History is what makes a cities character and government buildings are a major part of history. Almost every city features sculptures and monuments but Carrollton’s courthouse has something really special to add to it’s character. The Pickens County Courthouse in Carrollton has an unforgettable monument of freedom thanks to “The Lightning Portrait of Henry Wells.”
All locals know the story of Wells. Wells was a former slave and was accused of burning the old original Pickens County Courthouse to the ground. Wells was arrested two-years later. At the time of Well’s arrest the courthouse had no jail cells and Wells was locked in the garret of the new courthouse. A group of locals had caught wind that Wells had been arrested and created a mob just outside the courthouse. The mob’s intent was to lynch Wells but little did they know, god had another plan in store for Mr. Wells.
Wells heard the mob outside and peered out the garret window to see what was going on. As Wells was peering out the window a bolt of lightning struck nearby and permanently etched the terrified expression of his face into a windowpane. The spine-tingling bolt of lightning also broke up the lynch mob, saving Wells from immediate death. However, Wells met his death less than a couple of months later due to “wounds received while attempting to escape”. You don’t have to be too smart to figure out what really happened there.
The photo etched by lightning can still be seen today but only from the outside. There is an arrow now bolted to the brick wall, three floors up, which directs you to the phenomenon of his face.
One local was quoted in saying that “Through all the years, in spite of hail and storm, which has destroyed all the windows in the courthouse, this one pane has remained intact. It has been scrubbed with soap and rubbed with gasoline by those who doubt its permanence, but it has met every test and the face remains unchanged. At close range the pane looks clear and flawless, but viewed from the ground where once gathered an angry mob, the fear-distorted face of Henry Wells can be clearly seen!”.
The face is now over a century old and on the 130th anniversary of the “Face in the Window”, it passed without any type of recognition by the locals, apparenlty they don’t find the face to be too flattering to their city, however others think it is indeed a remarkable phenomenon. A clerk town said, “I don’t think anybody took the time to realize that it’s been 130 years”. “We just know it’s there.” The clerk also said that, regardless of reports they’d received from nervous tipsters, the Courthouse was never threatened with condemnation or demolition. As a matter of fact it was actually being renovated. Carrollton would never demolish its most famous building, even if it is haunted by the curse of Henry Wells.
The Drish House was built in the 1830s by a Doctor named John Drish. This old federal style house has seen many faces and has set the stage for many stories throughout it’s life. It was at first simply a house for the Drish family, then it was turned into a school, at one time it was even a wrecking company, it has been a church and later on a storage space. The house has set vacant for quite a while as well. Over 175 years of history has went on inside these walls.
Doctor Drish’s legacy holds quite a bit of drama, which obviously has led to the hauntings inhabiting the home. Doctor Drish was born in Loudoun County, Virginia and in 1795 he went to school to be a doctor. His wife was a very wealthy woman named Catherine Washington. After marriage, the two had daughter and named her Katherine M. Drish.
Years later, a dark cloud fell on the family and Doctor Drish’s wife Catherine died early on when the little girl was still very young. His wife’s untimely death led the doctor to leave the child behind with his relatives in Virginia. The doctor felt he couldn’t watch after the little girl like she needed and have a successful career as a doctor. He moved alone to Alabama, taking his wife’s fortune with him.
The doctor arrived in the town of Tuscaloosa in 1822. This is where he was married again three years later to a wealthy widow by the name of Sarah Owen. The couple bought around 160 acres in Southern Tuscaloosa to build their dream home and in 1837 construction started on Monroe Place. The construction of the home was finished in 1839 and the doctor then brought his daughter Katherine home from Virginia to live along with him and his new wife.
The house was originally named Monroe Place because it sits at the terminus of what was then called Monroe Street. The home has two levels and a basement. The architectural influence of the home was taken from a notable Alabama Architect named William Nichols. Doctor Drish had previously worked with Nichols as a contractor in building several government structures, the capitol, the local jail and even the University. There is no proof that the Architect Nichols had a thing to do with the design, it’s merely an observation by locals that he influenced Drish. The house was embellished with 14 Tuscan columns and a double-ellipse staircase designed and built by his nieces husband John Fitch who was a very skilled carpenter.
The war came around 1860 and hit the Drish family pretty badly, like many others in the south. However Monroe Place and many of the other close-by mansions were spared.
After the war, Drish was bankrupt and soon died in 1867. In his will, he left his wife Monroe Place. However unfortunately since he owed the state of Alabama money, all of his property and real estate, including the Monroe Place mansion were auctioned off. The home was sold to an Alabama lawyer who went by the name of Powell in 1869. The new owner however let Sarah Drish use the house until she died in 1884.
After the long occupancy of the Drish family, the house was sold time and time again and housed many different facilities.
In 2007 everything in the area including the Drish house was condemned and was soon to be torn down. However the church was still in place and they were able to negotiate to save the Drish house and renovate, while all the other surrounding buildings met their end and were finally torn down.
As with any old house from the 1800s the Drish house became susceptible to many stories and rumors. Some say that Doctor Drish was a drunk and gambled all his money away. They also say that his daughter Katherine fell in love with a man that her father did not approve of and locked in her room for many weeks with scarce food or drink.
The man she had previously fell for eventually left Tuscaloosa, so she then married a man by the name of W.W. King from New Orleans and later had two sons with him. She and her two sons later returned to the Drish House to finalize a divorce from their father. Many say his daughter had went insane after witnessing many outbursts and incidents occurring at the home due to her unruly behavior. Around the same time, Doctor Drish’s niece Helen Whiting was murdered by her husband, the carpenter Mr. Fitch, he was the same carpenter who built the mansion’s staircase. In an episode of rage, he slit her throat almost severing her head. These heinous actions by Mr. Fitch ultimately sent him to an insane asylum.
While all this craziness was going on Doctor Drish became ill himself and refused to eat; he was only kept alive by force feeding. Some say he leapt from his bed and fell going down the staircase. Some of his workers or slaves insisted this is how he died.
One story is that one of the tower rooms is haunted by a runaway slave who had somehow managed to get into the tower room and hid. The slave was eventually forced out from starvation. Story says that he was then handed over to his master, and his master then burned him to death. So this is where the legend of the burning tower was born.
The second story is that Katherine’s sons returned to the Mansion to retrieve her after her death. Katherine wanted the same candles burned at her funeral that were burned at her husband’s funeral several years before. Unfortunately she did not get her wish fulfilled to have the candles at her funeral as they were unable to be found by her sons in time for her funeral.
These two stories over time have led to the legend of the burning tower at Drish house.
Sometimes people see the towers burning and notify the local fire department only to find that there was no fire at all. Firefighters have reported seeing the ghost of Mrs.Drish while responding to the mystery fires numerous times. Others have reported hearing the slaves crying and yelling about the fire from inside of the Drish House.
Below are two videos, one of a very convincing Tuscaloosa resident story teller and the other of a news story on the Drish house.