Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mobile, Alabama historical marker tells of Oakleigh Mansion builder

'James W. Roper' historical marker in Mobile, Ala. 
This week’s featured historical marker is the “JAMES W. ROPER” marker in Mobile County, Ala. This marker is located in the Old Church Street Cemetery, at the end of South Scott Street, off Government Street, in downtown Mobile, Ala.

This marker was erected by the Historic Mobile Preservation Society in 1962. There’s text on both sides of the marker, but both sides are the same. What follows in the complete text from the marker:

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“JAMES W. ROPER: Owner – Builder of Oakleigh, Born in 1801 in South Carolina (day and month of birth unknown) – Died Jan. 12, 1856.”

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Roper was an architect, brick mason, cotton broker and dry goods merchant who moved to Mobile from Virginia some time prior to 1833. Roper fell on hard times in the late 1830s and he eventually moved to New Orleans in 1850 to get into the lumber business. At some point, he either moved back to Mobile or his remains were returned to Mobile after his death because he’s buried near present-day downtown Mobile.

Roper is best known for building Oakleigh Mansion, which is located less than a mile away from the Old Church Street Cemetery at 300 Oakleigh Place in Mobile. Some sources say that he built the mansion in 1838 in honor of his marriage to Eliza Ann Simison. Other sources noted that construction of the house began in 1833 when he was married to Sarah Ann Davenport, but she died before the house was complete, and Roper went on to marry Simison in 1838, the year the mansion was finished.

Oakleigh was added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 27, 1971, but, interestingly, it’s not presently listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage. Today, the Oakleigh Mansion is the home of the Historic Mobile Preservation Society, which was founded on March 14, 1935. According to the society’s Web site, the society entered into a long term agreement with the City of Mobile in 1955 to operate Oakleigh as a museum.

I’ve had a trip to Oakleigh Mansion on my “bucket list” for several years, mainly because it’s supposedly haunted. I actually walked right past this historic house several years ago while taking a historic walking tour of downtown Mobile. On that day, I didn’t stop, but I hope the next time I’m in the vicinity, I’ll have time to check it out.

Oakleigh Mansion is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It’s closed on Wednesdays and Sundays and on most major holidays. Tours of the home are offered on the hour ever hour with the last tour of the day starting each day at 2 p.m. Admission for adults is $10.

In the end, visit this site next Wednesday to learn about another historical marker. I’m also taking suggestions from the reading audience, so if you know of an interesting historical marker that you’d like me to feature, let me know in the comments section below. 

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