It’s time to take a trip to southwest Alabama and this time we’re heading to Demopolis! Today we’re checking out Gaineswood which comes in at number 2 on the #TrickOrTerpoCountdown! Ok, before we get started, this one has a little more history than some of the previous stories, but y’all…it’s a beautiful home and worth the read if you like real estate or history!
Gaineswood is a plantation home in Demopolis, AL and is one of the grandest homes ever built in Marengo County. Having risen from “dogtrot” to a National Historic Landmark over four decades and six additions, Gaineswood became one of the most significant examples of Greek Revival architecture remaining in America.
The home was originally constructed as a dogtrot style home (see notes below) in 1821 by George Strother Gaines and sat on a 480-acre parcel of land. A man by the name of Nathan Bryan Whitfield moved from North Carolina to Marengo County and purchased the 480-acre property and dogtrot home in 1843. Whitfield realized he needed room to accommodate his large family and many important guests. In total, Whitfield had 12 children both natural and adopted. Upon purchasing the property, Whitfield decided to construct a mansion around the dogtrot home originally built by Gaines. The dogtrot would become the nucleus around which Gaineswood was constructed.
Whitfield was not a trained architect, but he was extremely well traveled and well read, so he began construction on his family’s home which later became known as, “Gaineswood”. After beginning construction in 1841, he completed additions in 1843, 1847, 1855, 1856, 1860 and 1861 to accommodate his family. Construction of the 6,000 sq.ft. white stucco-covered brick home was completed on April 11, 1861, the eve of the Civil War, after being under construction for nearly twenty years. The property was named Marlmont but later renamed to Gaineswood in 1856 in honor of Mr. Gaines.
Soon after the home was completed, Mrs. Whitfield passed away. Mr. Whitfield knew he would need help keeping up with the housework and raising their children so he hired a young woman named Miss Carter. Miss Carter was to serve as a housekeeper and nanny for the Whitfield’s 12 children.
One winter, Mr. Whitfield allowed Miss Carter to send for her sister Evelyn to come down from Virginia for a visit and keep her company during the holidays. Evelyn was an accomplished pianist and from time to time, she would play the piano while Mr. Whitfield played the bagpipes. They would play Mr. Whitfields favorite tunes of Scotland – a genre of music Mr. Whitfield was quite fond of. During her stay at Gaineswood, Evelyn became ill and passed away despite the best medical care available. It was Evelyn’s wish to have her body sent back to Virginia but due to the ice and snow, it was impossible to have her body sent back immediately. It was decided by her sister and Mr. Whitfield that her burial would be postponed until spring to allow for the snow and ice to melt. Her body was laid in a casket and stored inside a heavy pine box which was sealed and stored under the stairs in the cellar.
Soon after Evelyn’s death, other housekeepers reported hearing the sound of footsteps ascending the stairs and into the drawing room where the piano stood. Then, while others were sleeping, Evelyn’s ghost would begin to play the piano once again. When the housekeepers entered the drawing room to find the source of the music, no one was there and the music would abruptly stop.
The snow and ice eventually melted with the arrival of spring and Evelyn’s body was sent home to Virginia, however, the piano tunes and late night footsteps continued. It was assumed that Evelyn’s ghost attached itself to Gaineswood because that was where she spent her final days. Some have assumed her ghost remained there because she was angry her body was not immediately sent home to Virginia. Either way, it’s an interesting story and the house…stunning!
If you REALLY love old homes and blueprints, click here for more details, drawings, and blueprints of Gaineswood!
- A dogtrot (or dog-run, possum-trot or breezeway house) was one of the more popular home styles in the Southeastern United States during the 19th and 20th century.
- Historically, a dogtrot house consisted of two log cabins connected by a breezeway all under one common roof.
- A dogtrot design usually separated cooking and dining on one side with the other side of the home reserved for private living and bedroom space.
- The purpose of the design was to allow for air flow and ventilation. The combination of the breezeway between the living spaces and the open windows in the rooms created air currents. The air currents would pull cool outside air into the living quarters which would then cool off the interior of the home. This was quite important seeing that these homes were constructed pre-air conditioning.
- The dogtrot was located at the present site of the south entrance hall and office.
- Several generations of Whitfields maintained Gaineswood as their primary residence until selling it out of the family in 1923.
- Gaineswood was added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 5, 1972.
- In 1966 it was purchased by the state of Alabama for preservation as a house museum.