Courtland, Saunders Hall, And Rocky Hill Castle

Posted by ginger On Thursday, March 24, 2011

Last month, we were in Courtland, which has such a great variety of historic architecture (they have a walking and driving tour here) -- saw an old NEHI and Royal Crown sign downtown:

Courtland, Alabama

...and many gorgeous homes.
Courtland, Alabama

Courtland, Alabama

Courtland, Alabama

This is the Presbyterian church, built between 1859 and 1868 (construction was halted for the War):
Courtland, Alabama

Courtland AL

My favorite find, though, was Saunders Hall, also called the Saunders-Hall-Goode Mansion, built around 1830.  It's considered a rendition of Palladian architecture here (huge emphasis on symmetry).  I wish I could find a floorplan of this home in one of my books, but it is built in an 'H' shape without hallways; the middle section is one room (one room bottom floor, one room top floor) with with entrances to the wings which are each two rooms deep.  This means to get to any room in the house, you have to go through other rooms rather than walk down a hallway.
Saunders-Hall-Goode Mansion, Courtland AL

No one has lived in this house for ages.  In 'Lost Plantations of the South' the author notes that it sits in disrepair and "may soon join the list" of lost plantations "if decisive action is not taken."
Saunders-Hall-Goode Mansion, Courtland AL

Below are pics of it from 1935, and I'm able to use these here because they're in the public domain (Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code) by virtue of them being done for the US Federal Government:


One house related to this one nearby (built by the son of the gentleman who built the house above) was Rocky Hill Castle, built c. 1845.  What's most interesting architecturally about this house is the Gothic tower you can see there to the left:
Now something about that tower (and more in a bit) -- this is from my Antebellum Mansions of Alabama book:
The brick tower with turrets has six floors and was used as a lookout post by the master as he surveyed his vast domain of fields being worked by slaves.  The winding steps inside have since disappeared.

Well actually, it's all disappeared because the house was plundered (it's been written that when the last family members left the house, they left it with its furnishings and everything -- even food on the table) and later was destroyed.  Just ruins now.  These pics are all from 1935:


There were walnut banisters, marble fireplaces, gorgeous pocket doors, intricate moldings.  It cost $48000 to build -- of course, today that would be over a million dollars.


Here's what's not so beautiful.  This (below) is a picture taken from the back of the house.  That white structure on the left of this pic are slave quarters.  But back to the tower...this is from Lost Plantations of the South:

Here, it is said, Saunders nightly imprisoned the slaves to keep them from fleeing their bondage in the cloak of night.  The tower was built with this purpose in mind, with few windows or other means of escape.  It was perhaps one of the strangest and cruelest slave dwellings on any plantation in the antebellum South.
Hope it really was one of those "it is said" legend things and not a "this is really true" things.  After the war (Saunders, the owner, served and even suffered a musket ball going all the way through him during a battle at Murfreesboro) some of the former slaves stayed around as free people, and if there's a nugget of goodness that's to be found, Saunders built them a church and helped them establish their own court of law, all according to the Lost Plantations book.  That tower, though.  Gracious.

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