The WHITFIELDS stroll the grounds of GAINESWOOD
The attractive couple at left are General Nathan Bryan Whitfield and his young second wife. They walk the lovely landscape of the Demopolis, Alabama, home so carefully planned by the General.
To view a larger version of my painting, click here. The painting is based on a contemporary steel engraving done by artist John Sartain in 1860.
The house called Gaineswood is by far the most beautiful of all the antebellum homes preserved in Alabama. Whitfield has been called "the Thomas Jefferson of Alabama"; he single-handedly designed the magnificent house-- raised it from a simple log dogtrot cabin, using the labors of his own workers. Evidence of the crude beginnings of the manse can be seen in a wall cutaway in a first floor room.
For nearly 20 years Nathan Bryan Whitfield perfected his jewel. Artisans were imported to produce fine plasterwork. Clever innovations abound throughout the plantation, including a unique drainage system. Everywhere is evidence of his thoughtful meticulous device -- like the curved covered walk outside his wife's rooms, a place for her to discreetly take the air while awaiting the birth of their baby.
The main floor inside the house was filled lovely furnishings; many original pieces are there today. You may visit the General's wonderful home.You may view the twin domes that are the focal points of the first floor architecture-- each embellished with delicate plaster honeysuckle patterns. See a musical instrument invented by the gifted General; it stands in the drawing room and is called a flutina. Whitfield also played the pianoforte, bagpipe, harp and violin. He also painted; a portrait that he did of his father attests to his talents. Dances were held in the ballroom. French vis-a-vis mirrors reflected to eternity, the images of the whirling couples; you may see yourself too in those mirrors if you visit. On the main floor the rooms occupied by Whitfield and his wife can still be seen in their comfortable loveliness. A huge carved bed with a pineapple motif dominates the master bedroom.
Nathan Bryan Whitfield (1799-1868) fathered 13 children -- 12 of whom were born to his first wife. The children's rooms upstairs are plainly designed. Large but spare. A governess stayed there with them in those rooms. One governess who passed away unexpectedly, is said to walk the halls still...
Outside, a pineapple finial topped a gazebo, an elegant refuge from the summer heat. Fine Greek statuary stand guard in the formal gardens, sumptuous flowers spill from urns.
The grounds were the site of a notable historic event. In 1842, Whitfield's great friend General George Gaines, the Choctaw factor, met with the great Pushmataha. Under a huge oak tree (that was still standing as late as 20 years ago), they signed a treaty which gave the terms of the Choctaw Removal.
The house awaits you. Go there and glimpse an age of hope and dreams -- gone for now.
Notes4U: Gaineswood, at 805 Whitfield Street East, in Demopolis, is operated by the Alabama Historical Commission and is on the National Register and is a National Historic Landmark. Growing on the lawn when the General lived, and growing now, were fragrant yellow honeysuckle, then an imported vine, and used as an architectural motif, now completely naturalized throughout the South. Jacob's Ladder, roses, quince, and buttercups also stud the landscape. A mallard duck admires the scene.
Illustrations and stories by Carol Middleton 1998, 1999,
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