The Weeden House Museum in Huntsville, Alabama, is a historic home and garden dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of the work of artist and poet, Maria Howard Weeden. The 1819 home was owned by Maria’s father, Dr. William Weeden, and his descendants for over 100 years, from 1845 until 1956, save for a brief interlude while the home was occupied by federal officers during the US Civil War. The house is located in the center of downtown Huntsville in the historic Twickenham district.
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Twickenham was the first neighborhood in Huntsville to be designated as a Historic District. The neighborhood was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, followed by an expansion of the boundaries in 2015. Huntsville was originally named Twickenham after the British city. Most homes in the neighborhood are of the Greek revival and federal style, which was introduced to the city in 1818 by the Virginia architect George Steele. The Weeden House was built in the federal style and is just one of the homes that make up the densest concentration of pre-Civil War residences in the state of Alabama. The Twickenham Historic Preservation District Association maintains the 19th-century home and museum through a lease agreement with the City of Huntsville, which currently owns the property. The two-story brick home is of a classic federal style. Two parlors and a dining room are located downstairs, and there are three upstairs bedrooms. The home is decorated with authentic antiques and furnishings from the late 1800s and early 1900s, all of which were either donated or acquired by the Twickenham Association. Maria Howard Weeden’s watercolor and oil paintings are on display, as is a John Grimes portrait of Bartley M Lowe. A large porch and patio open to a spectacular garden at the rear of the home.
History: Notable early residents of the house include associate justice of the US Supreme Court John McKinley and Bartley M Lowe, president of the Huntsville bank. Perhaps the most famous occupant of the home is the painter and poet, Maria Howard Weeden. Maria, who went by the name Howard, was the daughter of Dr. Weeden and his wife, Jane Eliza Books Urquhart Weeden. Ms. Weeden is well known for her watercolor portraits of former slaves, and her four published books of poetry and illustration, written in Huntsville’s regional black dialect. A combination of extreme nearsightedness and her use of a three-haired paintbrush allowed her to achieve extreme detail in the watercolor medium. Howard was born in the home in 1846, 6 months after the death of her father, Dr. Weeden, and lived there until her own death in 1905. At a young age, she showed considerable talent for illustration, leading her mother to hire a private tutor to supplement her arts education. Life changed dramatically for the Weedens during the Civil War, when the family had to depart their home due to Huntsville’s occupation by the Union forces. The time proved valuable for Howard, however, as she enrolled in the Tuskegee Female Methodist College and there met her mentor and close friend, the college president George Price, who would become a lifelong patron and friend. In 1866, when the Weedens returned to their home, Howard sold paintings to supplement the household income. She wrote essays reflecting her moral views for the Christian Observer under the pen name, Flake White. Her highly detailed, realistic portraits of African Americans were inspired by an 1893 trip to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition, where she was shocked to see caricatured and cartoonish drawings of blacks, which were popular at the time. Her four books were published between 1898 and 1904, just a few years before her death from tuberculosis in 1905.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Public tours take place Wednesdays through Saturdays. Private tours may be arranged by scheduling in advance. Because the home and gardens are popular as an event and wedding venue, visitors are encouraged to call ahead to ensure the museum will be open to the public on any given day.
What’s Nearby: The Weeden House and Museum is just one stop along the Twickenham Tour of Homes, an annual holiday event in which several homes in the Historic District are open to the public and decorated for the season. The popular event offers live Christmas caroling and readings of Weeden’s poetry, and has taken place every year since 1978.
300 Gates Avenue, Huntsville, AL 35801, Phone: 256-536-7718