Sturdivant Hall stands upon a spacious lot (292 feet 6 inches on Mabry and Union Streets and 408 feet 9 inches on McLeod Avenue) which was purchased by Edward T. Watts for $1,830.00 on April 19, 1852, at a public sale from A. J. Campbell, Register in Chancery.
The mansion was erected in 1853 under the direction of Thomas Helm Lee of Selma costing $69,000. Mr. Watts, his wife Louisa M., and his family lived here until February 12, 1864, when the property was sold to John McGee Parkman for $65,000.00. Mr. Watts was the son of Thomas Watts and Sarah Wade Watts of Dallas County. His parents are buried at Adam Grove Presbyterian Church near Berlin. Mrs. Thomas Watts, a native of Wilkes County, Georgia, was the daughter of James Wade of Dallas County, Alabama. Louisa M., wife of Edward T. Watts, was the daughter of James E. Todd of Dallas County. Edward T. Watts was a member of the Selma City Council in 1857.
The legend is that after moving to Texas they erected a mansion identical to Sturdivant Hall. They left one daughter behind, Ella F., who had married Virgil Gardner Weaver of Selma. Mrs. Weaver died childless in Selma, March 12, 1873.
The new owner, John McGee Parkman, was born in Selma, January 12, 1838, and died at Cahaba on May 23, 1867, at the age of 29. Mr. Parkman was the son of Elias Parkman, a merchant who came to Selma in 1817, and Maria R. Parkman. An industrious and ambitious young man, Parkman progressed from dry goods to clerk, to bookkeeper, to bank teller, to bank cashier.
In 1866, he was made President of the First National Bank of Selma, a newly organized bank with capital of $100,000.00 The bank became engaged in cotton speculation, a common error of the times which brought ruin to many of the best established commercial houses. Losses sustained from speculation caused Gen. Wager Swayne, Commander of the Federal troops in Selma District, to take possession of the bank and arrest its President. There were large deposits in the bank belonging to the United States government.
Imprisoned in Cahaba, Parkman was drowned in the river while trying to escape. Prior to this affair, John Parkman maintained a character of irreproachable honesty. Mr. Parkman was survived by his widow, Sarah J. Norris, daughter of Calvin Norris of Mobile and niece of William Jefferson Norris of Selma, and two daughters, Emily Norris Parkman and Maria Hunter Parkman.
On January 4, 1870, William H. Fellows, as administrator of the estate of John M. Parkman, deceased, conveyed the property for $12,500.00 to Emile Gillman, a prominent Selma merchant and property owner. The home remained in the Gillman family until the fall of 1957 when it was purchased by the City of Selma from Mrs. Augusta Gillman Bibb and Mrs. Adolph Gillman Russell for $75,000.00. Of the purchase money, $50,000.00 came from the estate of Robert Daniel Sturdivant, deceased, whose will made provisions for setting up a museum in the City of Selma. The balance of the purchase money came from the City Council of Selma and Dallas County Board of Revenue, who provided $12,500.00 each.