Grant will fund Gaineswood work

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 4, 2005

DEMOPOLIS – Just five years after starting construction on the Gaineswood mansion, owner Nathan Bryan Whitfield already saw a problem with his magnificent Greek-Revival masterpiece.

In a letter his daughter wrote in 1848, Whitfield learned of chronic leaks due to the mansion’s complex design.

“We have a letter written in 1848 by his daughter,” site director Matt Hartzell said. “She wrote that the roof was leaking into the parlor. So even then, the roof was a problem.”

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That’s why Hartzell was elated, he said, to hear Gaineswood was awarded a $260,000 grant from the Save America’s Treasures program.

An official project of Save America’s Treasures, Gaineswood is one of 61 projects in 29 states and the District of Columbia to receive funds. By law, each award requires a dollar-for-dollar non-federal match. States, localities, corporations, foundations, and individuals who value America’s heritage have pledged support for these important projects through financial contributions and in-kind services

Hartzell said the roof problems are not the result of damage, but rather of a man determined to to build a stunning, original structure unlike any others in the area.

“The original design was a very challenging undertaking,” Hartzell said. “Over time, the design flaws became apparent.”

The Alabama Historical Commission, he said, has wanted to renovate the roof since they took over ownership of the site 34 years ago.

After years of “dealing with the challenges,” he said, the historical commission commissioned an Atlanta-based architecture firm in 2001 to “retain the beauty of the original design, but make it efficiently shed water.”

The firm was hired by the historical commission to draw up plans for fixing the leaks, without sacrificing the unique contours and angles that make the mansion an architectural – not just historical – showpiece. But just as the firm neared its goal, the commission’s budget was slashed due to shortfalls in Alabama’s General Fund.

Gaineswood, Hartzell added, is known by history buffs across the nation for its unique architecture and the vast number of original furnishings, musical instruments and other objects it contains.

It was built just prior to the Civil War, from 1843 to 1861.

Hartzell said the roof work will be a “monumental challenge,” but one he’s anxious to get underway.

Another Alabama landmark to receive funding is Bethel Baptist Church and the Historic Bethel Baptist Church Community Restoration Fund in Birmingham. This National Historic Landmark church served as the headquarters of the Birmingham civil rights movement from 1956-1961 and was the target of three bombings in the years prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

A $215,000 Save America’s Treasures award will be used to reinforce failed roof trusses and repair exterior water damage.

Save America’s Treasures is a national effort to protect America’s threatened cultural treasures, including historic structures, collections, works of art, maps, and journals that document and illuminate the history and culture of the United States.

Established by Executive Order in February 1998, Save America’s Treasures was originally founded as the centerpiece of the White House National Millennium Commemoration and as a public-private partnership that included the White House, the National Park Service, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.