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The view from the big house: Restoration work is ongoing on the older Sherrod house as seen from the top floor of the Joe Wheeler home at Pond Spring.
Daily photos by Gary Lloyd
The view from the big house: Restoration work is ongoing on the older Sherrod house as seen from the top floor of the Joe Wheeler home at Pond Spring.

Pond Spring

Historic Lawrence home undergoing restoration

By Deangelo McDaniel · 340-2469

WHEELER — Wouldn’t you like to know how the front porch of Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s home looked when former slaves constructed it in the 1870s?

By year’s end, you will.

The Alabama Historical Commission has accepted bids to restore the front porches on the Wheeler Home and Sherrod House.

H&N Construction of Florence will start the $285,000 restoration project in late February, said Mae Washington, who is architect of the commission’s historic site division.

“We’re also going to do some foundation restoration and stabilize the carriage house,” Washington said.

“Basically, what we’re doing is giving the houses a face lift and hip replacement,” Site Director Melissa Beasley said. “These projects are important because they are going to show what the front of the houses looked like more than 100 years ago.”

Almost since the state acquired the historic site in 1993, scaffolds and treated lumber have supported the porch fronts.

“I’ll be so glad when we can remove them,” Beasley said, referring to the scaffolds.

The state is using early photographs that show how the houses looked before voters elected Wheeler to the U.S. Congress in 1880.

These pictures reveal, for example, that brick piers supported the front porch of the Wheeler home.

“We’re going to remove the stone and concrete and put back the lattice between the piers like it was when Miss Annie (Wheeler) was here,” Beasley said.

Gen. Joe Wheeler’s home at Pond Spring.
Gen. Joe Wheeler’s home at Pond Spring.
Miss Annie was the general’s daughter and the last Wheeler sibling to occupy the home.

The state did paint analysis when restoration started in the late 1990s and realized that the original color of the porch ceiling was sky blue.

Homeowners typically painted porch ceilings sky blue to confuse flies because they will not land on the sky, Beasley explained. Wheeler’s home had dark green shutters and a red tin roof.

“These two items are not included in this project,” Beasley said.

The history of the Sherrod House dates to before Alabama gained statehood.

John P. Hickman, the plantation’s first owner, came to Pond Spring in 1818 with 11 family members and 56 slaves.

Before selling the 1,760-acre plantation to Col. Ben Sherrod in 1827, Hickman constructed a two-story log home. Sherrod turned the two-story dogtrot cabin into a federal-style house with porches on the first and second levels.

“Basically what the Sherrods did was fancy up a log cabin,” Beasley said.

The family added the porches about 1830. The inside and outside banisters match, suggesting that they were constructed at the same time.

Beasley said workers will salvage and use as much of the original wood as possible.

“We have to replicate some of the original banisters,” she said.

With the exception of the already restored slave quarters, the Sherrod House is the oldest structure on the site.

Sherrod’s grandson inherited the estate and married Daniella Jones, who lived on the nearby Caledonia Plantation. The newlyweds lived at Pond Spring.

After her husband’s death in 1861, Daniella moved back to her parents’ plantation, where she met Wheeler in October 1863.

Wheeler and Daniella married in 1866 and lived in New Orleans before the couple moved back and constructed the “Big House” at Pond Spring.

Several state-hired organizations have ranked Pond Spring restoration “priority one” and called the plantation site the most intact and complete site that reflects life before and after the Civil War.

In 1999, the Historical Commission hired Economics Research Associates of Washington to survey historic sites owned by the state and to determine where AHC should spend its funds.

Pond Springs ranked first

The organization ranked Pond Spring first, saying that the site had the second-strongest residential market among the 17 state-owned sites. The report said 200,000 residents live within 25 miles of the plantation, and 855,000 reside within 50 miles.

Tom Gallaher, who presented the report in 2001, called Pond Spring a gold mine.

He said the artifacts in the Wheeler Home show what wealth allowed you to do and what poverty made you do. He referred to the contrast between the lives of owners and slaves and later the owners and tenants who lived on the property after the Civil War.

The state has moved the more than 30,000 pieces in the Wheeler collection to an undisclosed location while workers do the restoration.

Although more than a $1 million has been spent on the site, the house Wheeler lived in is closed because it is unsafe.

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