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John Looney Pioneer House Museum

Peter R. Thomas, Auburn University
John Looney House
The John Looney Pioneer House Museum (ca. 1820) is considered one of the oldest standing two-story, dogtrot houses in the state of Alabama. Located west of the Coosa River and east of Ashville, St. Clair County, it is a double-pen log structure representative of pioneer architecture in early nineteenth-century Alabama. The St. Clair County Historical Society acquired and then renovated the home as a museum in 1972. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1974. The historical society continues to operate it as a museum and offers guided tours of the home.
John Looney and his family made their way to Alabama with a wave of early settlers from neighboring states. Sources differ on John's place of birth, stating Tennessee and Virginia. In 1818, they settled in what was then Shelby County in the Alabama Territory. John and son Henry constructed the home that year roughly a mile away from its current location. Several members of the family reportedly had served with Gen. Andrew Jackson during the Creek War of 1813-14, which introduced them to the landscape and its appeal for settlement in what was then part of the Mississippi Territory.
In 1820, the Looneys disassembled the structure and moved it to its current location on a higher elevation to escape low-lying swampy and unhealthy conditions. John Looney died in 1827, leaving Henry as head of the household. He married Jane Rutherford, the oldest daughter of John Ash, in 1838. John Ash founded the city of Ashville, and Henry's marriage to Ash's daughter boosted Henry's influence in the area.
The house remained in the Looney family until 1892 when they sold it to John L. and Sam Houston Lonnergan. The Lonnergans owned the house until 1947, when they sold it to Col. Joseph R. Creitz. In 1972, he and his wife donated it to the St. Clair Historical Society, which restored the structure to its original form in order to use it as a museum.
The home is considered one of the most important historical locations in St. Clair County. Its architectural dogtrot style resembles pioneer lodgings in places such as Tennessee and Kentucky. The two-story log structure rests on piers. There is a slope to the roof that hangs above the front porch and is supported by four wooden columns. Logs are secured at the corners of the home with dovetail notching for support. One unique feature of the house's structure is that the logs decrease in size by one-half inch (height wise) from the foundation upwards. The house is flanked on either side by chimneys made from local brick. According to the 1974 NRHP survey, the exposed beams at the top are all intact, and the home's rafters are stabilized by eight-inch pegs situated in holes. The NRHP survey concluded that much of the original hardware to the house has been retained with the exception of one door.
One notable feature, typical of the dogtrot style, is the breezeway through the center of the house at the ground level. This breezeway is created between the two residential sections, or pens, by the single roof. This form of architecture ventilated the interior rooms of the home during hot and humid Alabama months. A staircase that stood in the breezeway connecting the first and second floors had been moved to the interior of the right half (when facing away from the house), for security according to NRHP documentation. The right pen, or half, features an entrance door that opens to the front, whereas the opposing pen, or left half, features a window. The second level contains a window on the front and rear. Inside the two pens, tools and household items typical of the era of the house are on display and there is an outbuilding to the rear.
The home is open Saturday and Sunday between 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Tours are available by appointment on select days, and group trips are welcome. Nearby in Ashville are the John W. Inzer Museum, the Ashville Museum and Archives, and the St. Clair County Courthouse, the oldest continuously operating courthouse in the state.
Published:  October 8, 2019   |   Last updated:  October 8, 2019