Poplar Grove Embodies the Essence of Alabama’s History
Perched high on the hill at 403 Echols Ave. in Huntsville sits one of Alabama’s most stately and historically significant mansions: Poplar Grove. Construction on the two-story Classical Revival behemoth was completed in 1813, and sources say that it was the first mansion to be built in the state of Alabama. However, the real question is: If Poplar Grove’s walls could talk, what would they say?
Step Inside the Grove
Constructed on 160 acres, this 6,300-sq.-ft. mansion evolved to employ both Federal and Neoclassical elements to create a certain grandiosity as noted by the Society of Architectural Historians: “The original Federal facade is eclipsed by the Neoclassical portico, added in the early to mid-19th century."
Not long after its completion, the mansion was used as a hospital and a place to hold Native American prisoners after the Fort Mims Massacre and the Battle of Horseshoe Bend — both conflicts in the War of 1812.
As history would have it, American troops considered these events, among others, victories over the Native peoples — though many scholars agree they were massacres more so than battles — and held a celebration at Poplar Grove. Those in attendance would include five future governors of Alabama, including William Wythe Bib, Thomas Bibb, Gabriel Moore, Clement Clay, Hugh McVeigh, and the future seventh president of the United States, Andrew Jackson.
Not long after the passing of LeRoy Pope’s wife in 1834, the mansion was sold to his son, William H. Pope, for $60,000. The sale included 700 acres of land, 121 enslaved persons, 75 head of cattle, as well as 45 horses and mules. Legend has it that Pope’s grandson LeRoy Pope Walker — the Secretary of War for the Confederacy — would also live there briefly but would soon move to a place nearby. In 1850, the mansion was sold to Dr. Charles Hayes Patton and he lived at the property throughout the Civil War, sometimes hosting Confederate funerals there.
The mansion has remained in the Patton family until this day, though it’s undergone a variety of changes which included new windows as well as a “modernization” of the interior in the late 19th century — not to mention the addition of a two-story wing and two-story porch added in the 1920s. Like many properties of its time, it also has a few auxiliary buildings believed to be a kitchen and slave quarters, though the original number of auxiliary structures is not known.
As it sits, the Patton family leases it out to the University of Alabama Huntsville, and the school uses the 200-plus-year-old structure to house the current university president — let’s just hope they don’t believe in ghosts.
Historic Properties and Preservation
Interested in historic properties? By owning a historic home, you not only own a slice of history but also enjoy a slew of additional benefits. To begin, the home is unique in that builders aren’t likely to recreate that particular style of architecture when constructing new builds. Next, historic homes are often in very desirable locations — which is why they’re likely still standing.
They also tend to sell faster and fetch higher asking prices than your run-of-the-mill property. Lastly, homes listed on the National Register of Historic Places are oftentimes eligible for tax credits, grant money, and preservation loans if they meet certain rehabilitation standards.
As always, check with both federal and state agencies or preservation networks to see if you or your client can help save a piece of the past with your next property purchase.
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