Board of Directors
John Holmes Smith,
Robert Peck, III,
Thomas M. Roberts,
Preserving the tangible links to the past
benefit of present and future generations.
Oakleigh Historic House
The Official Period House of
the City of Mobile, AL
03/02/2006 10:47:39 AM
Oakleigh Historic Complex, costumed guides lead you through an intimate
experience of 19th century Gulf Coast living in an authentic setting. Oakleigh's
three house museums interpret three aspects of daily living in mid-19th century:
society, servant and working class. The complex is open to
general admission year-round, Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Groups,
families and individuals are welcome; various discounts available. (Special Sunday,
Monday and evening tours/events scheduled for groups of 15 or more by contacting
the Executive Director, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Located minutes from the USS ALABAMA battleship, Gulf Coast Exploreum and other visitor favorites, Oakleigh
offers a pleasant experience for all ages. The complex consists of
Mobile's Official Period House Museum, Oakleigh, circa 1833, listed on the
National Register of Historic Places; Cox-Deasy Cottage, circa. 1850,
and the Cook's House, circa 1850.
Oakleigh museum is a T-shaped Greek revival mansion
featuring unique architectural features including a distinct cantilevered front
staircase, grand double parlors and classic six-over-six windows and galleries
accessed through jib windows. The house was built by a cotton factor from
Virginia and later inhabited for three generations by one of the leading society
families of Mobile.
Complementing the Oakleigh mansion is the Cook's
House on the southwest portion of the property. The Cook's House was built
in 1850 as quarters for slaves who were the backbone of the Oakleigh property.
Master craftsmen including brickmasons and carpenters lived and worked on the
property from prior to the time of the main house's construction. This
three-room building tells the story of every day life for craftsmen, laborers
and domestic servants. The interaction between the owners and servants
explains how urban slavery affected the lives in this commercial city and how
interdependent these two cultural communities were in stark contrast to the
elaborate plantations to the north.
Cox-Deasy, also built in 1850, tells a story seldom
told about the period through museum interpretation. The house was built
by a brick mason with a wife and 11 children. Because he could not afford
to spare the brick from his inventory, Cox-Deasy was built as a simple four-room
wooden raised cottage with a broad central hallway. Its furnishings are
simple but the story of the house covers a distance from the early urbanization
of the city through World War II.
Visitors are also invited to visit the Minnie
Mitchell Archives at the Oakleigh complex and view a massive framed 1857 flag
and the Confederate sword that was surrendered in 1864 at the Battle of Mobile
Bay, then returned by its Union captor.
The story of Oakleigh is as rich and intricate as that of the old city in which
it is found. Come, hear the stories and take a little bit of Old Mobile
and Oakleigh with you when you leave.
Mobile Preservation Society was founded in 1935 as a grassroots membership group
dedicated to preserving the tangible links to the past for the benefit of
present and future generations. HMPS's mission includes curating the
Oakleigh Historic Complex, a 19th century museum and archives campus in the
heart of one of Mobile's most beautiful historic districts.
HMPS is a Forum member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a
member of the Alabama Preservation Alliance, the NTHP Statewide Partner.
Year-round activities include field trips to historic locations, guest
speakers, workshops, parties, concerts and social gatherings. Ongoing
research and document and material preservation are part of the organization's
HMPS members receive free
admission to general tours of Oakleigh complex as well as free and reduced
admission to selected activities throughout the year. Members also receive
a subscription to Landmark Letter and qualify for discounted registration to the
annual National Trust for Historic Preservation conference.
HMPS holdings of historic materials include an impressive collection of 19th
century art, including the magnificent Thomas K. Sully portrait of "Miss Walton
of Florida," the formal debut portrait of Octavia Walton LeVert, once known as
"the belle of the South." The Mitchell Archives serves as a research
facility for historians, scholars, students, researchers, history buffs and the
lovers of Southern literature and historic photography. The centerpiece of
this collection is a 2,000-plus print of circa 1900 dry-plate glass negatives in
the William E. Wilson Collection. At the top of this column is one of
Wilson's Mardi Gras parade photographs circa 1902.
Historic Mobile Preservation Society is a non-profit 501(c)3 corporation.
It receives principal funding through memberships and fundraising. HMPS
received funding for operations and/or special programs for the 2006 fiscal year
from the following entities:
The City of Mobile
The Alabama Bureau of Tourism & Travel
Mobile Arts Council
The J.L. Bedsole Foundation
The Sybil H. Smith Charitable Trust
The Hearin-Chandler Foundation
The Crampton Trust
The Community Foundation of South Alabama ("Friends of Oakleigh" fund)
(Additional activities may be added or events may be cancelled due to weather or lack of participation.)
For info call (251) 432-6161 or Email
Sunday Reading Series
month, a regional author or authors present readings from his or her own work in the
multi-purpose room of Oakleigh Museum at 2 p.m.
Sunday, March 5 reader: Helen Scully, author of In the Hope of
Sunday, April 2 reader: Sue Walker,
poet laurete of the State of Alabama
Sunday, May 7 readers: Terry Cline & Judith Richards, authors
of several novels
March 17-18, 2006: Mobile Historic Homes Tour, 10 a.m. to
Visit magnificent private homes in four historic
neighborhoods as well as sacred spaces and house museums. Tickets, $15 per day;
$25 for two-day tickets. Tickets purchased in advance are discounted to
$12 and $22, respectively.
May 4, 2006: Preservationist of Distinction
Since 2001, HMPS has honored an outstanding Mobile
preservationist with this annual award for lifetime achievement. Join HMPS
at an elegant reception at the city's historic Athelstan Club, 6:30 to 8 p.m.,
to pay tribute to this year's recipient. Individual tickets, $150; couple
Past Preservationists of
2001 Emily Staples Hearin
2002 Ann Delchamps
2003 Nell Schley Rutherford
2004 Helen Coffin Wilson
2005 Ann Bedsole
May 15, 2006: Annual Meeting
Business meeting at 5:15 p.m. on South Lawn. Program to follow
immediately. Cocktail reception, 6:15 p.m. Admission, HMPS members, $10,
non-members, $15. Only HMPS members can vote in business session.
June 8, 2006: Bravery & Beauty Julep Party, 5-8 p.m.
A celebration in honor of the June 1877 visit to
Oakleigh by James A. Garfield (later a president of the U.S.) when Col. T.K.
Irwin served him his first mint julep. Garfield's diary entry of that occasion
states: "The bravery and beauty of Mobile were there." HMPS members, $20;
general admission, $25 per person and $45 per couple. Refreshments to include
heavy hors d'oeuvres, mint juleps and non-alcoholic juleps. (Cash bar for
non-julep beverages.) Silent auction.
The museums are open
9 a.m. to 3 p.m.,
Tuesday through Saturday
Groups are welcome and special rates
apply. Reservations should be made in advance for groups of more than 10. School
groups are invited to picnic on the grounds after their tours.
$6.50 Senior, AAA,
Retired Military, Student
Free Active Military and
Children Under 6
School Tours $3 per
student, Free for
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day,
New Year's Day,
Mardi Gras Day, and
355 Oakleigh Place
When Virginia cotton factor James W. Roper made his fortune in
Mobile, his goal was to build a small Greek temple in an oak grove. That dream
was realized with Oakleigh, Mobile�s Official Period House Museum since 1955.
Roper loved the majestic oak trees he found in the countryside
outside early 19th century Mobile. He also loved the rolling meadow
that stretched from the peak of a small hill where he planned to build his
house. The name �Oakleigh� is derived from the combination of �oak� and �lea.�
Lea is another name for meadow. While the reason for Roper�s spelling in
unknown, his intent is clear.
Oakleigh is a T-shaped Greek revival mansion featuring unique
architectural features including a distinct cantilevered front staircase, grand
double parlors and classic six-over-six windows and galleries accessed through
jib windows. Roper was his own architect and builder. Using slave and free
labor, the house is composed of bricks made from clay dug on the grounds and
timber harvested from the property. Tool marks can be seen on the siding, doors
and window frames.
Roper placed his front doorway off-center for a reason. He and
his wife planned to entertain lavishly at Oakleigh so he created a north hallway
to accommodate large double parlors to the south.
Due to an economic downturn in the cotton trade, Roper lost his
house in the Bank Panic of 1837 but, through the benevolence of a wealthy
brother-in-law, continued to reside in Oakleigh until it was transferred in 1848
to the family that would put an indelible imprint on the house.
Alfred Irwin came to Mobile as secretary of the Mobile and Ohio
Railroad in the late 1840s. He first rented, and then purchased Oakleigh in
1852. He and his wife, Margaret Kilshaw Irwin, a British citizen of the Irish
peerage, were prominent in Mobile�s social scene. Their three children, Thomas
Kilshaw Irwin � known as T.K., Lee Fearn and Corrine, lived with them in
Oakleigh. Corrine died as a young woman. Lee Fearn built a fine home, as an
adult on Selma Street and Thomas and his wife, Mary Anna Ketchum Irwin, were
the second-generation Irwin owners of Oakleigh, which, during the
three-generation Irwin tenure was known as �Irwin Place.�
During the Union occupation of Mobile, Margaret Irwin saved the
house from occupation or damage by draping a British flag on the front gallery.
The Irwins occupied the house through the Golden Era of Mobile. The Irwins were
leading lights of Mobile society, entertaining family, friends, neighbors,
writers, actors, artists and a future president. In 1877, future-U.S. President
James Garfield sipped his first genuine Southern mint julep on Oakleigh�s front
gallery as a guest of the T.K. Irwins.
The last Irwin to occupy Oakleigh was Daisy Irwin Clisby, who
sold the house in 1916. Poignant letters in the Historic Mobile archival
collection between Mrs. Clisby�s sons detail their efforts to cover her debts as
she lived in genteel poverty in the family manse.
After many private owners, Oakleigh is now open to the public,
Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oakleigh is furnished with some of
the finest decorative arts on public display in the United States. The
collection includes period silver, porcelain, furniture, paintings and personal
Other facilities that operate as part of Oakleigh Historic
Complex are the Cook�s House, an 1850�s slave cabin located behind the main
house, the Cox-Deasy Cottage, an 1850s raised plantation house that interprets
the middle-class lifestyle in 19th century Mobile and the Mitchell
Archives, a historical research facility. While these properties are not
included on the historic homes tour, they can be viewed for additional admission
during the tour.
is managed by Historic Mobile Preservation Society.