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Along the Street

Thompson Mansion
401 Madison Ave circa 1850s , NOT ON TOUR

Historical Significance

Built about 1850 in Tuskegee, Alabama, an antebellum market town in east Alabama, the Thompson House represents a high point in Pre-Civil War cotton-generated wealth.  Judge Thomas S. Tate acquired the property in 1850 and resided there until after the Civil War when it became a hotel for a brief time. In 1898, the Thompsons lavishly entertained President William McKinley who was speaking at Tuskegee Institute.

During the 1930s, the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) documented the house with drawings and photographs for inclusion in this monumental study of America’s building past. Farmer and businessman Grover Cleveland Thompson, another son, lived in the house until his death in 1950 and it was his widow, Annie Lee, who lived there until the 1970s.

Architectural Significance

A symmetrical Greek Revival house, its front columns featured Corinthian capitals while those in the rear are octagonal. Cast iron lyres compose the balustrade of the upstairs balcony. The house sports brackets, ventilator covers and arcaded side porches characteristic of the Italianate style that was so popular in Alabama’s Black Belt. The interior transept halls allowed cross breezes in the summer and the small rooms and unusually low ceilings permitted the fireplaces to adequately warm spaces in the winter. Elegant plaster cornices and pedimented interior doors in the halls and cantilevered curving staircase combined with several types of graining and marblizing to showcase the Thompson Mansion.

In the 1970s, Exchange Bank of Tuskegee purchased the property with the intention of demolishing the structure. To clear the lot, in 1982, they sold the house to Hayes Gilliam of Bowdoin, Georgia, who carefully and meticulously dismantled the house, documenting and photographing the entire process. He loaded the elements onto trucks and carried them back to Georgia for storage until he could reassemble it as his own home.

In 1987, Gilliam asked if Landmarks would be interested in the purchase of the elements, and with a grant from the Montgomery Kiwanis Club, it acquired the many pieces of the old dwelling. Landmarks Foundation dispatched large off-season cotton trucks to bring the Thompson Mansion parts back to Alabama: beams, studs, mantels, doors, windows, pegs, columns, brackets, plaster elements, and flooring.

In September of 1988, reconstruction began on “the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle.” The HABS records from the 1930s proved a tremendous help in reconstruction and the grand building reappeared.

Today, the Thompson Mansion is leased as commercial property and acts as the gateway to Old Alabama Town.