the most tenacious local historian has been able to solve the
mysteries surrounding one of Jacksonville's oldest homes. Called
at various times the Driskell Home and the Sinclair House, the
to bottom for
present-day view of
on Gayle Avenue SW (behind McDonald's), near the First United
Methodist Church, was reputedly built as far back as the 1830s.
But the most determined investigators were unable to authenticate
the date the home was completed, and that detail is one of several
mysteries still surrounding this interesting home.
Jacksonville, published by the General John H. Forney Chapter
of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in 1952, simply
described the house as "...one of Jacksonville's oldest..."
while The Jacksonville Story, an undated publication
of the former First National Bank of Jacksonville, lists it
among local homes "...presumed to have been built prior
history buffs who have researched the home say they think it
is much older than 1850 and is possibly even one of the
first dwellings in Jacksonville, which would put its construction
date somewhere around the late 1833 period (which is within
the realm of possibility, as the town's first well-built homes
-- as opposed to cabins -- went up at that time, according to
the master's thesis of the late Mr. Jack D. Boozer). Whatever
the case, almost no one disputes the theory that this house
is one of Jacksonville's first. But there are other fascinating
mysteries that deserve to be looked into, according to the current
owner, who is a JSU faculty member and prefers not to be identified.
Where was this home's original site? Why was the house first
moved? And what about the uncanny series of tragic events that
happened each time the home was moved?
owner said he found proof that the house was built on another
site and later moved to the
lot at the corner of Gayle Avenue SW and Francis Street. One
older resident who owns an historic home said it was uncommon
and difficult to move homes until well after the turn of the
century. However, the late Mr. Boozer had once told the current
owner that homes were moved with mule teams in the early days
of Jacksonville. The current owner said he examined the house
at its Gayle Avenue address and discovered strong substantiation
for his theory that it had been moved to that lot. He said a
back room, which may have been a bedroom or dining room at one
time, had been cut from the main structure and reattached, as
would have happened during a relocation. The house was also
positioned above a primitive, earthen basement, and its beams
rested on rocks rather than on a proper permanent foundation.
recent interview, the current owner had this to add: "To
further substantiate my theory of the original move, the earliest
home builders knew or reasoned that a home had to be at least
18 inches above the soil to reduce termite damage. Such a refined
home, at an early period, would have been at least that high
or higher. As a reference, look at other surviving historic
homes of Jacksonville. One corner of this house was virtually
resting on the ground. From the original photograph, it is very
apparent that the house did not have the required height and,
consequently, suffered damage."
to The Jacksonville Story, the structure was once "framed
by stately elms and dark cedars" and occupied by the Driskells
for more than 50 years before becoming the home of Professor
E. J. Landers, who served as principal of the elementary school.
The residence was later occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Dave Walker,
who celebrated a golden wedding anniversary there, and then
by Mrs. John Howell, possibly the widow of John Wesley Howell,
who was said to have been a circuit judge and legislator. The
house then became the estate of Ruth Sinclair, whose daughter,
a Mrs. Woodward, lived there for a few years.
remained at the Francis Street address for much of its existence
until the adjacent First United Methodist Church planned an
expansion, including a parking lot. Mr. Buddy Tredaway remembers
that Mrs. Margaret Weinland, the wife of a local retired colonel,
bought the property and donated it to the church, which enabled
the methodists to sell the house and thereby save it from destruction
by having it moved. By that time, the house had been empty for
several years and was in poor condition, according to those
who first-hand knowledge. The current owner recalls that it
would have been torn down, certainly, had it not been bought
and moved. Several people interested in historic homes came
forward to consider acquiring the structure, but Jimmy and Mary
Moore, now deceased, became the new owners. They moved the house
from Gayle Avenue to Greenleaf Street and set it up on a lot
at the rear of the present-day Winn-Dixie store. The Moores
remodeled the house and used it for their antique shop, The
few years later, the Moores found that another move -- this
would be the house's third -- was necessary. Space was needed
for a new Winn-Dixie store. Once again, the building had to
be moved or demolished. A JSU faculty member bought the house
in the early 1990s and moved it out of town. He said he found
that during the War Between the States many of the original
deeds were sent by train car to Talledega to avoid the burning
of records by the Union Forces. Unfortunately, Union troops
burned the car, destroying their contents. He said the late
Mr. Boozer shared this information with him.
member restored the home, and he and his family moved in and
weathered the Blizzard of 1993. The house finally seemed to
be in a place where it would not possibly stand in the way of
anything else, especially a wrecking crew.
would lie in the direct path of a tornado.
11:40 a.m. on March 27, 1994 (Palm Sunday), the home was completely
destroyed by the Goshen tornado, ranked F4 on the Fujita Scale.
That day marked one of the most deadly tornado outbreaks in modern
Alabama history. Storms swept across northeast Alabama and northwest
Georgia during the late morning and early afternoon hours, killing
24 and injuring dozens.
and his family were playing a board game called Life. He said
a gust of wind swept play money from the board onto the floor
and he bent down to pick it up. At that moment, the house expoded
from the force of the tornado. The owner said he was lifted
completely off his feet and dropped among a pile of beams. One
of the chimneys collapsed at the owner's feet and went through
the floor. The heavy timbers somehow missed his wife
and son. One beam glanced past his wife's shoulder, missing
her by a fraction of an inch. The family survived with minor
vividly remembers his experience inside the eye of the tornado.
Oddly enough, the same man had survived riding out the fury
and then the eye of a hurricane while serving aboard a ship
in the 1980s, giving him the grim distinction of surviving the
eyes of two storms in one lifetime.
after the tornado struck, only portions of a few walls remained.
Later, construction experts would say it would be impossible
to restore the home. But the owner wouldn't take no for an answer.
member managed to salvage approximately 40 percent of the original
timber, including an exterior wall that's now used as an interior
structure (it's made of plaster and horse hair, which are still
discernible today). The owner drew plans for the reconstruction
project on his home computer. He was driven by this question:
"how would this house look if the original owner tried
to build it back?"
owner's solution was to preserve the general look, to apply
simple reconstruction techniques, and to use cosmetic embellishments
only where they seemed practical and affordable.
pile of rubble yielded enough material to get started. The contractor
was a man who had never attempted anything more complicated
than installing a tin roof on a barn. The house began to take
shape. Portions of the front "funeral parlor doors"
were repaired and used to flank an exit to the side porch (formerly
a bedroom). Enough of the uprights from the original bannisters
were salvaged to return the porch to its original look. On it
went. It seemed the house was slowly returning to normal.
again, it stood in the way. In 1995 it was struck by Hurricane
Opal, a category one storm when it hit this area. The house
sustained damage to its roof. By now the home seemed to have
the incredible luck of a person struck not once or twice by
lightning but three or four times in a row. And,
once again, the house was restored.
Do you know
more about this home's early history? Or have photographs? If
so, the faculty member would like to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.