The Powers Mansion
Haunted History of One of Decatur's Legendary Homes

The Powers Mansion on Decatur Street is regarded today as one of the city's greatest landmarks and a tribute to one of the leading families in Decatur history. Is it possible that this house may actually be haunted? Some of the previous owners have not wanted to say ---- but it's hard to ignore the decades of frightening occurrences that have plagued the house!

Members of the Powers family first came to Decatur in 1839, riding on horseback from Alabama. George and Samuel Powers had heard that a railroad was scheduled to pass through Decatur and that the city was a good place to settle. George bought some land and paid for a house to be built on it and then returned to Alabama to bring back his wife-to-be. Samuel stayed behind to oversee the construction of the house. The main portion of the structure was brick and was the first house of this type to be built in Decatur. Strangely, it was built on what was once, according to historical record, an Indian burial ground.

George Powers married Almira Avery Giles in Alabama in 1840 and their marriage trip consisted of the journey back to Decatur. George's mother, Abigail Powers, and his younger sister, Sarah Ann Powers, accompanied them. They arrived in Decatur in June 1840 and settled into the new brick home on Locust Street. George Powers had obtained the mail delivery contract for the city and he hired four young men to do the majority of the work. One of these was his younger brother, Samuel.

The Powers brothers invested extensively in land and farm ground and also bought parcels for their brother William, who was at that time living in Havana, Cuba. William later came to Decatur and built several buildings here, including Powers Hall. It was Decatur's first auditorium and the first theater to have an actual stage.
The family lived and prospered in Decatur for a number of years and Sarah Powers married Reverend Fielding Ewing in 1867, forever linking the two family names.

Samuel Powers lived with his brother George on Locust Street and in 1845, met Almira's sister, Caroline. He promptly fell in love with her and although she never seemed to return his affections, she agreed to marry him in 1846. They took over the house on Locust Street when George and Almira moved into the city. Here, all 10 of their children were born, with the exception of Carrie. At the time of her birth, Samuel was in California, looking for gold.
During the time he was away, the family suffered badly. Samuel apparently sent money to his wife, but it never arrived. Unbeknownst to him, Caroline was supporting the family by collecting every cent on notes and rents that Samuel had believed were worthless. She marketed grain and produce from the farm and managed to save a large sum of money.

Samuel returned from California with over $1,800 in gold and they combined this money with Caroline's investments to buy more land. Caroline took over the management of the family estate and did so well that banker James Millikin once remarked that she possessed more business sense than any woman he had ever known. This was a high compliment for a woman in those days.

Once Samuel returned from the gold fields, the family moved back to the farm. They had a six-year-old girl named Elizabeth Fry "bound" to them as an indentured servant, mainly to help Caroline with the quickly arriving children. In a situation like this, a child was given away by her parents to a wealthy family, who were in turn allowed to keep her until she turned 18. At that point, she was free to do what she wanted. A "bound" person was allowed food, shelter and the basics of life.

As Elizabeth neared 18, she fell in love with a local farmer but chose to stay with the Powers family. They had come to depend on her and she cared for them deeply. After the death of Samuel and Caroline, she remained in the home that Samuel built in 1865 at 595 Powers Lane. She worked as a housekeeper for their son, Frank, who never married. She died in 1929 at the age of 86 and was buried in the Powers family plot in Greenwood Cemetery.

The fourth Powers brother, Orlando, lived an exciting life before coming to Decatur. At the age of 16, he was shipwrecked during a voyage from New York to Cuba. He was on his way to join his brother William, who was representing a New York company's interests in Havana. The ship went down and Orlando floated with the remains of the vessel for 11 days. He was finally rescued by a French ship and taken to Bordeaux, France. He landed there with no money and only the clothes on his back. He was befriended by an Englishman, who generously provided him with clothing and helped him to arrange passage to America. When he walked into his home in New York, he was shocked to discover that his family believed him to be at the bottom of the Atlantic!

Orlando came to Decatur in 1849 to visit his brother George. He brought his wife Charlotte with him but they arrived three weeks after George's death. They learned the sad news at the end of their journey. Regardless, they liked the young city and decided to stay. The following summer, they moved into a house at Franklin and Wood Streets and Orlando went into the milling business and later opened a general store. He became one of the wealthiest men in Macon County and purchased a number of parcels of land all throughout Decatur.

In 1889, he built the Powers Opera House on the northeast corner of South Water and Wood Streets. It was regarded as one of the most beautiful opera houses in the country and on its stage appeared some of the greatest actors of the time. People came from all over to witness the performances here, including Ben Hur, which was done with live horses and real chariots on a giant treadmill.

The opera house was destroyed by fire in 1895 but Orlando rebuilt it to its original splendor. The building burned again in 1914 and the blaze destroyed most of the Powers block and the Linn and Scruggs department store. It is remembered as one of the worst fires in Decatur history. Orlando Powers lived to be 90 years-old and he died of a stroke while living in California. His body was returned to Decatur for burial.

Orlando's son, Charles, built a hotel on the site of the ruined opera house and in 1916, christened it the "Hotel Orlando" in honor of his father. The building still operates today as a residential hotel.

Charles is also remembered for the landmark that has come to be called the Powers Mansion on West Decatur Street. The house, called "Fleur-de-Lis" when it was built in 1910, was heavily influenced by classical architecture. There is a circular portico on the front of the house with massive columns that are said to weigh more than seven tons each. The house is a wonderful three stories with copper balconies that have taken on a greenish cast over the years. The entire third floor of the house was constructed as a ballroom and an electric elevator was installed to connect the upper floors to the basement garage.

Charles Powers' son, Jack, occupied the house after his father's death in 1926 but the house changed hands many times in the 1930's. In 1939, Sam D. Jarvis purchased it and it remained in that family until 1961.

After that, the house was abandoned and fell on hard times, serving for a time as an apartment house. The interior and exterior both deteriorated until there was little hope for the home's recovery. It was slated to be demolished until public support saved it a number of years ago. Several years after that, it was purchased by the Bachrach company and they made an outstanding effort to restore the home to its former glory. The house was used for several years for receptions and for lodging for visiting executives. In 2005, it was sold at auction and purchased by a private buyer.

Rumor, legends and eyewitness accounts have alleged that the house is haunted and some believe the restorations and renovations awakened the spirits who haunt this place. This may be true, but other tales tell of strange things happening during the years in which the house was abandoned and empty as well. Witnesses reported seeing lights that looked like candles floating about in the house when no one was there and pale apparitions looking out from the upper floor windows.

In more recent years, staff members at the house have recounted odd stories that have been verified by officers with the Decatur police department. It had been reported that on several occasions, movement inside triggered the alarm system at the house even though a thorough search of the place revealed that no one was there! In each case, none of the outside alarm monitors, at the doors or windows, were triggered. The alarm was raised because the motion detectors inside of the house picked up movement ---- from people who simply were not there!

In addition, many who stayed all night in the house maintained they would never do so again, claiming that, despite denials to the contrary, the house is very haunted. Most especially bothered by the strange events were male visitors, who reported having personal items disappear, hearing ghostly footsteps and strange sounds and even stated that the sheets were yanked from the bed in the middle of the night. One man, who stayed overnight in the house, complained of being awakened by an invisible force in the night that rocked and shook the bed repeatedly. Items around the room began moving and the light fixture overhead swayed by itself. He assumed the city was experiencing some sort earthquake and left his room only to find that nothing was moving in the hallway!

So, why were men so often targeted by the unexplained phenomena inside of the house? According to an old story, a murder once took place in the house when it was used as an apartment building. A woman was beaten to death by her boyfriend and she died in one of the bedrooms. The legends say that it is her ghost who remains behind in the Powers mansion, now taking her spectral revenge on the men who dare to stay there. Of course, this may be only a story, as it is repeatedly denied that the house is haunted. As they say though --- for a house that isn't haunted, it sure seems to have a lot of ghosts!

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Copyright 2006 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.