Backwards House - McDowell House Twickenham

How is a house with more than one floor like a good book? They both have stories. These three Huntsville houses would have great stories even without having multiple floors (well, two of them would, at least), and you can tell just by looking at them there’s something interesting about them. Here are two Huntsville houses that are unlike anything you’ll find anywhere else, and one that, notably, isn’t.

The “Spite House” (311 Lincoln Street SE)

Spite House - Cox House Twickenham
Photo from the Huntsville History Collection

To understand this house, we have to first talk about another house – 403 Echols Ave, the former home of “Father of Huntsville” LeRoy Pope. Built in 1814, it’s possibly the oldest mansion in Alabama and one of the state’s first brick homes.

Among the notable features of this home is that it faces neither of the streets on whose corner it’s located, but instead is turned at an angle on the lot. When it was built, it was oriented looking toward Big Spring, with a view of the heart of the city.

The Spite House, built in 1824 for Joshua Cox, is distinctive for its extra high ceilings – 14 feet on the first floor and 16 feet on the second. That extra height, which immediately sets the house apart from its neighbors, just happens to lie between the Pope Mansion and downtown, blocking the view. Thus, the “Spite House.”

The “Backward House” (517 Adams Street SE)

Backwards House - McDowell House Twickenham
Photo from the Huntsville History Collection

Details matter. When cotton merchant William McDowell decided to have a house built in the late 1840’s, he left the plans with an overseer to complete construction, and headed off to Europe for a couple of years to make the Grand Tour, acquiring furnishings and fixtures for his home as he traveled. When he returned, he discovered that the house had been built perfectly according to plan, save one minor detail – it was backwards.

The columns were added in 1925 to try and make the street-facing side of the house look a little more like it was supposed to be the front. It’s worth noting that that when Huntsville was first occupied by Union forces during the Civil War, of all the houses in town, commanding General Ormsby McKnight Mitchell chose the “Backward House” as his headquarters. Proving, one might argue, that there’s no accounting for Yankee tastes.

The Salem Witch House (133 Walker Ave NE)

Salem Witch House Rhoades

For this one, you need to mentally travel back over 300 years ago and a thousand miles away, to the Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts. Today, only one house with a direct connection to that haunting history still exists – the Jonathan Corwin House, now better known as the Witch House. Today, the house is a museum, but in 1692, it was the home of Jonathan Corwin, who investigated accusations of witchcraft and served on the court that sent 19 people to the gallows.

So what does that have to do with Huntsville? When Rick and Dale Rhoades visited Salem, they fell in love with the house, and decided they’d love to live there. Since that wasn’t an option, they did the next best thing – recreating it in Huntsville. The house was built in 1995 in the Old Town Historic District as an almost exact external replica of the Corwin House.

Learn More about Huntsville's Storied Past

Fall Twickenham

You can learn about these houses and more on Ghost Walks in September and October, history tours in April and October from the Huntsville / Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau, or on a self-guided history tour

Thank you to our friends at Huntsville Historic Preservation for their photos. Each May they have a This Place Matters campaign showcasing all of the historic homes in Huntsville. 

Finally Huntsville City has several different maps you can explore online that feature images from the past: 

Historic Aerial Imagery

Historic Maps Viewer

Historic Places