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Shelby County’s “Rock House” is the only house of its type in Alabama and among only a handful of early stone dwellings documented anywhere across the Deep South from Georgia to central Texas. This structure was an anomaly from the beginning in a region where wood and to a lesser extent brick were the near-universal building materials of choice—even, as in this case, when stone was locally available. The Rock House lies within the greater Birmingham metropolitan area, a few miles southeast of the wealthy suburb of Mountain Brook. But this sturdy little domicile, measuring only 33 by 21 feet, looks as if it would be more at home in the Mid-Atlantic, or rural Britain or Ireland, than in the Deep South.
Thick walls of rough-hewn, coursed limestone enclose the original four rooms: two rooms below with a box stair between that climbs to another pair overhead. There are two side-by-side, six-panel front doors with paneled reveals. Topped by a deep-set, semi-elliptical transom, each door opens into one of the two lower rooms. Fenestration is symmetrically arranged and, in a manner recalling the subtle proportionality of colonial-period Georgian houses, second-floor windows are both shorter and slightly narrower than those below. Although none of the original sashing remains, mid-1930s photographs from the Historic American Buildings Survey indicate that first-floor windows were glazed with six-over-nine sash, upper windows with six-over-six sash. The interior still hints at simple refinement, with one surviving Federal-style mantelpiece and few fragments of original woodwork.
Mystery shrouds the origin of the Rock House. Even the landowner for whom the house was erected is unknown, though Shelby County records point to William Condon, a prosperous farmer who held the property at his death in the early 1840s. A likely candidate for the house’s builder and likely architect could be Timothy Cullins, an Irish-born stonemason who was forty-five years old when listed in the Shelby County census of 1850. But if Cullins was active here in this fertile farming country along the Coosa River, no other record apparently survives.
From Condon’s heirs the property was purchased in 1856 by Maryland-born John Cohill and his wife, Mary Emily Kidd, daughter of a prominent landholding family who had relocated to the area from the upper Savannah River country of northeastern Georgia. Half a century later, in 1906, William Clayton Eastis purchased the house and surrounding farm from Cohill heirs. Eastis’s descendants own the property today. Long known by locals simply as the “Rock House” or the “Old Rock House,” it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. Although stabilized by the owner soon thereafter, the house is currently derelict.
Johnson, Hank, “Old Rock House,” Shelby County, Alabama. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 2006. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Gamble, Robert. “The Old Rock House.” Alabama Heritage72 (Spring 2004): 6-7.
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