Historic Structures

Owen Plantation House, Bessemer Alabama

Date added: February 16, 2021 Categories: Alabama House Plantations & Farms

Like the nearby Saddler House, the Owen House is a fine example of an important folk house type in 19th Century Alabama. The two story frame structure with an unenclosed central hall or dogtrot is a common variation of what is generally called an "I" house, and represented a high economic and social status. Constructed during the late 1830's by Thomas H. Owen, the house reflects a taste for elegance in the wainscotting which is painted to resemble marble, the shiplapped wall treatment and paneled box columns of the front porch, and the finely executed mantels.

In 1833, the same year that he married Mellissa Saddler, Thomas Owen purchased several acres of land along the Eastern Valley Road and built a small, two-room house. By 1838, he had enlarged his land holdings and begun construction on a larger and finer house. The Owen family was one of the early pioneer families in Jefferson County, having arrived in 1816 from South Carolina, and like the other members of his family, Thomas Owen devoted much of his time to his community and church. A devout Methodist, he was one of the founders of the Pleasant Hill Methodist Church and was instrumental in the establishment of the Pleasant Hill Academy, one of the leading educational institutions in early Jefferson County. In addition to his plantation, Owen operated a small general store in Jonesboro.

During the Civil War, Owen established a small forge to supply iron for the Confederate Government. In partnership with Thomas Williams, he employed an expert iron worker from Tennessee, Thoomas Bratton, to build and operate a small forge one mile south of Tannehill Furnace. The forge, which was missed by Union Forces, continued in operation until June of 1866 when it was destroyed by flooding.

At his death in 1884, Owen willed his house and plantation of over 1000 acres to his son, Rose W. Owen, who operated it for several years until he moved to Elyton, where he engaged in real estate speculation. A successful businessman, Owen was instrumental in the establishment of what is now Birmingham-Southern College, and donated the land for the campus of this prominent Methodist school. Owen continued to use the plantation house as a summer home, and it remained in the family until 1976 when it was donated to the West Jefferson County Historical Society for restoration as a house musuem.