The Governor’s Mansion is the official state residence of the governor of Alabama and is located in the Garden District neighborhood of Montgomery, Montgomery County. This mansion has been the home for the chief executive since 1951. It is currently the residence of Alabama’s 54th governor, Kay Ivey. There have been only two state-owned governor’s mansions in Alabama’s history. Prior to June 1, 1911, governors resided in private homes or hotels. The mansion was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
Alabama Governor’s Mansion The first official governor’s residence was purchased for $46,000 by the state on June 11, 1911, following passage of a legislative act approving the purchase of a home for the chief executive and family. Prior to this time, governors lived in private homes or in hotels or taverns. The first governor to reside in the home was Emmet O’Neal, who served from 1911 to 1915. This building was a Beaux Arts brownstone that was built in 1906 by Montgomery businessman Moses Sabel, and it was located on the southwest corner of South Perry and South Streets, a mile north of the current residence. The design was inspired by the principles of French Neoclassicism, and it incorporated Gothic and Renaissance elements as well. Characteristics of the Beaux Arts style included its flat roof, round small windows above the second-story, a balustered porch around three sides of the home, and a raised first story faced with rough-hewn stones. The last governor to live there was James E. “Big Jim” Folsom (1947-1951, 1955-1959), and the building then was used for state offices and a school before being torn down in 1963 to make way for Interstate 85.
The purchase of the current governor’s mansion arose from Folsom’s friendship with its owner, Aileen Ligon, whose late husband, Robert Fulwood Ligon Jr., had built the home on Perry Street between East Cromwell Street and Finley Avenue in 1907. Having been in the house and admired its grand staircase and columns, Folsom expressed to Ligon that her home would be a more suitable governor’s mansion. Robert Ligon Jr., who was the son of former congressman and lieutenant governor Robert Fulwood Ligon Sr., had purchased the lot in 1907 in what was then a “fashionable” part of town. The Ligons had owned the home for 43 years and were among Montgomery’s most prominent families. Ligon Jr. had served as mayor of Tuskegee, Macon County, as an officer in the Spanish-American War, and as inspector general of the Alabama National Guard and relocated to Montgomery to practice law.
First Governor’s Mansion Prior to Aileen Ligon’s death in 1950, Folsom had established a commission to research possible homes to replace the first governor’s mansion and referenced a letter Ligon had written to him urging the state to purchase her home. Folsom’s term was ending in January 1951, however, and incoming governor Gordon Persons expressed concerns about purchasing such an extravagant home. Folsom was able to convince Persons that the benefits would outweigh the cost, and in October 1950 the state bought the Ligon home for $100,000 and spent an additional $130,000 to furnish it, with First Lady Alice Persons playing a significant role in determining the interior decorating style. Instead of having the traditional inaugural ball, Governor Persons hosted an open house so that Alabama citizens could tour the new residence of their chief executive. Folsom also got his wish to live in the home when he was re-elected governor in 1954.
The current governor’s mansion is a Neoclassical structure with a large two-story portico fronted by four Corinthian columns and arched double glass doors flanking the entryway. The upper story is spanned by wrought-iron balconies on the front. The left side of the house features an elaborate porte-cochere, or car port, supported by Ionic columns, and the right side of the house has a decorative sunroom. The interior features of the home include 17 primary rooms with a double staircase leading up from the entrance hall to the second level. Initially, the formal garden was surrounded by a high ornamental wall that covered the entire rear grounds and featured tennis courts. In the 1970s, a swimming pool in the shape of the state, a guest house, and a stone grotto water feature were added. The current gardens are divided into themes and feature a large pergola. A wrought-iron fence surrounds the entire property with guard houses at the entrance.
Governor’s Mansion Main Hall Rooms open to guests include the reception hall, dining room, First Lady’s parlor, and drawing room. The first floor contains 4,500 square feet and features hand-carved moldings and trim, decorative ceiling moldings and mantels, and some inlaid wood floors. The second floor consists of living quarters with five bedrooms and four baths and encompasses about 4,000 square feet. Each room in the house has a unique collection of items with some items representative to the state of Alabama and many of the furnishings belonging to previous residents of the mansion or coming from significant people or places in the state. For instance, the mahogany dining table and chairs were commissioned by First Lady Mary Jo Patterson, wife of Gov. John Patterson, and were made by the Southern Craftsmen Company of Andalusia, Covington County. The seat covers on the chairs bear symbols associated with Alabama history, such as flags and coats of arms. These were made by the Mountain Brook Chapter of the Needlepoint Guild. There is also a sterling silver candelabra, a collection of punch cups, and a tray that were made for and used on the USS Alabama. During Gov. Albert Brewer‘s tenure, First Lady Martha Brewer established the First Ladies’ Parlor and asked each first lady who had lived in the house to provide a portrait to hang in the parlor. Martha also was responsible for adding new draperies and carpeting and refinishing some of the furniture.
In 1971, the Governor’s Mansion Advisory Board was established to supervise maintenance of the grounds, approve alterations, acquire suitable furnishings when required, and improve conditions of the mansion. This board consists of 17 members, including a representative of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, the chief architectural historian of the Alabama Historical Commission, the chief of finance, the chair of the Black Heritage Council, a history teacher appointed by the state superintendent, and the governor’s spouse.
Guided tours of the mansion are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. by appointment only. There are also candlelight tours during the Christmas season on the first three Mondays of December. Admission is free.