Editor’s Note: Russell County has a long history that is important to the State of Alabama and its evolvement from an area described in the book “Russell County in Retrospect” by Anne Kendrick Walker as a “barbaric land” to what it is today. Many of the people who set their roots in the county in its early days including the state’s first Territorial Delegate to the United States Congress, important Native Americans who paid with their lives to cede land that created the county, a family that started a place of higher learning in south Russell County that later led to the establishment of one of the state’s most known institutions of education today and a former slave who placed a monument to honor his former owner, are very much important to the formation of Alabama. The story that follows is another of a series to inform you – our readers – about the history of Russell County.
If you enter the old home on the top of the hill at 1815 Abbott Drive in Phenix City, do not be surprised by any visitors who may join you. Owner Steve Abbott tells a story of a couple of people who had unexpected guests join them while working to renovate the structure.
“I had one man who was painting at the house ask me what I was doing upstairs. I told him I wasn’t upstairs that I had just come in. He swore he heard someone walking around upstairs. In fact, after he heard it a second time while he was over there painting, he refuses to go back into the house. Another lady doing some work asked if I sent someone over to see what she was doing and I said I had not. She said a man in a hat and bowtie walked through, but did not say anything. She described the man and I showed her a picture on my phone. She said that was him. The picture was of Dr. David Morgan, my ancestor who built the home,” Abbott said.
Abbott says he is not afraid to enter the property he is trying to renovate even if it is filled with ghosts of the past. After all, they are his late relatives.
While in all likelihood the old mansion is not a hotbed of ghosts from long gone days, it is a large part of Phenix City’s history. The home was constructed from the remains of a burned out home from Columbus, Ga. in 1904 by Dr. David Elias Morgan. It is known as the Morgan-Curtis House and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
The story of the house is relayed as follows from the narrative given to the book “The Heritage of Russell County, Alabama” published in 2003 by V.C. Curtis Jr.:
“In 1904, Dr. David Elias Morgan, originally from Monmouthshire, Wales, purchased the materials of a partially burned house on the west side of Lower Broad Street in Columbus. He moved the timber, windows, doors, hardware and entrances to a hill in Girard, 1815 Abbott Drive. Using the materials of this 1840s house, he constructed the existing structure. Originally Dr. Morgan had a medical practice in Columbus, but in 1914 converted the second floor of his home into a sanatorium for the treatment of out-of-town patients. The hill on which the house was built originally had a log house. This home is significant as the first home used as a medical clinic in Phenix City.”
Abbott says he has been told Wilson’s Raiders camped on the hill when they prepared for the Last Land Battle of the Civil War fought in Girard.
The description of the house used in the application for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places is as follows:
“This house is the Neo-Classical style. It has two stories, rectangular floor plan with two story porch on north and east façade, rusticated concrete block foundation, two interior chimneys, flat roof and columns of rusticated concrete block, The two-story porch wraps around two sides of the house, with sections of it enclosed to serve as sunrooms. The interior had a central hall with eight rooms on the first floor and six rooms on the second floor. It is situated on top of a hill in a setting of large hardwoods, pines and ornamental shrubs.”
At the time of Dr. Morgan’s death, the house became the property of Mr. and Mrs. Virgil C. Curtis Sr.. Ruth Morgan Curtis was Dr. Morgan’s daughter. When the application was made to include the home on the National Register of Historic Places, the property was owned by Attorney and Judge V. Cecil Curtis, Jr., and his wife, Faye S. Curtis.
Abbott purchased the house in 2000 from V. Cecil Curtis Jr. after the death of his wife, Faye.
Dr. Morgan was Abbott’s great grandfather. Dr. Morgan had four children John, Earl, Ruth and Minnie. One son was a lawyer and the other was a doctor. Neither survived into old age. One was killed when he was run over by a train. The other died from ingesting some bad alcohol. Ruth became a pharmacist and Minnie became a chiropractor. Ruth received ownership of the house upon the death of her father.
Ruth and her husband Virgil C. Curtis Sr. also took over Morgan Drugs on 14th Street when Dr. Morgan died. Both were pharmacists.
Abbott’s grandmother was Minnie Purvis and his mother was Elizabeth Abbott. Abbott has no relatives with the name Morgan still alive today, but there are still those who may be roaming the old house constructed in 1904.