(Thankfully this beautiful old home has been saved and fully restored. It is now the residence of Tuskegee University’s President.) (continued below)
ALSO CALLED GREY COLUMNS
The Varner-Alexander House, on Montgomery Street in Tuskegee, Alabama was one of the finest mansions of Alabama’s Piedmont section. It was built in 1840 by William Varner, a pioneer settler of Macon County, Alabama. It is reported that Varner himself designed and supervised construction of the mansion. There is a good possibility that he did since he was educated at Harvard University.
Varner-Alexander house ca. 1930s
E. T. Varner and his sister Mrs. Alexander, the children of William Varner, lived all their lives in the home. E. R. Alexander, the son of Mrs. Alexander, and grandson of the original owner lived in the home in later years. Mr. Alexander’s son died while attending Harvard University.
Grey Columns, Old Montgomery Road (Institute Road), Tuskegee, Macon County, AL ca. 1934
The soft tan color of this two-storied brick home deepened over time and was an elaborate example of the colonnaded T-plan, with Doric columns on the three-sided veranda. An octagonal cupola was built along mansard lines surmounting the roof. Veranda window cornices were very elaborate in Greek décor.
W. N. Manning, Photographer, March 30, 1934. View through double drawing rooms into the dining room – Varner-Alexander house Old Montgomery Road (Institute Road), Tuskegee, Macon County, AL
“The cornice has a pair of curlicue brackets over each column. On each side of the entrance door are elaborate Corinthian columns placed flat against Corinthian pilasters. The scrolled brackets over these columns and pilasters support a wrought-iron balcony. In the base of the house, there are rectangular openings with cast-iron grilles of rinceau design.”
Varner-Alexander house ca. 1930
The interior of the house “is noted for the elliptical arch on Doric columns in the hall. It is odd that the fancy carved step-ends should be on the rear stairs, while the front stairs are plain.” The house has double parlors and double living rooms.
W. N. Manning, Photographer, April 3, 1934. Staircase and hall, Old Montgomery Road (Institute Road), Tuskegee, Macon County, AL
Notable people who have visited include: President Theodore Roosevelt when he came to Tuskegee Institute to visit Dr. Booker T. Washington, who was director of Tuskegee Institute.
W. N. Manning, Photographer, March 30, 1934. Rear Stairway, Old Montgomery Road (Institute Road), Tuskegee, Macon County, AL
During the Civil War, the house was about to be destroyed but the commander of the northern troops recognized Mr. Varner as a former classmate at Harvard so he apologized and ordered his men to leave. Then the commander spent some time in the renewal of his old acquaintance.
W. N. Manning, Photographer, March 30, 1934. Living room – Old Montgomery Road (Institute Road), Tuskegee, Macon County, AL
In the 1920s, extensive alterations were made to Grey Columns following a fire, including a new kitchen wing to the rear and bathrooms adjacent to the second-floor front stair hall and south bedroom.
In the 1950s, bathrooms were restored in the west parlor closets and the west bedroom. The 1935 rear view of the house nearly mirrors the front design.
W. N. Manning, Photographer, April 3, 1934. Mantel and Overmantel. Old Montgomery Road (Institute Road), Tuskegee, Macon County, AL
The home remained in the Varner family until 1974 when the National Park Service acquired Grey Columns as part of the Tuskegee Institute National Site at a cost of $17,712.80 and used it a few years as their headquarters.
By mutual agreement with the National Park Service, the home now serves as the residence of the Tuskegee University’s President and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Historic American Buildings Survey, E. Walter Burkhardt, District Officer. Alabama Polytechnic Inst., Auburn, Alabama. Project #16-543, National Park Service, U. S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D. C. 20013
- VARNER-ALEXANDER PAPERS -Alabama State Department of archives and history