John McGee Parkman, Sturdivant Hall, Selma, AL – 1864



Danny Parkman at age four took this photo of his dad, Daniel Parkman in front of Sturdivant Hall circa 1997 on way to brother Mark Parkman’s wedding in Indiana.

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John McGee Parkman’s dad, Elias Parkman, had moved from Boston to Selma where Elias became a merchant and John a local bank president during the Civil War. He had purchased cotton stocks with the bank deposits. The soldiers had arrested him as the cotton stocks had plunged and the bank deposits had been lost. His friends had devised an escape from jail. They got a barrel of whiskey and got the guards drunk. Parkman then escaped the jail made a run for a boat hidden at the river where he was shot and drowned. They say his “ghost” now haunts The Sturdivant Hall. Ironically, a cousin of John McGee Parkman was Colonel Robert Gould Shaw who commanded America’s First regiment of 1,000 Black Americans during the Civil War (see previous page 2 of this blog for more details). The designer of the Sturdivant Hall was Thomas Helm Lee a cousin to General Robert E. Lee. Next door is a house that President Abraham Lincoln’s wife’s sister owned. Now Sturdivant Hall is a museum that is used for social events including weddings. Selma is where the “Bloody Sunday” march started with Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr. Mary Parkman Peabody participated in a restaurant sit in St. Augustine, FL and was jailed. Mary’s son was Gov. Chub Peabody of Mass.>




Sturdivant Hall, also known as the Watts-Parkman-Gillman Home, is a historic Greek Revival mansion and house museum in Selma, Alabama, United States. Completed in 1856, it was designed by Thomas Helm Lee for Colonel Edward T. Watts.[2] It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 18, 1973, due to its architectural significance.[1] Edward Vason Jones, known for his architectural work on the interiors at the White House during the 1960s and 70s, called it one of the finest Greek Revival antebellum mansions in the Southeast.[3]

Construction of what is now known as Sturdivant Hall began in 1852, but was not completely finished until 1856.[2]Following completion, Edward Watts and his family lived in the house until 1864, when the house was sold and the family moved to Texas. The house was purchased from Watts by John McGee Parkman, a local banker, for the sum of $65,000 on February 12, 1864. Following the end of the American Civil War, Parkman was made president of the First National Bank of Selma. The bank engaged in cotton speculation and accumulated huge losses. The military governor of Alabama, Wager Swayne, had his Reconstruction authorities take possession of the bank and arrest Parkman. He was imprisoned at the county jail at Cahaba.[4] Assisted by his friends, Parkman attempted to escape from the prison on May 23, 1867, but was killed.[3][5]

The house was sold at auction for $12,500 in January 1870 to Emile Gillman, a prominent Selma merchant. The Gillman family owned the house until 1957, when it was sold to the City of Selma for $75,000. A large share of the money for buying the house came through a $50,000 bequest from the estate of Robert Daniel Sturdivant, with a provision for setting up a museum in the city. The mansion was turned into a house museum after the purchase and named in honor of Sturdivant. The property continues to be maintained into the present day by the City of Selma, Dallas County, and the Sturdivant Museum Association.[3][5]

The house is a two-story brick structure, stuccoed to give the appearance of ashlar. The front facade features a monumentally scaled hexastyle portico utilizing 30-foot (9.1 m)-tall Corinthian columns. The front portico is accessed from the second floor by a cantilevered balcony with an intricate cast-iron railing. Identical front doorways on both levels feature elaborate Greek Revival door surrounds with full Corinthian columns to each side of the door.[5]

The side elevations of the house feature a small cantilevered balcony on one side and a wide first floor porch surmounted by another balcony on the other. Both make use of elaborate cast-iron structural and decorative elements. The rear elevation is dominated by a monumental distyle in antis portico with two Doric columns. A kitchen, smokehouse and two-story servants’ quarters are set at right angles to the rear portico, forming a semi-enclosed courtyard to the rear of the house. A low pyramidal hipped roof covers the main block of the house, as well as the front and rear porticoes. It is crowned by a small cupola.[5]

First floor hall and cantilevered staircase

The interiors of Sturdivant Hall reflect the growing taste for opulence in the United States during the 1850s.[2] The first floor has elaborate plasterwork and millwork throughout, with the drawing room and ladies parlor being the most detailed. They both feature door surrounds with Corinthian columns and are ringed by paneled pilasters, topped by plaster cornices. The main entrance for the first floor enters a L-shaped front hall, with a cantilevered staircase in the side portion of the hall. Other rooms on the first floor are the dining room, gentleman’s parlor, and the warming room. The second floor houses a T-shaped hall and four bedrooms. From there, another cantilevered stair leads to an attic-level landing. From this landing a spiral stair winds around a central pole up to the cupola.[5]


The house has at least one ghost story associated with it. Sturdivant Hall is featured in a short story by Kathryn Tucker Windham, in her 13 Alabama ghosts and Jeffrey. The story, “The Return of the Ruined Banker”, involves John Parkman and the purported return of his ghost to the house after his death.[6]


Elias Parkman House, 721 Parkman Avenue Selma AL . Elias Parkman was amongst Selma’s pioneers having opened Selma’s 5th business. His house is amongst thee oldest in Selma built before 1839. See the Selma architects tour book below for photos and descriptions of the Sturdivant Museum, Parkman house and Marty Todd White (Lincoln) house pages 9 & 12:


The ghost of John McGee Parkman story @ Sturdivant Hall:

Kathryn Tucker Windham [film] tells the ghost story of John Parkman who haunts beautiful Sturdivant Hall in Selma, Alabama


Kathryn Tucker Windham [film] tells the ghost story of John Parkman who haunts beautiful Sturdivant Hall in Selma, Alabama



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John McGee Parkman: The legendary “ruined banker” who still resides at Sturdivant Hall (his home in Selma). Legend has it that while serving time in the federal prison at Cahawba for poor investment of bank funds, Parkman attempted a daring escape with the aid of his friends. Legend has it that Mr. Parkman was either shot to death or drowned after diving into the Alabama river. Grave marker reads: “In Memory of John M. Parkman. Born January 12, 1838. Died May 23, 1867.”

His grave memorial:


This is the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma, AL where in 1965 Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and Andrew Young lead a march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama in a peaceful protest for Civil Rights to gain the right to vote for blacks.


3 Responses to “John McGee Parkman, Sturdivant Hall, Selma, AL – 1864”

  1. Harold Parkman Says:

    According to information I obtained many years ago from the Sturdivant Hall Museum, it was John’s father who first came to Selma in 1817, where John was born in 1838. His father was named Elias which makes him most likely a direct descendent of the first Parkman in America. The Elias Parkman house is located at Parkman Avenue and Tremont Street, the latter name being also the name of one of the oldest streets in Boston.

  2. Ghastly Von Gore Says:

    Reblogged this on Ghastly Girl : Paranormal News and commented:
    Geneology information on Sturdivant Hall found in our Alabama Database from those connected with the family!

  3. Selma – Civil Rights | 2012 Patriot Says:

    […] […]

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