Special Extra -- Touring Demopolis: Gaineswood and
Tuesday, September 24. 2002
As you walk up the graveled carriage path, Gaineswood emerges
from the Pecan trees, Magnolias and Live Oaks to become more and more breathtaking the
closer you get. It's easy to understand why The Smithsonian Guide to
Historic America says Gaineswood is "one of the three or four
most interesting houses in America -- remarkable for its lavish Greek
Revival interior and for the imposing arrangement of its porticos and
other architectural elements." So, when you're expecting Greek
Revival, you expect some kind of classical symmetry and are looking
for it. How unexpected it is not to find it here! Gaineswood has no
two sides alike. Each facade is different and it's not the least jarring.
So often the homes of early nineteenth century southern planters were
cobbled together willy-nilly. Here, however, as we approach, it becomes
more and more apparent that this particular planter knew what he was
doing. It was beginning to look like we'd finally found the real
Inside we met Minette Henson who took us on an extraordinary tour.
Minette is a wealth of knowledge about the house, the history of its time
and the people who occupied it. One of the many regular visitors was
Bishop/General Leonidas Polk. We were pleasantly shocked to
see his portrait prominently displayed. Pearce has seen copies of
his cousin's portrait elsewhere and asked Minette if this were the original.
Unfortunately, it's not; so the search goes on.
Nathan Bryan Whitfield, a cotton planter and
renaissance man of his time designed and built Gaineswood between
1843 and 1860. The elaborate plasterwork inside is among the finest found
in any 19th Century residence in America. Whitfield's plans for even more
refinements to the house were interrupted by the War. during which he
entertained a number of Confederate Officers, principle of whom was Gen.
The Music Room
The Grand Ballroom
The Dining Room
Gen. Leonidas Polk, CSA
The tour was now becoming something of a search for
roots... even though the Polk genealogy is a bit far a-field, (third
cousin... etc.,) the history was fascinating. Leonidas Polk (The Fighting
Bishop) First Bishop of Louisiana and 33rd in succession in the American
Episcopate. Graduated West Point 1827. Resigned his commission Dec. 1,1827 to
study for the ministry. One of the founders of the University of the South,
Sewanee, Tenn. In 1860, joined the Confederate Army as a Major General.
Commanded the 1st Army Corps at the Battle of Shiloh, Apr. 10,1862. He opposed
General Sherman at the Battle of Atlanta and was killed in action by cannon fire
at Pine Mountain, Georgia,. where his monument now stands.
After an hour-plus private tour, We thanked Minette and Matt Hartzell, the
Museum Director who is developing a web site devoted to the house and its
history and moved on to Trinity Church where Bishop/General Polk worshiped and
where his chair still stands.
Trinity Episcopal Church,
The Bishop's Chair
Historical Church Sign
Magnificent surroundings and nice people make waiting out a
hurricane a little less tedious...
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