2016 Christmas in the Canebrake (gallery)

Gaineswood to hold harvest celebration Oct. 17

Join us for some old-fashioned fun as we celebrate fall! On Oct. 17, Gaineswood will open the doors and grounds for a fall treat with no tricks attached.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. come and visit this one of a kind national landmark. The day will feature tours of the historic home, including the “haunted” basement. The grounds will be host to a variety of old-fashioned games such as horseshoes, marbles, jump rope and tug-of-war.

While the young folks and the men use such games to show off their prowess, the ladies can exhibit their skills through their culinary efforts. There will be a contest for cakes and pies, and another for jams and jellies. Perhaps more appealing to the children will be a pumpkin decorating contest. Contestants will furnish their own pumpkins and may have decorated them as they wish by painting, carving, or attaching items. All entrants in any contest must be registered and turned in by 10AM on Saturday, October 17th. Judging for all contests will be at 11 a.m., with ribbons and winners presented at 11:30 a.m.

Prices for the event-filled day will be $5 for adults, which includes anyone over the age of 18, and $2 for children under 18. So bring a picnic lunch and a blanket and plan to enjoy a day of relaxation 1850 style on the grounds of Gaineswood.

Bell, Friends of Gaineswood take over management of historic site

Carolyn Bell and the Friends of Gaineswood are now responsible for the day-to-day operations of the historic home.

Carolyn Bell and the Friends of Gaineswood are now responsible for the day-to-day operations of the historic home.

Carolyn Bell must be forgiven if she stumbles a bit calling to mind the history of Gaineswood and some of its features.

After all, she has been the site director of the historic home only since the first of the year. Bell still needs to sort through all the files and search through the storage units to see what is on site.

But her passion for Gaineswood is evident as she recounts its history and talks lovingly of the furnishings that make it one of the most unique homes in America.

Bell became director when the Alabama Historical Commission turned over the day-to-day operation of the home to the Friends of Gaineswood. While Alabama retains ownership of the Demopolis landmark and three other house museums around the state, it is relinquishing supervision and upkeep to local non-profit groups because it has no money to continue operating them, said Bell.

“We’re low on the priority list,” she explained. “This is part of the heritage of this area, and it needs to be preserved.”

Traditionally the home has been closed to visitors in January, but new days and times will be in place when Gaineswood reopens. Tourists may visit Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. beginning Feb. 3. Bell said the board also is opening the home on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sundays from 2-4 p.m.

Gaineswood 2The weekend hours have been added at the request of local residents who want to show off the home to guests, she said.

For the next three years the state will help the Friends of Gaineswood with financing for staffing, general maintenance, upkeep of the grounds and pest control –an estimated $50,000 annually. At the end of that time, all operational needs will be met with whatever the Friends can pay for, but the state will continue to fund major repairs.

The four house museums that are being released to friends’ organizations are the ones that draw the fewest visitors, Bell said. It is unfortunate, she continued, since Gaineswood is one of only 37 National Historic Landmark sites in the state. Others in the area are St. Andrews Episcopal Church and Moundville.

“Gaineswood is one of the most unique examples of Greek Revival architecture in the United States,” Bell said. The home features all three kinds of Greek columns: Ionic, Doric and Corinthian.

The Friends of Gaineswood board of directors has been meeting frequently in recent months to work through the transition and make plans for raising funds to keep the home open, she continued.

“We have challenges of how to raise funds and continue,” said Bell.

The board is offering memberships at $50 each, and donations always are welcome. The home’s gift shop will reopen soon and, said Bell, she hopes to offer unique items that are specific to Gaineswood, including the work of local artists and craftsmen.

Besides funding, Bell said Gaineswood is in need of part time help to give tours and docents to volunteer their time during special events.

Gaineswood has been through many hands since it started as a two-room dog-trot cabin built in 1821 by Indian agent George Strother Gaines. Gen. Nathan Bryan Whitfield bought the home in 1842 and a year later started an 18-year project of expansion.

Whitfield’s son, Dr. Bryan W. Whitfield, bought the home in 1866, and Edith Whitfield Dustin, his sister, purchased it in 1896.

The home was unoccupied for several years, and in 1923 ownership went out of the family. The state purchased it in 1966, and restoration began in 1971. It was opened to the public four years later and has welcomed visitors for 40 years.

Bell said that 70 percent of the furnishings in the house have been donated or are on loan from the Whitfield family, many of which were original to the house. The latest acquisition are silver serving pieces owned by Betty Whitfield, the general’s second wife.

Anyone interested in becoming a member of the Friends of Gaineswood or making a donation to the museum may send a check to the organization’s secretary at P.O. Box 531081, Birmingham, AL 35253. Donations also can be mailed to 805 S. Cedar Ave., Demopolis.

Photo of the Day: June 9, 2014

Friends of Gaineswood-0334

Thomas and Kayte Melton enjoy a dance at the Friends of Gaineswood 20th Anniversary Celebration.

A Gala For Gaineswood

Attendees of the Friends of Gaineswood's 20th Anniversary Celebration and Gala

Attendees of the Friends of Gaineswood’s 20th Anniversary Celebration and Gala

It was a fabulous time in a hot town Saturday night at the Twentieth Anniversary Celebration and Gala of the Friends of Gaineswood. The celebration was a night of frolic and fun while honoring those who have truly helped in ensuring Gaineswood’s restoration, preservation and interpretation. In these twenty years, the Friend’s of Gaineswood, along with a Save America’s Treasures matching grant, has raised over a half a million dollars to keep this beautiful treasure alive for all to behold.

One of America’s finest Greek Revival houses, Gaineswood is a visual masterpiece. Exceptional interior spaces have domed ceilings, elaborate plasterwork and a facing pair of gilt mirrors that endlessly reflect each other in the ballroom. Designed by owner and amateur architect General Nathan Bryan Whitfield, Gaineswood was constructed during 1843-1861. Some of the elaborate work was executed by African-American slaves. The house museum contains many original Whitfield family furnishings and objects. The grounds features a gazebo, a slave house and a small building that was most likely a detached kitchen.

The night started by being greeted at the door and walking under a beautifully decorated white tent with an array of music being performed live by “The Grand Band”. The food was catered by “Catering by Gayle” from Marion, Alabama. The caterer, Gail Rayfield, chose an excellent menu of southern style hors d’oeuvres. She served everything from shrimp and rice to sweet potato tartlets and every kind of mini cupcake your pallet could desire.

Nellie Whitfield Ulmer, one of the oldest living descendants of the Whitfield family was in attendance for the celebration.

Nellie Whitfield Ulmer, one of the oldest living descendants of the Whitfield family was in attendance for the celebration.

Soon to be 91 year old Nellie Whitfield Ulmer, one of the oldest living descendants of the Whitfield family, attended the beautiful soiree. She seemed to enjoy herself thoroughly along with her son and daughter-in-law M.B. and Luanna Ulmer, who traveled all the way from South Carolina to accompany her. And may I say, the South Carolina couple really entertained us all with their fancy footwork on the dance floor. What a joy it is was to meet them all.

Also traveling to Gaineswood for the gala was Dr. Terence Leary. Dr. Leary stated that he owns the cousin home of Gaineswood, the Whitfield-Holmes house, which was built in 1866 by Dr. Needham Hatch Whitfield, in Aberdeen, Mississippi.

John Northcutt, president of the Friends of Gaineswood, recognized all of the current and former members of the society.

Current Friends of Gaineswood board members include Northcutt; Tarlee Brown, vice president; Whit Bird, treasurer; William Gantt, secretary; Carolyn Bell; Mafus R. Bird; Annye Braxton; Bryan W. Compton; Laura Foster; Willard McCall; John McKinley; Peggy Ragland; Kelley F. Mullins; J. George Whitfield; and Becky Willis.

John Northcutt, President of the Friends of Gaineswood, speaks to attendees.

John Northcutt, President of the Friends of Gaineswood, speaks to attendees.

Mr Northcutt also thanked all of the corporate and individual sponsors for their donations over the years. Corporate sponsors include Vowell’s Fresh Market, RockTenn, CEMEX Materials, Clover Fork Coal, Robertson Banking Company, Best Western, attorney Bill Coplin, Colony Office Supply, State Farm agent Kris Mullins, M&W Productions and Parr’s, Inc. Individual sponsors include David T. Compton, Buddy Gallon, Archie and Lee Griffin, Buddy and Martha Griffith, Mr. and Mrs. Willard McCall Jr., Mr. and Mrs. John McKinley, John and Nancy Northcutt, Amme Whitfield, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Mason Paschall and Mr. and Mrs. John Osgood.

He then gave a special recognition to the founding President, Lee Griffin, for her years of service since 1994.

After enjoying the sights and sounds under the big top, we went inside Gaineswood for a grand tour narrated by the beautiful Gaineswood Belles. One of the Belles, Shoni Jones, stated, “My favorite part of the tour is have people stop in the back bedroom and look at the architecture of the “curved” window. All of the windows are flat but the way it was built gives the elision that the glass is curved.” How refreshing to meet a teenager who finds history and architecture exciting.

Shoni Jones, one of the Gaineswood Belles, is pictured outside of Gaineswood.

Shoni Jones, one of the Gaineswood Belles, is pictured outside of Gaineswood.

The food was fabulous, the band was a joy, and the company was a delight. If you weren’t there you really missed a party.

In an interview before the gala, John Northcutt stated, “There is still so much to do. This will be a year of changes and hard decisions for the Friends of Gainswood but I am confident we will come to a solution. We really can’t take our treasures for granted.” He hoped that having this gala would bring attention to those who might be interested in joining the Friends of Gaineswood and to help continue the preservation of this beautiful treasure.

If you would like to donate or become part of the Friends of Gaineswood, please contact the site director, Eleanor Cunningham or The Director of Collection and Interpretation, Bruce Lipscombe, at 334-289-4846.

Friends of Gaineswood 20th Anniversary (gallery)

Gaineswood set for 20th anniversary celebration and gala

Masthead Friends of GaineswoodGaineswood, the national historic landmark located in Demopolis, is recognized nationally as a leading example of Greek revival architecture. Over the years, Gaineswood has played an important role to the City of Demopolis and the Black Belt Region of Alabama through community outreach and community life. The Friends of Gaineswood, Inc, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit support group, plays a vital role in helping Gaineswood continue to educate and preserve the legacy that is Gaineswood. Please join us as The Friends of Gaineswood, Inc celebrates our 20th anniversary featuring The Grand Band, Saturday June 7.

Delicious heavy hors d’oeuvres and fabulous music will be provided as we celebrate this momentous occasion from 6:00 to 10:00 in the evening. We have worked hard the last 20 years to preserve our past. Celebrate with us as we look forward to ensuring Gaineswood’s future for years to come.

Grand Band GraphicA legend of the South, The Grand Band, has been pleasing audiences for over 25 years and 3,200 performance dates. Glenn Normand, the bandleader, came from New Orleans, so the music has to be exciting. Since the band formed to handle the weddings and conventions at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear, AL, the band has been asked to play and perform in over 100 cities in eight states. The Grand Band also played at the Governor’s Inaugural Ball in Montgomery. Everyone in the six member group sings and several play multiple instruments… but they will make you the star of the show with their audience participation and interaction. Guests will appreciate the widest variety song list on the Gulf Coast including songs of yesteryear, uplifting jazz, light rock, pop, standards and Motown.

Tickets are on sale for $50 a person and can be purchased by contacting The Gaineswood office at 334-289-4846. Deadline to purchase tickets is June 1, 2014.

Special tours will be given of the home during the Gala by our very own Gaineswood Belles. The Gala event will be located at Gaineswood Mansion, 805 S. Cedar in Demopolis.