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Brian Biddle and Brent Gooch install a sign required by the state as reno-vations at the Pond Spring homes continue.
Daily photos by Gary Lloyd
Brian Biddle and Brent Gooch install a sign required by the state as reno-vations at the Pond Spring homes continue.

Signs of renewal at Pond Spring
State giving historic Wheeler homes in Lawrence County $285,000 face lift

By Deangelo McDaniel
dmcdaniel@decaturdaily.com · 340-2469

WHEELER — If you’ve been enough times to Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s historic home at Pond Spring, you have probably seen the photograph of him sitting on the porch with his family.

A dogwood tree that is still living is the only landscaping in the photograph. Miss Annie Wheeler, the general’s daughter, hadn’t started planting boxwoods.

By summer’s end, the front porch of the general’s home will appear almost as it is in the picture. The only difference is that the piers will have lattice between them.

For almost three weeks, the Alabama Historical Commission has had workers doing what Site Director Melissa Beasley called a face lift and hip replacement for Wheeler’s home and the Sherrod House.

In addition to restoring porches on both homes, H&N Construction of Florence is adding support under the general’s house.

“Crews are replacing the rotten sills on the south and west sides,” AHC architect Mae Washington said.

Work progresses on the front porch of the Wheeler home.  The porches have not been safe for visitors to walk on since the state acquired the historic site nearly 14 years ago.
Work progresses on the front porch of the Wheeler home. The porches have not been safe for visitors to walk on since the state acquired the historic site nearly 14 years ago.
The cost of the project is $285,000.

The home’s foundation will be more stable after the project is complete sometime this summer, Washington said.

“We’re going to use any part of the wood that is still good, especially the trimwork,” Beasley said. “The trim will be stripped and restored.”

The porches have not been safe for visitors to walk on since the state acquired the historic site nearly 14 years ago. The house remains closed to the public, but the state gives tours by appointment to groups of 10 or more.

Beasley said scaffolds and treated lumber have supported both porches.

“It’s going to be so exciting to see this gone,” she said.

Relocation

Because of their closeness to the porch, workers had to relocate 14 boxwoods before restoration started. This was a tedious process, Beasley said.

“We moved them to locations where boxwoods had died,” she said.

Although Miss Annie planted most of the boxwoods after the general’s death, Beasley said it’s important to save all of them.

“The landscaping is part of the site,” she said. “Everybody comes here for different purposes, and the landscape is one of those purposes.”

Brent Booch installs a restoration sign, above, at the entrance to the Joe Wheeler Home. Meanwhile, this plaque from the PTA and schools of Lawrence County, left, sits at the entrance to Pond Spring. It was dedicated in 1930.
Brent Booch installs a restoration sign, above, at the entrance to the Joe Wheeler Home. Meanwhile, this plaque from the PTA and schools of Lawrence County, left, sits at the entrance to Pond Spring. It was dedicated in 1930.
The Sherrod House, which is surrounded by boxwoods, and the grounds have a human history that 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.

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

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.

‘Priority one’

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.

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 people reside within 50 miles.

Gold mine

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.

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