the restoration and upkeep of this Greek Revival home, and so her portrait hangs in the entry hall. And the tour guides like to tell of the time future-US President James Garfield sipped his first genuine Southern mint julep on Oakleigh’s front gallery.
No photography is allowed inside the historic home, but our tour guide was kind enough to let me take a picture of a unique part of the house’s architecture: a “jib window” consisting of a small door subtly built into the wall beneath a window that, when opened, allows air from outside to flow through.
The grounds of Oakleigh House also contain “Cook’s House”. The “Cook’s House” Project is an effort to broaden Oakleigh’s story to include that of the African-American servants post-Emancipation. When the project began, it was believed the detached kitchen at the back of the home was a cook’s house, but evidence soon showed that this house had been constructed in 1866 to house married soldiers during Reconstruction. This part of the museum now includes both the history of the Union barracks and the story of Oakleigh’s servants and is a stop on Mobile’s Dora Franklin Finley African-American Heritage Trail.
This historic home has its fair share of ghost stories, too. The ghost that haunts Oakleigh House is called Miss Daisy. The rustle of petticoats may be heard swishing throughout the rooms, or a figure dressed in white may be seen disappearing down a hallway. Guests have also seen a male figure in a tailcoat wandering the halls. But don’t be alarmed when you enter one of the bedrooms: on display is a mannequin dressed in all-black mourning attire. She’s no ghost, but she’s very good at frightening people (I’ll admit to giving a start when I first saw her).
Richards DAR House Museum
Built in 1860 in the fashionable neighborhood of DeTonti Square, the Italianate-style Richards DAR townhouse was the dream home of steamboat Captain Charles Richards and his wife Caroline Richards. The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) is now responsible for the house as a period house museum.
The Richards DAR House Museum tells of fashionable life during Mobile’s antebellum days, with its ruby Bohemian glass windows, marble tiles on the portico, mahogany staircase, and one of the largest chandeliers in the city. This is one of the few historic home museums where you are actually allowed to touch the furniture displayed, all of which dates back prior to 1870, though most is not original to the home. The tour guides take pride in their knowledge of each piece of furniture’s history. The DAR women also serve complimentary tea and cookies after each tour, the perfect picture of Southern Hospitality.
Not to be left out of the ghost tours, the ghosts of the Richards DAR House certainly are morning people; museum docents report hearing most strange noises when they are getting the house ready in the morning for visitors. Maybe the ghosts are just upset that they have been awakened early in the morning from their ghostly slumber. The ghosts that reside in this house appear to be Caroline Richards and any number of her 12 children. A distinct woman’s voice has been heard, at times sounding like she’s scolding the children. In what is now decorated as a child’s bedroom, the ghostly children are said to move stuff around, like teddy bears and other toys on the bed.
This article was written by Paige Watts of Paige Minds the Gap
Read more from Paige at: A Weekend in Huntsville, AL