Foscue House holds history

Published 11:34 am Monday, June 23, 2008

DEMOPOLIS — Just west of Demopolis stands the stately remains of what once was a plantation.

Many know the building for the food served from it in past and current years, but others, like Jim Bird, remember the building for its rich heritage in his family.

The Foscue-Whitfield, or Foscue House as it is commonly known today, has a history that far outlives any business that has used the building as a home.

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The two and a half-story structure was built by Augustus Foscue in 1840 with handmade bricks and was used as his family residence.

“Mary Alice, who was Foscue’s daughter, married Dr. Bryan Watkins Whitfield, the son of General Nathan Bryan Whitfield, who built Gaineswood from 1843 to 1861,” said Bird, reflecting on the history of the building.

At one point, Gen. Whitfield lived in the Foscue House while construction of his Greek revival style home was taking place.

While the rear of the home is the original portion built, the front has undergone a few alterations since 1840.

In 1849, the removal of the original two-tiered columned entrance portico led to a front addition made of brick, and a smaller one replaced the original portico. The original structure can be distinguished between the newer one today by the two types of windows in the front and rear of the house, according to Lib Bird, Jim’s wife.

After Augustus Foscue’s death in 1861, Mary Alice, along with her husband, inherited the house.

Jesse Whitfield was the next to make any major changes to the house when he added the full-width porch in 1920, which is still on the house today.

He was also responsible for the written records on the doorframes and windowsills he kept from 1896 until 1947. Whitfield didn’t keep written records of politics or anything of the like; instead, he kept note of the heights of cousins and random visitors to the house, changes in the weather, and other small happenings that seemed big enough to him to make it to the “record book.”

Bird, who is a descendant of Foscue and Whitfield, bought the house in the early 1970’s from the widow of Foscue Whitfield, one of Jesse Whitfield’s sons.

At the time, Bird didn’t start any restorations on the house since Ida Smith, who had worked for the family for years, still lived in the house.

“I told her she could live there as long as she wanted. I used to go by there and sit at the fireplace with her. She would tell me stories about my family and relatives that I never would have heard otherwise,” Bird said with a laugh.

Following his acquisition of the property, Bird enclosed the back porch and replaced the roof across the front of the building. The current bar sits on what was previously the back porch.

“After I got the building, I had a bring-your-own-chair party and invited some folks out to the [Foscue] house. Chug Pruitt asked me about opening a tea room in the building, and I let her,” said Bird.

Initially, Pruitt only opened when someone wanted her to for a party or some other type of social.

“I just wanted some type of place where the ladies of the town could get together and play bridge and have tea,” said Pruitt.

She opened in 1983, and operated the business for about five years, eventually opening to serve lunch along the way.

Pruitt closed in 1988 and since that time, the building has housed a number of restaurants owned by various individuals including Dr. Bony Barrineau and Mike Grayson.

Bird’s daughter, Avery, took over ownership of the property about five years ago, and currently leases it to Shawn Hill.

Hill, along with his wife Brandie, opened their business in October of 2007 and it is open Thursday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, and Sunday for lunch only.

While they serve up many different entrées, the couple agrees that seafood is their biggest seller.

“We’ve started having live entertainment on the weekends out on the patio,” said Hill.

“We just aimed to have something different for the area, and so far, we’ve been pleased with our turnout.”