In 1835, James Lewis Price came to Uniontown, in Perry County, Alabama, at the age of 25. He was the son of John Fleming Price and his wife, Maria Overton Winston Price. The Prices, Overtons, and Winstons were prominent Virginia families in Colonial America, during the Revolutionary War, and in the early years of the new United States.
James’ father died when he was only 3 years old, and a few years later his mother married William Marshall, younger brother of U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. James was raised in Richmond, Virginia, site of many historical events, and he was exposed to many influential people and their ideas. He attended the University of Virginia and obtained his law degree before setting out to make his way in the world in the almost frontier of Alabama. He was to become a founder of and the president of the Alabama and Mississippi Rivers Railroad company, bringing rail service to the Black Belt area and influencing its economic and political development. He also was active in creating the first Episcopal parish in the area, known as Union parish, and served as its Senior Warden.
It is probable that James Lewis Price received an inheritance from his late father, which allowed him to purchase acreage in the Black Belt to establish a cotton plantation. We have recently discovered that his grandfather James Price, for whom he was named, had a home in Virginia called Westwood, which explains why James Lewis Price named his Alabama home ’Westwood Plantation.’
As Price’s numerous slaves cleared the trees on the property to plant cotton, the heart pine timbers were used to construct his new residence, supposedly on the highest point between the Alabama River in Selma and the Black Warrior River in Demopolis. It is believed that a French architect designed the Greek Revival home, and to our knowledge the floor plan has never been duplicated. Italianate influence is evident the play of light and shadow across the façade, created by the recessed bedroom wings on each side of the formal areas and the protruding ends with turrets above.
The house was built entirely by slave labor, and took four years to construct, from 1836 to 1840. The painstaking care taken by the master carpenters, brick masons and plasterers is a testament not only to their high degree of skill but also to their pride and dedication to their workmanship.
The formal areas of Westwood form a central square, comprised of the entrance hall with curved staircase, the library, the parlor and the dining room. Visitors may note the wide heart pine flooring, the Egyptian styling of the doorways, the graceful arches in the parlor bay window and the library, elaborate plaster crown moldings in the parlor and dining room, and the decorative medallions on the ceilings. The butler’s pantry and two spacious bedrooms completed the lower floor. The original kitchen was housed in a separate building in approximately the location of the current kitchen addition. Cooked food was carried into the main house to the butler’s pantry, where it was transferred to serving dishes near the dining room.
Five additional bedrooms are located on the second floor. Several bedrooms have his-and-hers dressing rooms, now converted to closets or bathrooms, and others have built-in cupboards for clothes and linen storage. A narrow spiral staircase descends at the rear of the house.
There are six covered porches downstairs and two upstairs, along with five flat roofs accessible from the second story, all of which contribute to the enjoyment of temperate weather and expansive views from each room. Intricately designed iron grillwork columns highlight the front porches of the bedroom wings and matching grillwork balustrades upstairs on the east and west porches and in the windows protected children from falling.
There was no electricity or indoor plumbing at the time Westwood was built. Three brick chimneys serving ten fireplaces provided the heat in winter, and the floor-to-ceiling 18-pane windows could be lowered from the top as well as raised from the bottom for summer ventilation. Oil lamps or candlesticks were used for lighting. Rainwater was caught in the four corner turrets and diverted by the roof’s internal gutters and downspouts to cisterns for household use. A well was located near the current circular driveway, and an underground cold storage cellar provided the refrigeration for perishables.
Westwood has several unique outbuildings, including the smokehouse with architectural detailing identical to the main house, the adjacent carriage house, the dairy with hip roof, and the two-room cook’s quarters.
Before construction of Highway 61 in the early 1900’s, Uniontown’s Water Street ended at the Westwood drive. Fortunately, plans to construct Highway 61 on a path through the front hall of the main house were successfully averted and this antebellum treasure was preserved. The antebellum home and plantation are now registered and protected by the National Register of Historic Places.
Westwood still belongs to descendants of James Lewis Price, having passed to his daughter Maria Overton Price, who married Alexander Caldwell Davidson, then to their son Louis Overton Davidson, then to their granddaughter Adele Davidson Ellis, who married Julius Franklin Glass. Their daughter, Emma Glass Beasley, my mother, now resides there with my sister, Mary Leila Schaeffer.
Updated March9, 2004