There’s something about the stunning architectural marvels that are Southern homes that captures the imagination. They remind of us days gone by, the harsh reality of the times in which they were built, and the sometimes eccentric people who owned them. Only adding to their appeal, many of these mansions hide dark histories of foul deeds and unrequited love. Do restless spirits actually roam their halls? Are their former residents trying to reclaim what they believe is rightly theirs?
Plan a visit to one of these 10 storied houses and find out for yourself—if you dare.
Located in Demopolis, Alabama, Gaineswood is a breathtaking plantation house. It was built and designed by amateur architect General Nathan Bryan Whitfield in 1843. Whitfield first named the estate Marlmont but changed it to Gaineswood in 1858 in honor of George Gaines, the man he bought the land from.
The Whitfields lived at Gaineswood until 1923, when the mansion was sold. In 1966, the state of Alabama bought the house and preserved it as a museum. Gaineswood is a unique example of the Greek Revival style. It’s believed that the house is one of the few Greek Revival homes in the country to use all three of the ancient Greek architectural orders: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian.
Ghostly happenings have occurred at Gaineswood. It’s not uncommon to hear the piano play by itself. The ghost is believed to be one of the Whitfield’s nannies. She moved to Alabama from the north and fell ill one winter. She asked to be be buried in her home state, but the weather was too harsh for travel, so the family buried her on the property and took her north in the spring. Despite her body finally arriving at the place she designated, her spirit remained at Gaineswood.
Listen for this musical ghost yourself during mansion tours Tuesday through Sunday.
Oak Alley Plantation
Oak Alley in Vacherie, Louisiana, was originally established to grow sugarcane. Valcour Aime—one of the wealthiest men in the South and commonly known as the “King of Sugar”—owned the land. In 1836, he swapped lands with his brother-in-law Jacques Telesphore Roman. In 1837, Roman started building the mansion that stands at the end of Oak Alley today.
Enveloped by 28 oak trees and featuring 28 columns, the Greek Revival-style house is organized around a central hall that runs straight through rom front to back on both the first and second floors.
After Roman’s death in 1848, his widow almost bankrupted the estate. Her son took over and managed to undo the financial havoc left by his mother. However, the Civil War and an end to slavery made the plantation a financial vacuum. In 1866, the family put the plantation up for auction.
A long line of owners came and went before 1925, when the property was bought by Andrew Stewart as a gift for his wife, Josephine. The Stewarts oversaw the restoration of the house to its former beauty. Upon Josephine Stewart’s death in 1972, she left the mansion to the Oak Alley Foundation.
Ghost stories abound at the mansion. Staff have reported objects moving of their own accord—particularly rocking chairs rocking in unison. Some have even reported seeing figures seated on the beds or feeling a hand on their arm when no one was around.
You can determine for yourself if Oak Alley is really haunted. The mansion is open year round for tours. If you get hungry, you can pop into the restaurant on the premises. In addition to visiting the mansion, you can also spend the night in the private cottages that dot the grounds.
Just 15 minutes from West Point, Mississippi, Waverley Mansion was built by Col. George Hampton Young in 1852. It has a unique octagonal cupola and self-supporting curved stairways: a gem of antebellum architecture.
In its glory days, Waverley had gardens, orchards and livestock, as well as a brick kiln, cotton gin and ice house. In 1913, Col. Young’s last living son died, and the mansion fell into disrepair. It was purchased by Robert Snow and his wife in 1962 and restored.
There seem to be two ghosts who call Waverley home. The first is that of a little girl looking for her mother. The second ghost is a man in a military uniform who’s fond of appearing in mirrors. You can check out whether or not the ghost stories are true firsthand. Although it is the home of the Snow family,
Waverley is open to the public daily for tours.
Built in 1854, Edgewood Plantation is a beautiful, 7,000-square-foot Gothic Revival home. Located north of the James River in Charles City County, Virgina, this mansion is well worth a trip.
It was built for Richard S. Rowland, who moved to Charles City County to operate the gristmill on the property. During the Civil War, the third floor of the mansion was used as a lookout post for Confederate generals. One of Rowland’s daughters, Elizabeth, waited for years for her lover to return from the war.
If you visit her room at Edgewood, you can clearly see her name etched in the glass. You may also find the spirit of Lizzie. People have claimed that she remains in her room to this day, waiting for her lover to come back.
Sporting the Greek Revival style that is so popular in Southern plantation homes, Sturdivant Hall, located in Selma, Alabama, is a beauty to behold. Construction of the mansion ran from 1852-1854. Col. Edward T. Watts and his family lived in the house upon completion.
In 1864, Watts sold the house and the family moved to Texas. The buyer, John McGee Parkman, would go on to be president of the First National Bank of Selma. Unfortunately, he ended up on the wrong side of the law as a result of financial losses. Parkman was killed while trying to escape jail in 1867. Legend has it that his ghost returned to his former home and still walks the halls at night.
Tours of the mansion are available Tuesday-Saturday, so if you’re ready to marvel at the stunning architecture and perhaps run into Mr. Parkman, stop at Sturdivant Hall.
Cedar Grove Mansion
Looking for a beautiful place to relax, take in the South and have a good scare? Check out Cedar Grove Mansion in Vicksburg, Mississippi. An inn and restaurant, this mansion also boasts luxurious accommodations and award-winning food. John Alexander Klein had the house built in the Greek Revival style in 1840. Two years later, he married Elizabeth Bartley Day, and the couple traveled to Europe for a year-long honeymoon.
The Kleins brought back many of the furnishings for their house from that trip, finally finishing the design in 1852. The Civil War brought havoc to the otherwise peaceful mansion, and Cedar Grove suffered cannon bombardment (there’s still a cannonball in the parlor wall today), and the Union Army used the Kleins’ house as a hospital, ensuring its survival.
John Klein was fond of his pipe, and some visitors have reported smelling pipe tobacco when no one was around. Others have said they heard children’s voices. It’s also not uncommon for people to see Civil War soldiers, likely the men who didn’t survive the battle and died at the house when it was used as a hospital.
Memphis, Tennessee, is home to the impressive Woodruff-Fontaine House. Built in 1871 in the Second Empire style, the house is as imposing as it is breathtaking. Amos Woodruff, a successful businessman, was the original owner. After he died, his daughter, Mollie Woodruff Henning, inherited the house and likely lived there until her death.
The Fontaine family bought the house and lived there until 1928. A few decades later, the house had fallen into disrepair. Fortunately, it was saved from demolition, restored and opened as a museum in 1964. Tours of the mansion are available (and an October 28 Haunted Happenings event scheduled), but only for the brave. If you’re looking for a spooky place for a wedding, you can have it here.
It’s believed that a female entity, likely Mollie, still resides at the mansion. Mollie is a benevolent ghost, though. She enjoys sitting on the bed in her room and following visitors around to see what they’re up to.
However, there is a darker ghost who haunts the mansion. The ghost of a man is thought to haunt the parlor and the third floor. A staff member reported her necklace had been ripped off when no one was near.
Ferry Plantation House
If you’re near Virginia Beach, Virginia, check out the Ferry Plantation House for a good scare. The main house was built in 1830, with an addition in 1850, so there’s a lot of history here. Unlike most of these mansions, the Ferry Plantation House was built in the Federal farmhouse style.
In the early 1800s, tragedy struck in the manor house. A woman dressed in white was found dead at the bottom of the home’s main staircase. Her neck had been broken by the fall, but it’s unclear how she lost her balance. Some people believe that her heel got caught in the hem of her dress. Others think her death was caused by the small children playing near the stairs.
Either way, the “Lady in White” is a paranormal fixture at Ferry Plantation. It’s not uncommon for visitors to see the woman riding a Penny-Farthing around the grounds at dusk. To this day, no one knows the woman’s identity or why she remains at Ferry. In addition to the Lady in White, there are 10 other spirits who wander the house and its grounds.
The mansion is open for tours Tuesdays and Thursdays, including a special ghost tour on Halloween.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Lemp Mansion in St. Louis, Missouri, is haunted. The house is the site of four suicides by members of the Lemp family, which owned the William J. Lemp Brewing Company, a power player in the St. Louis beer market before Prohibition.
When William Lemp Sr. lost his son, Frederick, in December 1901, he was heartbroken. Frederick was the child he had hoped would run the family business for years. William Lemp tried to carry on, but the final blow came on January 1, 1904, when Frederick Pabst, Lemp’s best friend, died. William Lemp committed suicide by gunshot on February 13, 1904.
Billy Lemp, another of William Lemp’s sons, took over the company in November 1904 and enjoyed professional success until Prohibition. During Prohibition, the company ran into hard times and was eventually sold at auction. On December 29, 1922, Billy Lemp shot himself in his office.
Two years earlier, Elsa Lemp Wright, the youngest of the Lemp children, shot herself in her bed in March 1920, after reconciling with her estranged husband.
Charles Lemp was the final family member to live in the mansion, starting in 1929. On May 10, 1949, he shot his dog and then himself, leaving a suicide note that informed the reader that if they were found dead, he was the one to blame.
Today, Lemp Mansion is a restaurant and inn with plenty of opportunities for ghost hunting. Haunted history tours are held most Monday nights, and an Edgar Allan Poe evening and Halloween Bash are planned for October.
If you’re near Marion, Alabama, and want to test your nerves, check out Kenworthy Hall. This architectural beauty was built between 1858 and 1860, and it’s considered one of the best-preserved examples of Richard Upjohn’s distinctive asymmetrical Italian style villas.
The mansion was built for Edward Kenworthy Carlisle, a wealthy businessman. During the Civil War, Carlisle actually saw his profits increase, but his good fortune swiftly changed after the war when his house value plunged. When he died in 1873, he left the house to his widow. When she died in 1912, she left the house to her only surviving child, Augusta Carlisle Jones, who sold the property in 1914.
The house saw a string of owners come and go and eventually fell into disrepair. During the 1950s, it was the victim of vandalism, and many of the home’s interior features were destroyed. The house was eventually bought and restored and now functions as a private residence once again.
One of the home’s most distinctive features is a four-story-tall tower, which is reportedly the site of hauntings. It’s said that a young woman watches from the tower, waiting for someone to return to her.