A Step Back in Time.

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.

View of walkway and entrance to the grounds of Pond Spring Plantation, the home of General Joseph Wheeler and his family.

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.

Detail of brick walkway to Wheeler home.

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.

Plaque underneath the Alabama historic marker on the front porch of the main home.

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 now for my tour, and I warn you, there are a lot of images! I’ll do my best to give you an idea of the grounds and all the buildings that can be accessed at this point, so please join me as we walk around the property for a few minutes. No photography is allowed inside the main buildings, as is so often required in order to preserve historic furnishings and memorabilia, but you can see more of the interior, along with some archival photos, at the Wheeler web site link in the above paragraph. And keep on scrolling, this post continues at the bottom!

View of the Wheeler museum main home of Pond Spring Plantation, with another 1830 Federal home wing attached. Old overgrown boxwood gardens surround the complex, and all outbuildings and the original double log cabin are to the sides and back of this house.

This house was originally a freestanding home before the Wheeler’s built their main home, attaching this one to use as a wing.

All porches have painted blue ceilings to help keep them cool.

The water pump in front of the main home.

A side screen door on the wing house which is currently being renovated to open to the public. The “window to the past” at the right of the door shows the original log construction of the home. Some plasters used on the property contain animal hair to help bond and cement the timbers.

This view from the upper porch on the back of the main house is of the Ice House and the gardens next to it. The stables, which are in dire need of restoration are to the right.

Behind the main house and wing, the building to the right was at one time the office of the plantation. Behind it is the original family home on the property, a double log cabin.

Of particular interest to me was the double log cabin, which has two spacious rooms with fireplaces, connected by a dogtrot in the middle. This was the original home that the first owners lived in. It had various uses and tenants over time.

A better view of the dogtrot bisecting the cabin. Dogtrots were breezeways built into homes to cool them before the time of air conditioning or even ceiling fans, and were so named because the area was so wide that the dogs trotted through them.

Detail of a shutter on the log cabin.

Detail of the log structure of the cabin.

View of one of the two chimneys on each end of the double log cabin.

The Wheeler family monument in the Wheeler section of the cemetery.

The interesting back of the headstone of General Wheeler’s son Thomas, who drowned saving a comrade at sea.

The inscription on a monument from a family in the cemetery reads that this one died at age 84 “without a spot or blemish.”

View of the boxwood Allee that leads from the home and outbuilding areas to the cemetery.

Behind the main home and wing is the store barn ( a storage area) with its original metal shingled roof. You can see the main barn off to the right.

Here you can see some detail of the original metal shingles that were on the main houses as well, but now only this one metal roof remains intact.

The main barn sits to the side of the the main home and wing.

Detail of the main barn, also an intact log structure.

View coming up the small hill from the barn back towards the wing and main home.

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.

But wait, where’s the food you say? Good question. I’d hoped that we might be able to see the old kitchen, but that was in the unrestored wing off the main house. And there weren’t any exciting restaurants in the immediate vicinity that we knew about. However, in my mind, I can just see something similar to this wonderful and seasonal old fashioned blueberry pie (recipe here) that my mom made, sitting on a windowsill in the kitchen of the Wheeler home cooling, and being served at their lovely dining room table as the crowning glory of an evening meal. Enjoy.

Mom’s pretty pie awaited our return from the tour of Pond Spring…yay!

I’ll have mine a la mode, please!

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51 thoughts on “A Step Back in Time.

    • It really was amazing, Tanya. Sadly in some ways, we were 3 out of only 6 people touring it. Not very many folks know about this place since it’s been closed for restoration for a decade, and before that it was almost in ruins. I’d never heard of it, but my mom had been there a long time ago and met “Miss Annie” before she died, then read in the local paper that it had reopened. So perhaps a teensy bit of clever photography, but not difficult to work around those few folks. It was wonderful to have it to ourselves so to speak! 🙂

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    • Thank you for reading and commenting, Noodle. Like you, I find myself more and more drawn to history as well as odd little places the older I get. Not sure if that’s just nostalgia, or part of aging, but I’m glad about it whatever it is! 🙂

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      • If you like history you need to hear about the Black side of the Wheeler family no one likes to talk about. Miss Annie Wheeler has a Black child. No one every asked why Miss Wheeler never married! Who is Joe Pat Owens? And his relationship to Miss Wheeler. Who owns the rest of the 16,000 acres that the Wheelers owned? Why isn’t there any public info? Deed book 34 will connect Joe Pat Owens (black man) to Miss Wheeler but the county refuses to reveal any legal deeds to the Wheeler Property.

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        • I recently started volunteering as a docent at the Wheeler Plantation. I would be interested in more information. Where do you obtain this information?

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          • You can find a lot online in Alabama Historic Places and records, and by simply looking up General Joe Wheeler and his family. Wikipedia has a lot. Otherwise if you want to research the comment Greg made above you might need to do genealogical research. Either way, it will take some research for sure and I have not pursued it.

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  1. What a great place to spend a day! Amazing that so many of the orignal buildings are still there and in such good shape. Thanks, Betsy, for thinking of us and taking so many great pictures. Next best thing to being there!

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    • It really was a great place, John, and it was a rare cooler day in North Alabama that day…it get’s hotter there than in Atlanta due to the humidity from the Tennessee River. That plantation is the only one in Alabama that still has all of its original outbuildings I’ve been told, but couldn’t verify. I hope this post will help bring attention to the place…they are having a big fundraiser in September and the stables only have so much time left before they fall.

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    • Thanks Mandy! We are blessed in the South to have a lot of these homes still intact in spite of the Civil War. It would be so cool to live in one with all of its history, though you need some rather deep pockets to maintain them, that’s for sure! 😉

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  2. You know, I’ve never been to a plantation. Thanks for making me feel like I was right there with you (I wish that I was). When I read this earlier today, I thought it said “dogrot” and I was thinking boy that is a strange name….”dogtrot” makes much more sense (clearly I need new glasses). I’d never seen this architectural feature before. What a treat to return to your mom’s beautiful pie!

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    • That’s so funny, Barb, you made me chuckle over “dogrot” and it conjures too many images! 😉 Dogtrots are not uncommon in the south due to the hot weather we’ve always enjoyed here. You see them still in many old homes, sometimes still open and some enclosed. In fact, when you go into the main Wheeler house museum of Pond Spring, you can see that it had a dogtrot running through the middle of it originally, before they closed it in at a later date and air conditioned the home. My mom’s family farm home has one, too, now enclosed.

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  3. Thank you for taking us along on this lovely day trip. I love trips like that too, particularly if there is a pie waiting for you on return. I love that peel that pie is sitting on, really cool. It makes for such a lovely presentation. I wish I had visited a plantation when I was down in Georgia, but sadly we ran out of time.

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    • You’re most welcome, Eva, and thanks for coming along! If you get a chance again, do visit a plantation. They are so interesting and this one is in particular because it’s such a complete picture with all the buildings. That’s my mom’s pizza peel, and we have one, too. Don’t know what I’d do without one. Her pie was lip smackin’ good…wish I had a piece right now! 🙂

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  4. That was a wonderful trip, thanks for the tour, I too have never been to a plantation, perhaps some day I will have the opportunity to visit some of the southern states. Thanks also for the history lessons, I look forward to reading and learning more from you.

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    • You’re most welcome for the tour and the history lesson, Norma, and thank you for coming along with me! I look forward to sharing more of these types of posts as time goes on. I hope you get to visit the south sometime soon!

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  5. A fabulous tour! I know so little about southern American history, so it’s a treat fo rme to see and read something so different. I love dthe woodwork details, the box allee and the dogtrot – the last one is a new word for me! But I can see how th edogtrot would work in the heat. An dyes a slice of blueberry pie would be perfect after a visit 🙂

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    • I’m so happy you enjoyed the tour, Claire, and that I could teach you a little about the American south and its old homes. I wish I could have shared the interior details of the museum, but light from flashes can do so much damage, plus they want to raise money to continue restoration so I understand. Dogtrot really is a funny, but appropriate term, isn’t it? They were quite common in their time. I’m going to have to make mom’s pie while the blueberries are in season. It was yummy. Thanks fo commenting! 🙂

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    • My mom is a great cook and her pies are a work of art. It was truly delish! Thanks for coming along for the “tour” Geni, and you’re most welcome. The log cabin was really interesting. You just don’t get to see many of those in their original state any more.

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  6. What a stunning home. Thanks so much for sharing. I’m so glad it hasn’t been demolished! We need to preserve our history. What a beautiful blueberry pie. I would love your mum’s recipe and how nice of her to bake this for your return – what a good mum! xx

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    • Hi Charlie, and thanks for taking my tour. I’m so glad you enjoyed it…and the pie! My mom just told me she’d baked another and decided to add some lemon juice, which she thought made it that much better. Thanks for reminding me I need to add that to her recipe here. She is a wonderful mum!

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  7. Well.. what a treat seeing that pie after a day of sightseeing.. for me as well;) I love visiting places like these.. it seems as though you could travel through time and actually hear the voices of those who used to inhabit these homes..

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    • Hi Smidge, and yes I agree, visiting these places makes me feel like I can hear the voices…the echoes of the past. This place was cool because they really just restored it and those furnishings that needed restoration or could be restored, so you felt the “originality” of life in the home. Pretty darn cool. 🙂

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    • I agree, Karen. I just hope they can raise enough money to save the structures that are so close to ruin. Evidently in this part of Alabama, if it falls to the ground it’s no longer considered under historic landmark protection, so they are literally having to net pieces falling off the building together and attach the net to the building to keep the stables upright and intact so that they don’t lose the structure before they can secure funds to reinforce it. Since is is one of very, very few remaining plantations that has all of its main and out buildings intact, it would be sad to lose that status.

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  8. Absolutely fascinating, thank you so much Betsy for taking the time to take us Back in Time, i also was fascinated by the log cabin, such a simple lifestyle. And all those gorgeous little designated buildings.. wow.. tremendous page! c

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    • Hi Cecilia, I thought some of this might resonate with you. I’m so glad you enjoyed the tour and the buildings! This was the first log cabin of this type that I ever remember seeing. When you walked in there, it was really stepping back a couple of centuries, and they had all the original furniture in there, too. It was very cool! Maybe you guys need a dogtrot with all this hot weather, eh? 🙂 We’re heading for 100 by Friday here, and it will be 107 in Alabama this weekend where these shots were taken. Maybe we need a dogtrot, too!

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  9. What a wonderful trip Betsy – I love the old barn photo, and that verandah painted blue… seems to calming to look at.

    I learned what a “dogtrot” was too… I’d never heard that phrase before 😀

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    • So glad that you enjoyed my tour, Charles, and especially happy to teach something new to you, and many others it seems. We are heading up to 106 degrees this weekend, they tell us, so I am wishing for both a dogtrot and a blue ceilinged verandah about now! 🙂

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  10. Pingback: Oh My, It’s a Pie! | bits and breadcrumbs

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