Oakleigh House

Oakleigh House: 350 Oakleigh Pl.

Started in 1833 by James Roper on a Spanish land grant, “Oakleigh” was named for the magnificent oaks around it.

Roper was a brick mason, dry goods merchant and cotton factor from James City County, Virginia. Roper chose this site for his house because of its valuable clay pit. Roper was a cotton trader who was hit by the Panic of 1837. Unable to repay the $20,000 he had borrowed to build the house, he sold it to his brother-in-law Boyd Simison, who allowed him to live in it rent-free until 1850. With his business interests failing, Roper followed his brother-in-law's example, becoming a lumber merchant and moving to New Orleans in 1850.

Roper was his own architect and builder. Using slave and free labor, the house is composed of bricks made from clay dug on the grounds and timber harvested from the property. Tool marks can be seen on the siding, doors and window frames. The “T” shaped dwelling with elegant parlors and curved outside stairway from the brick terrace to front gallery was well suited for a semi-tropical climate. The name for the estate comes from a combination of the word oak and the Anglo-Saxon word lea, that means meadow.

Alfred Irwin came to Mobile as secretary of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad in the late 1840s. He first rented, and then purchased Oakleigh in 1852. He and his wife, Margaret Kilshaw Irwin, a British citizen of the Irish peerage, were prominent in Mobile’s social scene. Their three children, Thomas Kilshaw Irwin – known as T.K., Lee Fearn and Corrine, lived with them in Oakleigh. Corrine died as a young woman. T.K. and his family were the second-generation Irwin owners of Oakleigh. During the three-generation of Irwin tenure Oakleigh was known as “Irwin Place.”

During the Union occupation of Mobile, Margaret Irwin saved the house from occupation or damage by draping a British flag on the front gallery. In 1877, future-U.S. President James Garfield was a guest of the T.K. Irwins. T.K., once aide to Confederate president Jefferson Davis, established and was president of the Mobile Cotton Exchange.The last Irwin to occupy Oakleigh was Daisy Irwin Clisby, who sold the house in 1916.

Other facilities that operate as part of Oakleigh Historic Complex are the Cook’s House, an 1850’s slave cabin located behind the main house, the Cox-Deasy Cottage, an 1850s raised plantation house that interprets the middle-class lifestyle in 19th century Mobile and the Mitchell Archives, a historical research facility.

It was included in the Historic American Buildings Survey and the National Register of Historic Places. It was acquired by the city of Mobile in 1955 and is now operated as a museum by the Historic Mobile Preservation Society.

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