Bragg-Mitchell Mansion

Bragg-Mitchell Mansion The Bragg-Mitchell Mansion is a historic house museum in Mobile, Mobile County, built in the Greek-revival style. The date of construction is unclear, with some sources citing 1847 but most citing 1855. The house is located today in midtown Mobile on almost 12 acres, but when it was built, it sat on a 27-acre plot three miles from the city. The 13,000-square-foot Greek Revival home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and opened to the public in the late 1980s.

In 1829, Lewis Judson, the first president of the Bank of Mobile, purchased approximately 25 acres, bounded by Three Mile Creek and what was then the "new" Spring Hill Road. At some point, Judson built a small cottage on the property, most likely located behind the mansion. In 1841, the Planters and Merchants Bank obtained the property from Judson, as he had defaulted on his $38,389 mortgage, an enormously high figure for the era. In 1847, cotton factor and Mobile businessman William H. Pratt bought the property for $2,225, which was a great deal less than Judson's mortgage. By this time, there was an additional two acres, likely acquired by Judson, with the property for a total of 27 acres.

In 1855, Judge John Bragg bought the property for $7,500. Whether Pratt built the house in 1847 or Bragg built the house in 1855 is uncertain, because there are many conflicting accounts. Both the Historic American Buildings Survey (1935) and the National Register for Historic Places (1972) in their respective documentation papers claim that the house was built by Pratt with Thomas James as the architect. But both documents include the widely repeated mistake that Gen. Braxton Bragg, John's brother, owned the home. It is also possible that John Bragg built the house, with his brother Alexander as the architect. As there are no official documents concerning the construction of the house, the builder remains unknown.

Bragg-Mitchell Mansion Interior Bragg and his wife, Mary Frances Hall Bragg, bought a number of furnishings in New York City and Baltimore, including five very large and heavy matching gilded mirrors, carpets, and silver, for their new home. Fearing that Mobile and his home would be sacked during the Civil War, Bragg took his family and all his furnishings, but likely not the mirrors, to Mary's cotton plantation in Lowndes County. He believed that it was safer than Mobile, but unfortunately, the plantation and all of the furniture Bragg had removed from Mobile were burned during Wilson's Raid in spring 1865.

When Bragg died in 1878, the property was passed to his children, and not to Gen. Braxton Bragg, as many records say. His children sold the property back to Pratt in 1880 for $6,000. Now quite wealthy for some years, Pratt lived well in the mansion. Years later during the restoration in the 1980s, several elaborate 1880s-era stencil designs were discovered hidden behind decades of white paint. They were repainted as they were originally meant to be seen and are a rare glimpse into the splendor of the era. Pratt also bought some of John Bragg's furnishings, such as his lace curtains, crystal chandeliers, and the five mirrors.

Upham Family When Pratt, then president of the Bank of Mobile, died suddenly in 1883, almost everything he owned had to be sold at public auction to pay his debts. Inventories show that Pratt owned crystal chandeliers, lace curtains, and red velvet furniture, but did not list the mirrors. Three were found in the 1970s, in New York City, possibly taken there by Pratt's son Harry, a lawyer who lived in the city. Pratt's daughter Annie bought the house at public auction in 1888 and sold it at a profit to Georgianna Upham in 1889. Edward and Georgianna Upham and their seven children lived in the mansion for a little more than a decade. He was a manufacturing executive, and both were from Portland, Maine. At least two of the daughters were married in the ballroom. The family left behind several photographs of the house, which provide visitors a detailed view of life in the mansion at the turn of the twentieth century.

In 1902, Franklin P. Davis bought the mansion for $9,242.22. He built two commercial greenhouses on the property and ran a successful flower business. Davis died in 1908, but his wife Corinne Davis remained in the house until their daughters were married. She retained ownership of the house until 1931, although she had moved to New York City earlier. She rented the house out to Minnie and Alfred Mitchell from 1925 until 1931, when she sold the home to Minnie for $20,000.

Minnie Mitchell wanted to restore the house to its antebellum appearance and carefully chose nineteenth-century antique furniture to decorate her home. Her efforts can still be seen in the house today, including her Chippendale dining table and chairs and Hepplewhite sideboard. She removed the gas fixtures and replaced them with chandeliers using the newest technology of the day—electricity. She planted flowers, bushes, and vegetable gardens, and added 40 acres beyond Three Mile Creek to the property. Though much of her landscaping is gone, her azaleas remain, and they adorn the front of the house every spring. Mitchell threw parties and hosted events that eventually drew the attention of the local media.

In the 1940s, visitors began to show up to ask Mitchell if they could tour the home. Prior to the Mitchells's deaths, in the 1960s, they set up the A. S. Mitchell Foundation, which later transferred ownership to the nonprofit Explore Center Inc. The house was formally opened to tours in the 1980s.The Greek-revival mansion has 13 rooms, with 14-foot ceilings downstairs and 13-foot ceilings on the second floor. The exterior features 16 fluted columns around the portico. It sits on approximately 12 acres of land from the original land grant. Instead of the double parlor which was common for the era, the 50-foot ballroom is split by a triple arch. Most of the moldings and paneling in the house are faux bois (a technique of painting on plaster to mimic the appearance of wood), but the spiral stairway is mahogany.

In the ballroom there are still several of Minnie Mitchell's pieces, including a red and green empire sofa with clawed feet, a mahogany empire table with a black marble top, and a walnut melodeon with ivory keys made in the 1850s that had belonged to Alfred Mitchell's mother. In addition to the Mitchell-era furniture, four of the five giltwood mirrors bought by John Bragg in 1860 grace the ballroom. Also on the first floor are the dining room, a tearoom, a foyer, and an enclosed porch. Upstairs, where there are five bedrooms, a bridal room, trunk room, and enclosed porch, there are two beds made by the noted furniture-maker Prudent Mallard, complete with his famous cabochons carved into the wood.

History tours are given during the week, while the weekends are reserved for weddings and other special events. In addition to private events, the museum also hosts several special events that are open to the public, with proceeds going towards the operation and preservation of the mansion. Most notably, public tea receptions are held every spring and winter, and the house is decorated lavishly during the Christmas season.

The house is located at 1906 Spring Hill Avenue in midtown Mobile. The mansion is owned by the Explore Center, Inc., a 501(c)(3), non-profit that also oversees the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center.

Further Reading

  • Tapper, Monica. "Mobile's Bragg-Mitchell Mansion: A Legacy of Five Families." Alabama Heritage 133 (Summer 2019): 16-27.

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