Not far from Downtown Mobile lies another hidden treasure. On a quiet street sits a narrow, two story brick home that might look like any other in the De Tonti Square District if it weren’t for the intricate lace ironwork column and baluster designs. Like the plantation homes with their towering pillars and opulent architecture, this home still screams “historic” and serenades in the rich accents of Italian influence. Even walking up to the black and white checkered tile porch, one gets the sense of stepping back in time.
The Richard DAR House, as it’s called today, was built in 1860 by Captain Charles G. Richards and his wife Caroline Elizabeth Steele. Right on the cusps of the Civil War, this seafarer decided to make a home for himself in one of the most prized ports in the south to show off his wealth and prominence in society.
As you walk in and are greeted by the dedicated docents of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution), you can see the time and care that the Captain and his wife put into the construction. The stunning Cornelius “gas-o-liers” in the foyers and double-parlor pair well with the ruby Bohemian glass windows that frame the front door. The etchings in these panes were unique, in that there’s no definite seam or edge to the leaves and vines, further showcasing the amazing craftsmanship of the 19th century.
Throughout the home, as the DAR docents guide you from room to room, you’ll be shown artifacts and relics of the era. Some are common like the “courting mirrors” which allowed a parent to spy on a daughter and her beau from another room. Some are rare like a painted panel used by ladies who sat close to the fire to keep their makeup from running (my historical opinion: most ladies of the 19th century didn’t coat themselves in makeup as we do today and might not have had a real need for this, but I can see its usefulness otherwise).
The two parlors are separated by a heavy pocket door, like many similar homes of the time. Both fireplaces are framed by carved marble mantels from Carrara, Italy, something the captain would have been able to come by easily in his travels. In the dining room, prepare to lay your eyes on one of Mobile’s largest Baccarat crystal chandeliers.
In the upstairs bedrooms, you can find a wide variety of furniture that, while it’s not original to the home, is original to the period. Wonderfully sculpted bed frames, wardrobes, vanities, and a selection of personal accessories that women of the time would have kept.
The home passed from the Richards family in 1946 when it was sold to the Ideal Cement Company and used as an office building. Additions to the home keep nostalgic items from more recent years, as well as a display of the many successes of the DAR organization.
In all its subtle charms, the Richards DAR House is one not to miss on your visit to Mobile. I recommend making this an early stop on your itinerary. Parking is along the street with other residences, so I’d suggest going on a weekday in the afternoon while others are at work. To get in, simply walk up the front steps and ring the doorbell. Before your tour, you’ll pay the fee of $10 ($5 for children and free for infants). The docents are knowledgeable about the house as well as their organization and be sure to ask them about their upcoming events and future meetings. The home is operated by FOUR of the DAR chapters since 1973. The best time to visit would be during Christmas when the home is festively decorated or for their Spring Garden Party in April. They periodically host guest speakers, haunted tours, and book signings. And if you’re looking for that special place to host your private event, be sure to put the Richards DAR House on your list of options.
Hours: Monday, Wednesday – Friday: 11:00 PM – 3:30 PM
Saturday: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Sunday: 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Address: 256 N Joachim Street, Mobile AL 36603
Phone: (251) 208 7320