Living Democracy

Gaineswood Preserves History of Demopolis Past

Amy Hudson visiting Gaineswood“I wish I had a time machine,” said Courtney Flowers, 15, as she shared her love for the historic Gaineswood plantation home in Marengo County.

Courtney volunteers regularly where her mother works giving tours and helping preserve the historic landmark in Demopolis, Alabama.

Courtney’s mother, Gayle Flowers, remembers running around the house as a child. Her great-aunt married into the Whitfield family that called the plantation home for more than 80 years.

This nationally recognized historical landmark has attracted visitors from 32 of the 50 states and tourists from England, South Korea, and Australia to Marengo County. The Southern antebellum home is one of the best Greek revival estates in the nation.

Flowers is one of the knowledgeable tour guides who regularly share the history of Gaineswood and its remarkable artifacts. The guides, who are passionate about Marengo County’s history, provide tours that feel more like an interesting conversation than a dull, museum visit.

However, Gaineswood and other historic sites are at risk due to a bill that would eliminate the Alabama Historical Commission and state funding for Gaineswood, reverting the property over to groups such as the Friends of Gaineswood. If the bill passes, it is unclear how it will affect Gaineswood’s future. 

The father of Gaineswood, General Nathan Bryan Whitfield, came to the Black Belt region because of its promising, fertile soil. Flowers said, “He wasn’t making as much money as his dad’s cotton plantation in North Carolina, so he went to Alabama.” In 1842, Whitfield bought the land and dogtrot cabin from George Strother Gaines.

George Strother Gaines was the U.S. Indian agent who reportedly met with Chief Pushmataha of the Choctaw nation underneath an oak tree on the property. It became known as the Pushmataha Oak.

In 1856, Whitfield named his estate in honor of Gaines. He began adding onto his humble cabin for his growing family, which eventually grew to include 13 children. Sadly, his first wife Betsy died before the house was fully complete. “Building the house,” Flowers said, “was how he grieved.”

Whitfield was a “Renaissance man” of his own time. Three different column types were used throughout the home. He designed enormous, intricately decorated, domed ceilings to flood light into the rooms. He also designed the windows of the dome to open in order for heat to be released.

The Revolutionary War general’s artistic abilities can be seen throughout the home. He developed a musical instrument known as a flutina. It appears to be a piano, but it sounds like a children’s musical box.  He was also a talented painter. In memorial of his young daughter’s death, he painted a portrait of her---from memory---ten years after her death.

In addition to designing the home, Whitfield designed some of its furniture. He designed a special China cabinet to hold the unique centerpiece of the dining room table while the table was cleaned.

Flowers said she admires the symbolism Whitfield created throughout the home. “The wave represents eternity, and the cornucopia represents prosperity. Together, you have eternal prosperity,” she said, referring to the border embellishing the staircase. We can only hope this historic landmark will continue to flourish for many years to come.

For more information on Gaineswood, visit: http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-3020

Last Updated: July 01, 2015