My family loves history and architecture, touring historic sites and taking impromptu road trips. And as a result of this, we are constantly seeking little hidden places to go and gems to find. I’ve posted about some of those little gems from time to time and a lot of them are around my hometown of Florence, Alabama. Every time I go and visit, it seems like we discover more interesting little tidbits about the area.
We were in Florence visiting my mom a couple of weeks ago, and had heard that an old home…a plantation, actually…had been restored and reopened recently, so of course we had to go and check out this latest “find.” I’m offering to take you along on this little road trip of ours, if you’re interested, and inviting you to step back in time with us and take a peek into a slice of southern American history, and the history of North Alabama, in particular.
Pond Spring Plantation was the home of General Joseph Wheeler, former Major General of Cavalry of the Confederate western army, The Army of Tennessee. Many local sites have been named after General Wheeler, including the nearby Wheeler Dam on the Tennessee River. After the Civil War, Wheeler fought again as a Major General in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War, earning the well deserved nickname “Fightin’ Joe” Wheeler. After the Civil War, Wheeler became a long time and noteworthy U.S. congressman, and was known as a national symbol for reunification and reconciliation in the late 19th Century. And as a U.S. congressman in the early part of the 20th Century, he was a driving force for progressive economic direction and growth in North Alabama. Quite a remarkable and accomplished man.
Wheeler and his wife Daniella Jones Sherrod came to live at Pond Spring, which was her family home, 4 years after they were married. The “home” is actually a complex of 3 homes spanning the three families who have owned this land. One of the most interesting aspects of Pond Spring Plantation is that almost all of its original buildings and outbuildings are still standing, which is quite rare. The 50-acre site includes a double log cabin with a dogtrot built around 1818, a circa 1830 Federal-style house (the Sherrod home which became the wing to the Wheeler house), the Wheeler home, eight farm-related outbuildings, family cemeteries, an African-American cemetery, a small Indian mound, a pond, and extensive garden areas. The Wheeler home itself has been made into a historic house museum, which contains the General and his family’s memorabilia, furnishings and clothing—all items original to the house and spanning a time period from 1868 through 1955 when “Miss Annie,” the last of the Joe Wheeler family, died.
The carefully and lovingly restored home and surrounding property had been closed for a decade and just reopened to the public as a museum on Memorial Day of this year. Funds are still being raised by the Foundation to continue to restore all of the buildings on the property before they collapse beyond repair, and the stables are chief amongst those in need of help soon. At the time of this writing, you can tour the main museum, the double log cabin, the old office building and the family cemetery, as well as walk around the wing which is in progress of being restored, the main barn, the ice house and the store barn with its interesting metal shingle roof still intact. It’s my hope that funds will be secured in the near future to enable restoration of the gardens and clear some of the scrub in the area so that you can see the pond, the African-American cemetery and the Indian mound, as well as continued restoration of the rest of the buildings. What a complete historic picture that would make!
If you live in the area, or are just passing through, I’d highly recommend the very informative and inexpensive guided tour of the home. And if you’re interested in historic preservation and want to become part of preserving an important piece of it, you can visit The Friends of the General Joe Wheeler Home Foundation website by clicking here to see how you can help.
And we’re back at the main house. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little bit of North Alabama history and my tour of Pond Spring Plantation.