The Battle-Friedman House was built in 1835 by Alfred Battle and his wife Millicent Beale, whose portraits you see on either side of the piano in the south parlor. The Battles were from North Carolina and came to Alabama in the 1820’s. They owned three large plantations in what is today Hale County. Portions of their property were located in what was then Greene and Tuscaloosa counties.
The original Battle house consisted of the two front rooms or parlors, and the entrance hall. The rear dining room and the front portico were added in the 1840’s and we believe that the side hall and south dining room were added just prior to 1860. Originally the stairway for the house was located in the front entrance hall and the two front parlors were separated from the hall by pocket doors.
The front portico is similar to ones which grace many large antebellum houses in Tuscaloosa and it is thought that one unknown builder was probably responsible for designing and constructing all of them. Please note the typically Tuscaloosa style paneled columns which encase whole tree trunks. The house is brick with plaster over the front facade only. The finish on the plaster is called faux marbre, or false marble. Faux finishes were quite popular in Tuscaloosa in the nineteenth century. The Jemison-Van de Graaff Mansion is another example of a house with a faux finish. On this house the finish is meant to represent rose marble.
The Battle family owned the house until 1875 when they lost it due to foreclosure in the last dark days of Reconstruction. The house was bought by the Friedman family. The head of the family, Bernard Friedman, was a Hungarian Jew who had come to Tuscaloosa as a peddler, opened a store, and became a respected member of the Tuscaloosa business community. The Friedman family owned the house until 1965 when it was willed by Hugo Friedman to the City of Tuscaloosa. The house is leased by the city to the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society which runs and maintains it.
In 1844, Mrs. Battle had the garden laid out by Peter McArthur, an English gardener who was traveling through the south. He designed the intricate pattern of interlocking diamond shaped beds. It was probably at the same time that the Battles constructed the greenhouse or fern house which you see on the south side of the garden. This is one of the oldest greenhouses in existence in the state of Alabama. Over the years the Friedman’s embellished the gardens by adding a gazebo and the fish pond.
In 1996, the Preservation Society undertook the restoration of Mrs. Battle’s garden. This was made possible by a generous donation from Mrs. Anne Boyd Russell. Mrs. Russell donated over $75,000.00 to the project because she remembered, as a child, hearing her mother sing “It’s not raining rain you know, it’s raining daffodils. A further generous bequest by Tennie Davidson allowed the Society to finish the project and also undertake other projects which would not have been possible without her legacy. The restored gardens reflect the evolution of gardens from 1844 through the early twentieth century and contain a wealth of mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century plant material including camellias, azaleas, boxwood, hydrangeas, roses, spirea, flowering quince, crepe myrtle and dogwoods. The gardens are now known as the Anne Boyd Russell Gardens.