By Nancy Rohr
Poplar Grove is considered to be the first real mansion in Alabama. It was built by LeRoy Pope on the hill overlooking his City.
Born in Virginia, Pope served in the Revolution War at the age of fifteen. In 1790 he moved his family to Petersburg, Georgia. Then, as Alabama fever struck, he and some of his friends bought up most of the lots around John Hunt's spring. In 1810? Pope and his wife, Judith Sale, settled here with his five children. Their sons-in-laws included fellow friends from Princeton. One son-in-law was John Williams Walker and the other was his dear friend, Tom Percy. They settled side-by-side in Madision county and called their new town Twickenham. The group of friends he brought with him was called the Royal Family, and they were not generally liked by the ordinary settlers.
Their mansion on the hill was started. Flatboats carried the bricks that were made in Tennessee down the river before they were carted the ten miles to town by the wagonload. The house was extraordinary. A visitor was amazed at the taste and the elegance displayed throughout the interior of Poplar Grove, with it's heavy sterling silver, cut glass, chinaware, sofas, and mahogany furniture of the newest fashion.
Then, in 1814, the Creek Indians attacked Fort Mims, leaving 250 white settlers dead in the massacre. That old saying, "God willing and the Creeks don't rise," has nothing to do with water. It is about the Creeks, and they had risen.
Fear spread northward from Fort Mims. Stockades were built along the Tennessee River in Madison County. Rumor was that a thousand folks fled toward Nashville. Well, that is, except for Captain White, who stayed in the courthouse fortified with two guns and a supply of whiskey.
The militia from Tennessee came down the way, mostly volunteers led by General John Coffee. Among them were Sam Houston and Davy Crockett. Andrew Jackson would arrive a day or two later, still suffering from his recent duel with the Benton brothers. He spent the day consulting with LeRoy Pope regarding logistics for the upcoming battle. When Jackson went off to fight at Horseshoe Bend, Pope continued to supply them with money and supplies. He was the closest civilization, and wanted to protect his investment.
Sick and wounded soldiers were sent back to this house, and at least 74 Indians were confined at Pope's house at one time or another. Andrew Jackson also sent the young Indian boy whom Jackson named Lincoya and would adopt this little Indian boy.
When the Battle of Horseshoe Bend was over, eight hundred Indians, wives and children had been massacred. The massacre at Fort Mims had been the largest massacre of whites in the U.S. History and Horse Shoe Bend would be the largest massacre of Indians. But everybody now knew the Alabama territory would be safe.
Early in May, 1814, the returning Army was met by local leaders in downtown Huntsville. Of course, all of the politicians came out. They met them on horseback and escorted the militia to the village square. The officers and the artillery company, headed by Andrew Jackson, his aides and General Coffey formed in front of Pope's newly completed house where they witnessed the stand of colors by Maria Pope and the return of the Indian child Lincoya.
At three o'clock the general was conducted to a dinner table, laid on a fine green immediately behind the house. Upwards of one hundred people attended. Dinner was abundant. The utmost hilarity and harmony and joy pervaded the whole assemblage. Dinner was followed by nineteen toasts to which the artillery chimed in. The first toast, of course, was to our country, and the last to the fair ladies. After all, the men had been gone from home a while. The General retired early, still suffering from his wounds.
That evening, on the lawn of LeRoy Pope's fine new home, there were men for which six counties would be named: Bibb, Chambers, Walker, Clay, Coffee and Jackson. Five men would serve as governors: William Wythe Bibb, Thomas Bibb, Gabriel Moore, Clement Clay and Hugh McVeigh. And one man would serve as president of the United States, General Andrew Jackson.
Later LeRoy Pope eventually sold the property to his son William. In 1850 the front was altered by local architect George Steele, from the austere Federal Period, to look as it does today.
In 1848 Poplar Grove was sold to Dr. Charles Hayes Patton, a prominent local physician and planter, and graduate of Yale and the University of Pennsylvania. He practiced medicine in Huntsville and was also part owner of the Bell Factory Cotton Mill.
Patton lived at Poplar Grove during the Civil War, while the Yanks fortified the entire top of the hill. Among others, General Edmund Cook used the house as his residence and headquarters.
After the war Patton's home was given to the oldest daughter, Mary Byrne Patton, who married Major William Echols, a graduate of West Point. Their daughter Susan married Robert Spragins who, among other things, was President of the First National Bank. Their daughter Susan became Mrs. James Watts. Their children leased the property to the University of Alabama Huntsville as home for the University President.
The property has been owned by Danny Wiginton since 1998.