William Nichols’s 1828 plan for the University of Alabama included faculty residences, but it did not include a house specifically designated for the president. In 1839, to provide a suitable dwelling for Reverend Basil Manly, the school’s dynamic second president, the board of trustees decided to build a new structure on the main axis of the campus south of the Rotunda. They hired Michael Barry, a carpenter-builder, to design a plan and to serve as architect and building superintendent. Massively scaled, the house cost far more than the trustees had originally intended to spend and it incurred the wrath of some state legislators who accused the trustees of having created a “palace” for the president.
The mansion is a three-story brick structure fronted by a monumental two-story hexastyle Ionic portico resting on an arcaded one-story base. A pair of curving stone steps on either side of the central bay of the base leads to the main entrance. The entablature of the portico features an unusual pulvinated frieze with modillioned cornice and is surmounted by a balustrade (restored 1997). The wrought- and cast-iron third-floor balcony dates from the construction of the house. The cast-iron railings on the second floor were added in 1853, but the railings on the curving stairs were not added until 1887. The mansion narrowly escaped being burned during the Civil War. According to tradition, the wife of the president, Mrs. Landon C. Garland, persuaded Union soldiers to put out fires they had started in the interior during a Federal raid on April 4, 1865.
The house was completely remodeled in 1907 by state architect Frank Lockwood, who stuccoed the exterior and painted it solid white. Its original color scheme is documented by Barry’s paint specifications and by a circa 1847 watercolor of the building. The building continues to be used as the residence of the president of the University of Alabama.
Mellown, Robert Oliver. The University of Alabama: A Guide to the Campus and its Architecture. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2013.