Funds secured for restoration of Civil War general's home
By Deangelo McDaniel • The Decatur Daily • March 24, 2010
POND SPRING -- After years of lobbying and planning, the Alabama Historical Commission finally has enough money to restore Gen. Joseph Wheeler's home. And if everything goes as planned, it's possible the nearly 6,000-square-foot home will reopen to the public some time in late 2011.
"We're in the final design phase now, and we're advertising for construction bids," said Mark Driscoll, the commission's director of historic sites.
The money the state is using to restore the home totals a little more than $2.1 million and is coming from four sources: $469,899 in conservation bonds; $400,000 in education bonds; $200,000 from the Friends of General Joe Wheeler Foundation; and $710,000 in commission money.
Driscoll said there is an allowance in the bid package that includes returning the more than 30,000 pieces in the Wheeler Home collection to the site. Those items have been at an undisclosed location since restoration started. Driscoll said the state will be able to pin down a more definitive date for reopening the home after bids are opened in four to six weeks.
The state was able to save a significant amount of money by using labor through Alabama Correctional Industries. A 1976 act created ACI, and part of its mission is to "provide meaningful work and vocational training programs for inmates."
Driscoll said ACI is certified to deal with lead paint removal. Inmates have been at the site for about a month scraping paint off the home's exterior and replacing deteriorated boards.
"We're so excited to have enough money to finally get the home restored," Pond Spring site director Melissa Beasley said. "Right now, we're concentrating on the main house."
On April 10, Beasley is inviting volunteers to Pond Spring to help clean the grounds.
The event is part of the Civil War Preservation Trust drive to help clean and restore the nation's battlefields, cemeteries and shrines.
Union and Confederate troops fought on the grounds during the Civil War. In June 1864 Confederate Col. Josiah Patterson, of Morgan County, used Pond Spring as his headquarters.
Pond Spring is on Alabama 20 between Courtland and Hillsboro. The state has owned the site since 1993. Because of safety concerns, the state closed the home about four years ago, but it allows scheduled tours of the grounds.
The home, where Wheeler raised his family, was built after the war and showed significant deterioration after the state acquired the site. The 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 house. Sherrod turned the two-story dogtrot cabin into a Federal-style house with porches on the first and second levels. 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.
Wheeler, who was a general in the Confederate Army and for the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War, died Jan. 25, 1906. He also was a congressman for the district that included Pond Spring. Wheeler is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.