As part of the 2019 “This Place Matters” campaign, the Huntsville Historic Preservation Commission salutes Alabama’s Bicentennial by profiling homes built in the community more than 200 years ago.
When you walk into the “Mastin-Batson” house in the historic Twickenham District, it’s not hard to notice the massively tall ceilings and beautiful antiques throughout the 1819 property.
While the two-storied structure has retained many of its original architectural features from the state’s Bicentennial era, it has also evolved through several 19th-century additions and renovations into the mixed Federal and Greek Revival styled home it is today.
The current owner, Sarah Batson, has deep roots in downtown Huntsville, having grown up on West Holmes Avenue. When her family eventually outgrew that property her parents moved into a seven-bedroom home on Locust Avenue that her father remodeled to accommodate their six children.
“We grew up here,” says Batson. “My grandmother grew up here, and my great-grandmother grew up in Huntsville. We’ve always lived in old houses. If it didn’t have a high ceiling, we didn’t live in it.”
The allure of Twickenham
Sarah and Jim Batson bought the “Mastin-Batson” home in the 1950s, but it was far from the home it is today. Back then, the Batson family recalls it as one of the only fraternity houses in the area. The walls were pink and the house was decorated with the things of, what you can only guess, a fraternity house of the time would look like.
Sarah says there were three large canvases with the popular “Peanuts” cartoon characters in one of the rooms of the home, complimenting a bathtub of empty beer cans in the backyard. They have one of those paintings hanging in the home today. As for the beer cans, they have removed those, “good grief.”
Before the home’s “Animal House” days, it began life as a cabin, as did many of the early structures in the downtown area. A federal-style home was later added to the property and the former cabin became a kitchen.
One of the first homes to built in Huntsville in the early 1800s, the property underwent several additions and renovations, but not from Sarah or Jim. The Batsons say their mission was to preserve the home’s original character as much as possible. Sarah says they even saved pieces from previous mansions in the area that were torn down as Huntsville grew.
“Nothing has been added to the home,” Sarah says. “No rooms have been added; this is all original from when we bought it.”
Keeping it original
Jim has a Ph.D. in Aerospace but is a Blacksmith by trade who is good with his hands. He rebuilt what he could to keep the home as historically original as possible, down to the lock and key to the front door.
The “well room,” had a false floor when it was a frat house. Jim had to dig at least two feet into the dirt to find an original fireplace and replace the flooring. The floors and the beams were salvaged from the former Rhett home near West Holmes Street where Sarah first lived. The room is two different levels where meat was hung from hooks on the beams of the ceiling on the upper level.
Underneath the home, the basement originally housed a winter kitchen and slave workspace. The bricks are laid out by hand in a beautiful herringbone pattern complimented by an old fireplace that has a mellow patina from years of use.
You notice the love and effort put into the home to preserve the character for future generations to enjoy. As the city grows, it is important to learn from people like the Batsons and always go the extra mile to preserve and maintain history.