Days Gone By - stories from the past

PATRON + This tavern in Alabama had a secret stairway. Do you know the purpose? (film)

Why would this tavern in Barbour County need a secret stairway? Do you have any suggestions?

Second-largest historic district in Alabama

The Seth Lore and Irwinton Historic District is the second-largest historic district in Alabama. Located in Eufaula, Barbour County, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 and has over 700 homes listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Eufaula was named Irwinton

The town of Eufaula was originally named Irwinton in honor of William Irwin, a state senator who had used his influence to make Barbour county a place for landing steamboats. An ‘old house on the bluff’ built in 1835 by Mark and James Edward Williams from Cuthbert Georgia served the people for many years.

W. N. Manning, the Photographer, took these photographs of the Irwinton Inn on May 15, 1935. Below is the FRONT AND SIDE VIEW, S.W. Irwinton Inn, Ferrell’s Gardens, 105 Riverside Drive, Eufaula, Barbour County, AL

FRONT AND SIDE VIEW, S.W. irwinton inn

The secret stairway in the tavern

The house above is a two-story English-type structure, was called The Tavern and was located on land deeded to James Edward Williams from Seth Lore and Company. Other members of the Seth Lore company were William Welborn, Alfred Iverson, Benjamin Iverson and John Forsyth.

An interesting feature of the house was a stairway, which has has all the appearance of secrecy. It was shut off by a door and extended up between sturdy walls.

The carved banisters of the stairway led to the second floor and revealed the splendid workmanship of pioneer days. Large porches extended across the front of the house on both floors with views up the river as far a the historic St. Francis Bend.

Stairway in Dining Roomirwinton stairs in dining room

Once called Pease’s Tavern

The house was occupied by its owners as well as serving as a tavern. At one time, the tavern was called Pease’s Tavern. When a bridge was built in 1841 over the Chattahoochee River at Irwinton, the taverns and inns at Irwinton enjoyed a good business.

Dining Room DoorsIrwinton inn dining room

Tavern was converted to a home in 1842

In 1842, The Tavern was deeded by James Edward Williams to his daughter Cynthia who later married Webster M. Rains. The Tavern was used as their home.

In the 1860’s, it was used as a Confederate hospital and ransacked by Union forces. Axe cleft marks were left in the wide flooring by the Union soldiers.

Front Door

Irwinton Inn front door

Impossible to leave without passing the Tavern

The main road that led to Eufaula curved closely by the north window, thus it was impossible to leave town without passing The Tavern. Planters frequently stopped and visited there while they waited for their cotton to be loaded on the tiers and became the principal meeting place in Eufaula.

Back and Side ViewIrwinton Inn, se. rear and side

Did not have a central hall

It was unchanged until the 1870’s. An outside staircase led to the second floor and unlike other pioneer dwellings of the period, it did not have a central hall. Three large rooms on the first floor ran across the entire width of the structure. Cooking was done in the outside kitchen. Roller towels, gourd dippers and cedar buckets were familiar objects for years.

Interior Front DoorINTERIOR FRONT DOOR TREATMENT - Irwinton Inn, Ferrell's Gardens

Rooms were rented to transients

The Rains family deeded The Tavern to Ferdinand J. Hartung in 1871. Mr. Hartung married Josephine Hueur of Charleston and they occupied the property as their home. After his her husband’s death in 1891, Mrs. Hartung was advised to move to a smaller house owned by her husband, but instead her niece Mrs. Lizzie Hartung Ferrell, and her niece’s husband, Captain George Archer Ferrell loaned her money to purchase at public auction all of the property left by her husband who had left no will.

Mrs. Hartung remained in her home and rented rooms to transients until she remarried to Thomas A. Mashburn and The Tavern then was called the Mashburn House. He died in 1930 and she died in 1940. The property was willed to George Archer Ferrell, Jr., son of Captain and Mrs. Ferrell.irwinton inn today



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About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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  1. Why is everyone mentioned in Alabama Pioneers rich, high born or political? Why hasn’t anything been written about Hosea Holcomb or the founding of Samford University? Looney’s Tavern or the Brooks/McFarland feud?

  2. You never disclosed the importance of the secret stairway…possibly used for servants or to make quick getaways from harboring people in hiding.

    1. We do not know why the stairway was secret, hoping to hear some other thoughts as to why it would be there and hidden.

      1. We toured a plantation home in Louisiana this past summer and the stairwell you discribe sounds similar to the servant stairway in the LA home. It was very narrow and spiraled up in such a small space (small coat closet that reaches 2 stories) the stair treads were worn from the excessive use by servants carrying heavy trays, buckets, etc. to the guests from the kitchen.
        Just a thought…

    2. I wondered the same thing.

  3. Bring in unseen visitors?

  4. I give up- why did it it have a secret stairway?

  5. there could be lots of reason, my friends. Just think about it.

  6. Took the whole tour. Totally enjoyed it.

  7. It was so Jenny could get up to Forrest’s room at night when she was scared of her grandmas dog.

  8. Servant use is the likeliest explanation. Tavern guests coming down to breakfast did not generally wish to accompanied by slaves carrying topped-off chamber pots out to be emptied and cleaned.

    Since tensions still existed between settlers and Creeks at the time (a second Creek War would break out the year following the tavern’s construction), the stairway could also provide a surreptitious means of exit from the upstairs in the event of an emergency.

  9. […] new store houses were built, and also a two-story hotel, which was called the Irwinton Hotel, and kept by a Mr. Birch. Next door to this building was the then imposing two-story building, […]

  10. No, are you going to tell us?

    1. I don’t have the answer either. I hoped someone might know more about it.

  11. Don’t bother reading. The article never answers the question!

  12. Hideout from the Yankees ?

  13. I grew up there and always heard it was so the daughters couldn’t leave the house without going through Mom and Dads bedroom.

  14. To keep the drinks safe til they sober up?

  15. To hide from Yankee soldiers.

  16. To hide from angry wives when they came looking for their husbands

  17. May be a part of the under ground rail road for slaves.

  18. What a boring video….

  19. I enjoyed the video! My sister Chris and I visited there last spring tracing our family tree. The video did a good job covering some of the main streets. We never did find the exact houses they grew up in but did visit Christian Grove Church. Anyone have any info on John Wilson James or Emma Kate Cronin James we would love to hear from you.

  20. It looks like a box stair in the photo. My 1854 house has one that goes to the upstairs bedroom, which was used by the girls of the family. It is the only access to that room. Box stairs are fairly common in early homes.

  21. Possibly could have been the servants way to access the second floor so they wouldn’t disturb the family

    1. Robie Sue Whitson Guy yep. Be seen as little as possible

  22. The photo at the end of the story shows how the exterior of The Tavern looked after restoration. The downstairs area was used as a studio by portrait photographer Earl Roberts for many years. Earl and his wife, Martha Ann, eventually bought the building, lovingly restored the second floor interior, and used that portion as their home. They were wonderful people. I had the privilege of working next door in the restored Wellborn House for many years.

  23. Dianne Hornsby Roberts wonderful history

  24. […] “The Tavern” was built as a river inn on the Chattahoochee in 1836 (the same year Yoholo-Micco was expelled). The oldest building in town also served as a Confederate hospital during the Civil War. Today, it is a private residence, and I enjoyed a chat with the owner who was taking out his trash when I stopped by. […]

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