Days Gone By - stories from the past

Varner-Alexander House [old photographs] – built by pioneer William Varner still remains in Tuskegee

(Thankfully this beautiful old home has been saved and fully restored.  It is now the residence of Tuskegee University’s President.) (continued below)



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.

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Varner-Alexander house ca. 1930s

Varner-alexander house2

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

NORTHEAST ELEVATION - Grey Columns, Old Montgomery Road (Institute Road), Tuskegee, Macon County, AL

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

Survey W. N. Manning, Photographer, March 30, 1934. VIEW THROUGH DOUBLE DRAWING ROOMS INTO DINING ROOM. - Grey Columns, 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.”

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Varner-Alexander house ca. 1930

Varner-alexander house4

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

W. N. Manning, Photographer, April 3, 1934. STAIR CASE AND HALL. - Grey Columns, 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

W. N. Manning, Photographer, March 30, 1934. STAIRWAY. (REAR) - Grey Columns, 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

W. N. Manning, Photographer, March 30, 1934. LIVING ROOM. - Grey Columns, 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

W. N. Manning, Photographer, April 3, 1934. MANTEL AND OVERMANTEL. - Grey Columns, 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.


  1. 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
  2. VARNER-ALEXANDER PAPERS -Alabama State Department of archives and history

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By (author):  Causey, Donna R

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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. What a beauty, a true Southern Mansion!!!!

  2. Lisa Bannister…Varner…your kinfolk? I’m impressed. Mine were more in the two room shanty

  3. we have a couple of old homes in town that the owners refuse to sell at a reasonable price so they can be restored. The city will tear them down and charge destruction cost to their taxes. Doesn’t make sense.

  4. My Varner ancestors were actually Verner. My gg grandfather and some of his siblings began using Varner after some family land dispute while many of his siblings continued using Verner. So hard to tell on this without further digging. There is a Verner home in Tuscaloosa which was built by a known cousin. And of course Petigru /Pettigrew properties in Carolinas. Some shanties as well, Sandra Cotney Whitten!

  5. Drew Adams is this related to y’all.

  6. Since Varner was a plantation/slave owner, any idea which slave families actually “built” the home? I’m researching plantation owner and slave family last names in Macon County.

    1. I’m sorry. I have no other information about the plantation.

  7. Yes, matt’s granddaddy lived in that home at one time, then, across the street. That’s where truitt got his middle name, Varner. The knocker on our house now says Varner.

  8. My GGgrandmother was Sarah Jane Varner c. 1805 m. Gideon Wilbanks Oldest son was David Varner Wilbanks buried at Equality FUMC

  9. Sandra Cotney Whitten, Pettigrew State Park in North Carolina is named for one of my Verner grandmother’s family.

  10. Reminds me of Rogers Hall in Florence.

  11. I visited Union Springs yesterday, hoping to find such a house to purchase. They have some which are somewhat restored, but the whole area needs to be restored. You would have a retored home, next to a home which is crumbling on the ground. Sad state of affairs as a lot of the Tuskagee leaders also resided in Union Springs. I left there feeling sad.

  12. Been there last summer,beautiful,,,,,,,

  13. So glad – beautiful old home

  14. The Painted Lady picture above the mantle in one of the pictures is in my position and hangs in my home. Written in pencil on the frame backside states: last repaired 1912. The Varner and Smith families were great friends and community members.

    1. The picture is beautiful and so striking above the mantel. I’m glad it was saved. Thank you for letting us know. Donna

  15. I still remember some of the old homes and it is a shame that they fallen apart due top NEGLECT. If the people of Tuskegee hadn’t run scared when The Civil Rights Movement began we would still have a beautiful town with the old homes looking as beautiful as ever with all the pretty flowers. It was not my generation that left town it was our parents. Mine did not leave and still live in the same spot. I have posted a similar remark like this before and had many likes from it. Think back who had the problem not me, I went to school at Tuskegee High every day just like I did when I walked in the doors for the first time in 1958. Most people moved to Auburn, Montgomery, Atlanta, but, sure am glad I stayed . I invite anybody’s comment back to me and I assure I will answer.

  16. Often times some of your slaves would take on the name of their Plantation owners. Look to see if any blacks have the last name of Varner?

  17. Beautiful. Robert Harris Bert Harris

  18. Wow. Who knows the President of Tuskegee University so we can tour the house sometime?

  19. I know this old house.

  20. WHY I CANT PUT City of Andalusia PICS ON HERE

    1. We do not allow posting to avoid SPAM. You can email pictures to [email protected] with information and we will consider them for posting. Pictures must be in the public domain or you must own the copyright.

  21. How bout that?!?! Anita Varner Scott Judy Varner Cook Keith Varner

    1. Hey, might have been some of our ancestors, would love to go there & visit.

    2. You just don’t hear the ‘Varner’ name very often!! That would be an adventure!!

  22. […] plantation home in Tuskegee, Grey Columns, built in 1857, now serves as the home of the president of Tuskegee University. Grey Columns was […]

  23. Glad to see it has been restored. Tuskegee has some gorgeous old homes that are in horrible disrepair. Would LOVE to see them restored.

  24. Carl Owens, Pat Owens, Jeff Owens, Jennifer Owens

  25. Uggg…it says it is owned by the National Park Service which is yankee run.

  26. My 4th Great Grandfather Dr Robert Maxwell Young 1798 – 1880 Home Walnut Grove built in 1840 Red Brick Antebellum Home is still standing in Cartersville , Georgia !

  27. Antebellum home,got to tear it down.

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