Historic Structures

Building Description Kildare Mansion - McCormick House, Huntsville Alabama

Kildare is an enormous three-story Queen Anne style house of approximately forty rooms that measures roughly 90 feet across by 70 feet deep. It was constructed in 1886-87 for Michael 0'Shaughnessy as his Huntsville residence where he resided part of each year. The only additions consist of a one-story conservatory built on the south side and a porch, entered from the raised basement, that now has been enclosed. The only significant alterations to the interior consist of changing the mantels and some moldings in the ballroom and dining room.

The daylight basement and first floor exterior walls are of ashlar limestone; the second and third stories, except for the circular tower and rectangular bay, are of concrete surfaced with river pebbles and divided into panels by stickwork. The steep roof of irregular outline is covered with patterned slate and broken by dormers. The deep eaves are supported on decorative wooden T-shaped brackets. The massive brick chimneys are paneled on each face and taper to the top. The windows exhibit a great variety in size, shape and placement. Those on the first floor display stained and/or leaded transoms, while the upper sashes on the second story are edged with small square panes and those on the third story have upper sashes composed entirely of small panes. Brickwork is used as quoins and to surround the first story windows, while decorative terra cotta appears on the front porch, in the gable of the rectangular front bay, and above the rear basement service entrance.

A porte cochere, composed of battered ashlar piers and a pyramidal slate roof supported on large wooden brackets, opens onto a one-story entrance porch with flat roof. The south wall of this porch is of limestone surrounding an arched opening set in a terra cotta frame which is decorate^with plant motifs and topped by an ornamental hipped roof with finial.

On the first floor interior a stairhall with fireplace runs from the front entry to the dining room on the back of the house, which is entered through a door flanked by leaded glass side and toplights. On the south of the entry hall is a ballroom that extends the full depth of the house and has a circular bay on the west end and a rectangular bay on the east end. Double parlors lie on the other side of the hall. The wing on the northwest contains a library, breakfast room, pantry, and service stairs.

The main stairway leads to a large living hall on the second floor off of which there are five bedrooms. The northwest wing contains additional bedrooms and baths and^was designed as the children's wing. A separate stairway leads to the third floor which houses the billiard room, another living hall, a trunk room and additional bedrooms. A full basement contained more rooms including the kitchen (where the original coal burning cooking stove is still occasionally used), smoking room, wine cellar, and boiler room.

The interior trim of the house is elegant and of high quality materials and workmanship. Decorative elements include leaded and stained glass, glazed art tile firebox surrounds and hearths, paneled wooden wainscot, and elaborate screens of twisted and woven wood. All of the ornamental treatments, except in the ballroom and dining room, are of natural dark woods of heavy scale but refined design, typical of the best Victorian styling. The ballroom and dining room have been redone, probably by the second owner, in white trim of delicate classical derivation.

A reporter for the local newspaper described the completed house in 1890: "Perhaps as fine a home as a gentleman of culture and artistic taste could desire is the home of Major M. J. O'Shaughnessy in the suburbs of Huntsville. The floors, casements, stairways, molding, and wood finishings of the house are of native wood that the Major has picked during the past eight years, and the sawings, dressings, and molding are of his own designs and under^his personal supervision. In the forty rooms, each is furnished in exquisite taste in the native Alabama timber of different kind and grain....In^the basement are the breakfast rooms, pantry, kitchen, boiler room, smoking room, etc.; solid oak and walnut doors, floors, ceilings, etc. On the first floor are parlors finished in ebony and gold; another room is a symphony in brown. The ceiling decorations of hand painting, the stained glass of special shades and harmony, all unite in the arrangement to add pleasure to all the senses. The upper floor is conveniently arranged in bed rooms, billiard rooms, and observatories, "The massiveness of the house resembles an ancient castle, and from its windows at any point is presented a pleasing landscape."

Michael 0'Shaughnessy originally purchased 71 acres north of Huntsville and erected his house as the center of a large estate. The only outbuilding still extant is a small double caretaker's cottage just north of the house. O'Shaughnessy sold the property in 1900 to Mary Virginia McCormick for $36,000, and she too only used it as a part-time residence. In 1932 her brother Cyrus McCormick, Jr., subdivided the land and sold the plot containing the house (four acres) for almost $12,000; that year it was opened briefly as Kildare Hotel. Since then the property has changed hands frequently and has been put to many uses, some fairly disreputable. In 1975 it was bought by a new owner who restored it while residing there and operating it as an antique business. Although many changes were made by various owners, most were of a temporary nature and these have now been corrected.