601 South Clinton Street
N.B. Originally published as part of “Newsworthy Haunts 5/10/13—Alabama’s Battlefields and Charleston’s Jail,” 10 May 2013; republished as part of “’Twas the Night Before Halloween—Recycled Revenants,” 30 October 2017.
Originally called Pleasant Hill, this home was built by the Reverend Robert Donnell, a Presbyterian minister and native of North Carolina. Donnell moved into his newly completed home in 1840 and died here in 1855. The house remained in his family until 1869 when it passed out of the family and became home to the Athens Male Academy. It later became a public school and is now surrounded by Athens Middle School. The house is occasionally opened to the public.
During the Civil War, this home was commandeered by Union troops under Colonel John Basil Turchin, a Russian soldier who led the Sack of Athens in 1862. The Donnell family remained in the house during this time with Rev. Donnell’s 16-year-old daughter Nannie lying sick in bed while the troops camped on the lawn. Reportedly, she was kept awake by the soldiers’ constant carousing and music. Even after the soldiers were asked to settle down so the girl could sleep, they defiantly responded, “Better she should go to Heaven listening to Yankee music!” Young Nannie died of scarlet fever a short time later.
The executive director of the house, Jacque Reeves, author of the book Where Spirits Walk, has stated that Rev. Donnell’s spirit remains here. “He is having Bible study, and his mother is making biscuits for the guests,” she writes. According to author Shane Black, one couple touring the home was greeted by an “austere” gentleman who welcomed them to his home. Nannie Donnell is also thought to be here as well, with playful laughter and the crying of a child heard coming from her former bedroom. These spirits may also be joined by others, including Union and Confederate soldiers and slaves.
I have covered two other haunted places in Athens including Founders Hall on the Athens State University Campus, and the Houston Memorial Library is the representative haunting for Limestone County in my Haunted Alabama County by County series.
- Black, Shane. Spirits of Athens: Haunting Tales of an Alabama Town. NYC: iUniverse. 2009.
- Kazek, Kelly. “Paranormal investigators visit Civil War sites in Alabama; ghost says, ‘huh?’” AL.com. 9 May 2013.
- Floyd, W. Warner. National Register of Historic Places form for Donnell House. 1 August 1973.
- History. The Donnell House. Accessed 14 May 2015.
- Langella, Dale. Haunted Alabama Battlefields. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.