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Special Extra -- Touring Demopolis: Gaineswood and Trinity Church

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 antebellum mansion!

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. Polk.

     
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, Demopolis, Alabama                            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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