Sturdivant Hall

More From Alabama

Signs of spirit residents appear in ways that they find amusing.

A male entity who had legal trouble is still master here.

The back house is a spectral hangout.



Sturdivant Hall House Museum is also known as the Watts, Parksman, Gilman Townhouse, and is quite an impressive Greek Revival masterpiece, that obviously has outstanding curb appeal!

Sturdivant Hall is a superb example of an antebellum, neoclassical townhouse, capped with a cupola. The front of this large, rectangular two story beauty has a sixty-foot wide front porch on each floor, with six, equally spaced, thirty foot high fluted columns to great effect!

This impressive structure is made out of bricks, with stucco added to give the appearance of being made of finely dressed stone, known as ashlar masonry.

On each floor, there are four windows with shutters and small hinged panels beneath the windows from the sill to the floor, which allow the windows to function as doors as well, an air conditioning system used long before modern air conditioning was around.

The second floor has an intricate iron-grille railing across its veranda, adding both beauty and safety.

At the rear of the townhouse, there is a smaller veranda with two Doric columns and an upstairs porch decorated with a detailed iron-grille railing. On either end of the veranda, are small rooms on both floors. An outside staircase winds up from the first floor veranda to the porch above. On the second floor, there is a door that leads from the inside to the back porch.

The National Register of Historic Places has listed Sturdivant Hall on their registry since June 29th, 1972 and describes its interior:

“Both upstairs and down, a T-shaped hall divides the arrangement of the rooms. A central hall runs the full length of the mid-section, and the left side is cut into half by still another hall. The large drawing room (20′ x 30′) on the first floor is formed by this division of halls.”

“Across the hall at the front, the parlor is separated from the dining hall by a broad opening with a free-standing Corinthian column on either side. The staircase, which is a straight-run stairway, flanks, not the central hall, but the abbreviated one at the backside of the drawing room.”

“A spiral staircase connects the second floor with the cupola. This staircase is constructed around a central core post which extends the entire height of the stair-well, and around it the treads wind.”

Sturdivant Hall has been beautifully renovated and is furnished with many antiques of the period. It looks like the family just went out for a stroll, as it truly is a step back in time.

The Rural SW Alabama website reports that besides having antique furnishings,”The house contains porcelain and doll collections, as well as an impressive collection of art. A tour of this site includes the house, detached kitchen, gift shop and formal garden.”

It is immensely popular with tour groups and visitors and is considered to be the grand architectural jewel of Selma.

The large and beautiful mansion grounds take up a whole city block, perfect for weddings, and other social events, like teas and children’s Easter egg hunts! There is a large rose garden, grassy areas, and pathways around the grounds.

Behind the Sturdivant is a collection of out-buildings, surrounding a small courtyard. A small two story house formerly served as its kitchen, it being common at one time to put the kitchen in a separate building, for fire safety reasons. Caretakers have lived here for years.

Other buildings include the structure being used as a gift shop, and others that are probably used for storage.




The first two owners of this property didn’t get to live in this grand townhouse for very long, as circumstances interrupted their lives, forcing them to sell way before they were ready to go.

Sturdivant Hall was built by Col. Edward Watts, who had hired Thomas Helm Lee to design and construct this beauty, starting in 1852 and finally finishing in 1856, at a cost of $69,000. It had ten rooms, and 6,000 sq ft to live in and enjoy!

Only the best would do! Craftsmen who were brought over from Italy worked on the imported Italian marble and plaster details found inside to wow visitors.

Col. Watts and his family moved in but only got to live there until 1864.

Seeing the writing on the wall that the South was going to lose, Watts sold the property and moved his family to Texas, a place deemed by him to be safer than Selma to live.

During the Southern Reconstruction years after the Civil War, the Selma District was under Union military rule, which was naturally resented by the residents.

John Parkman had entered the banking business in Selma at the age of seventeen, and through hard work, was promoted up the ladder of success. He earned a reputation as being an honest man and was trusted by Selma’s residents.

Parkman had just been made president of First National Bank of Selma at the age of twenty-nine. He bought Sturdivant Hall from Watts on February 12th, 1864, for $65,000, to be the family’s forever home.

Right after becoming bank president, Parkman, along with other bankers in the community, speculated in cotton, with investment money, some say with federal deposits – which he vehemently denied. The goal was to get this important southern business back in the game. Unfortunately, the southern cotton market had dried up because other sources of cotton were found elsewhere during the war.

Two years later in 1866, this cotton investment proved to be a total disaster. Not only did John lose his own fortune, but he alone was accused of embezzling funds, and arrested after the Selma District military governor General Wager Swayne found out about the bad investment when Federal troops took possession of the bank.

Parkman was held at the county jail at Cahaba in 1866 while waiting for his military trial, just two years after moving into Sturdivant Hall. To a lot of people, this kind of trial didn’t sound like John was going to have a fair court proceeding. His arrest got the people of Selma incensed because they considered him to be an honest banker who would never do such a thing.

In 1867, a plan was put into place to spring him from jail, and get him on a boat to safety. A Mardi Gras celebration was planned in front of the jail, and most of the guards were bribed to look the other way.

Their plan worked up to the very moment that Parkman was about to get on the paddle boat when a guard who wasn’t bribed saw him. Instead of just stopping him physically, this dolt took a shot at him.

Parkman was either hit by the bullet, fell into the water and drowned, or panicked and jumped into the water, where he got caught in the boat’s paddles and drowned.

Mrs. Parkman and the daughters stayed at Sturdivant Hall as long as they could manage the financial hardship, but were forced to sell it at auction in 1870, for a mere $12,500 to a well-known Selma merchant, Emile Gilman and his family.

The Gilman family and their descendants made this fabulous townhouse their forever home, and owned it until 1957, when Mrs. Augusta Gillman Bibb and Mrs. Adolph Gillman Russell sold the Gilman family home to the city of Selma for $75,000.

I wonder how this property got its name?

$50,000 of the money used to buy the property came from the estate of Robert Daniel Sturdivant, with the stipulation that the townhouse and its grounds be turned into a museum.

Though it is officially known as the Watt, Parkman and Gilman Townhouse, it is widely called Sturdivant Hall after its benefactor, who allowed it to be restored and made into a historic museum to be enjoyed by many! It is run by the Sturdivant Museum Association, who maintain the property and keep it looking its best which pleases its residing spectral residents.



When people are accused of something that they didn’t do, and die before they can clear their names, their spirits may hang on trying to accomplish it, and are not able to rest until they do.

T’Freres Bed and Breakfast, LA (The spirit of Amélie Comeaux is still upset that her death was ruled a suicide by the Catholic Church and not murder or an accident. Her remains were buried outside the cemetery and not with her husband and son. She wants her name cleared before she can pass over, though that isn’t likely to happen).

Clinton Tavern, MD (The owner, of this infamous tavern, Mary Surratt, leased the building to John Lloyd, before moving to Washington D.C.. Mary’s son John Surratt was permitted to meet with his friends there occasionally. John Wilkes Booth was one of the son’s friends, and it was at these meetings where the plot to assassinate President Lincoln was hatched. Mary Surratt was accused by John Lloyd of being part of the plot. Lloyd had ulterior motives, in that he wanted to own the tavern and inn outright. Mary was convicted and hung on the gallows on Lloyd’s testimony alone. Her restless spirit haunts the Clinton Tavern, still wanting her name cleared and Lloyd’s lie exposed).

STURDIVANT HALL, AL (When John Parkman was arrested at his townhouse, he vowed never to leave it until his name was cleared of wrong-doing. His name was never cleared, so his spirit resides in his townhouse).

People can appear to the living as they want to be seen. Women can appear like they were as little girls, to remember the good times they had as children.

Mark Twain House Museum, CT (Twain’s daughters appear as they were as little girls, remembering a happy time in their lives).

Hotel Bethlehem, PA (May Yohe, the granddaughter of Caleb Yohe; Innkeeper and owner of the Eagle Hotel, used to sing and dance as a child for guests, something she truly loved to do. As a spirit she appears as a young girl and still sings along with the player piano after she turns it on).

Sturdivant Hall, AL (The spirits of two young girls could present themselves as youngsters even though they may have lived life as adults. Whether they are the Parkman daughters or belong to the Gilman clan, they enjoyed their lives as children in this place).

When a spirit is too restless to leave this world, and stays in his or her favorite place, spirits of their family members may choose to stay or visit to keep him company.

LeDuc House Museum, MN (The spirit of General William LeDuc happily putters around his forever home. The spirit of his daughter Alice stays to keep him company).

Stranahan House, FL (The spirit of Ivy Stranahan still lives out her faith, taking care of her six spectral family members as well as the staff and visitors).

Sturdivant Hall, AL (The spirit of John Parkman may have spirits of his two daughters appearing as little girls to keep him company and bring a little peace to him. The spirit of his wife may come to visit him as well).




The spirits who reside or visit here feel very comfortable to act like themselves. They feel bold enough to let the staff  and visitors know that they are present, expressing themselves sometimes at the expense of the living).

Personal Appearances of John Parkman

When his townhouse was sold in 1870, the apparition of John Parkman started to appear in the back house, the orchard and the big house as well.

His apparition is still seen leaning against the side portico, and is also fond of standing in the cupola, on the top of the mansion, to enjoy the view.

For events, he has appeared in a top hat and dress coat for the occasion. A volunteer who was in charge of an event booth at a fundraiser saw his see-through apparition dressed in this way float through the drawing room before disappearing.

As Unseen Host and Protector

John Parkman’s unseen presence has been strongly felt in the parlor and the upstairs bedroom close to the main staircase.

One guide reported that a man, who was new in town, was hired to spray in the mansion for pests.

After going upstairs to start the spraying process, he made a hurried retreat from the second floor down the main staircase.

He said that an unseen presence in the bedroom nearest the stairs, nearly pushed him to the ground.

His Footsteps

While downstairs, various guides have heard a man’s restless footsteps walk across the second floor, stopping at the top of the steps.

Investigations done by the living have proven repeatedly that no one alive is making the footsteps.

After stopping at the steps, the footsteps continue down the hall on the way to the bedrooms.

Spirits of Two Little Girls

Also seen by various people are the apparitions of two little girls looking out of an upstairs window on the second floor.

They are assumed to be John Parkman’s daughters, though it isn’t known for sure.

They could be from the Gilmore family clan who lived here for generations in this mansion.

Playful Little Jokesters

From this same window, smoke was once seen coming out of the window, but when the fire department showed up, it had suddenly stopped.

The window was found to be locked tight and there was no sign of smoke ever being there.

Joke’s On You!

Two guides had identical experiences, that sound like the two little girls teasing the living.

When the guides went through the upstairs door leading to the porch off the second floor, it closed and locked by itself, forcing them to walk down the outside stairs.

Perhaps this porch was the girls’ favorite play area when they were living.

In fact, caretakers who have lived in the small house in the back report that this door freely opens and closes by itself, setting off the security alarm.

Signs of Unknown Presences

Guides downstairs also hear doors and windows being opened and shut.

Both the shutters and the windows are locked before the museum is closed. A security person was specifically hired to be sure it was done.

However, every morning, the shutters have all been opened, which can only be opened from the inside, when the windows are unlocked.

The same security person checked the rooms as well. Sometimes, a warm room he was checking would suddenly become frigidly cold.

This sudden coldness in a formerly warm room has been reported by other employees as well.

Small House Behind the Mansion

This structure also has its manifestations.

While on the second floor, residents can hear footsteps moving around the first floor.

Objects have been known to be moved around.

Pictures that are hanging on the walls have been made crooked.


The spirits who reside here are not shy about interacting with the living, as if they were still alive. They feel comfortable with all the late 1800s furniture and the way their home is maintained and promoted as a house museum. Docents, staff and visitors can all give testimony to the existence of these spirits.

On the museum’s video that plays on their website, the docent tells us that because of the spirit of John Parkman, many visitors come to speak with him, perhaps paranormal investigators. He is the kind of spirit who would be front and center in any investigation, letting them know that he is still here because his name hasn’t been cleared of wrong-doing.

A paranormal research team recently conducted an investigation and caught hard evidence of spirit activity, particularly on the second floor.



A BIG YES is in order, with at least three known spirits making Sturdivant Hall their home. There may be the spectral wife of John Packman or a spirit of a loyal servant residing there as some unknown spirit opens up the shutters and the windows in the morning, a job that a servant would do.

One can understand why John Parkman is restless. He is still fuming and indignant for being accused of embezzling Federal money and being locked up for it as well. When he almost escaped to safety, some guard took a shot at him that resulted in his death. The spirit of John may also be kicking himself for panicking which caused him to wind up drowning when he got caught in the paddles of the boat. Perhaps if the city of Selma would pardon him from wrong-doing, he would be able to go to the other side.

Why are the two little spirit girls there? They could be John’s daughters who reside with him to keep him company. They appear as little girls because they have fond memories living here as children.

If they were daughters of one of the Gilman families who lived here, they were a handful while alive and know how to tease people.




713 Mabry Street
Selma, Alabama 36701

Sturdivant Hall is located in the center of the town of Selma, Alabama.
Selma is in south central Alabama, on U.S. 80.

Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr


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