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QA with John Northcutt: Fund drive aims to help Gaineswood

Q: What is the Friends of Gaineswood organization and how did it get started?

A: The Friends of Gaineswood is a non-profit (501 c3) corporation. We were incorporated in 1996, so we&8217;ve been together for about 12 years now. We have a 15-member board of directors. Our board members are mainly from Demopolis but we do have others from outside the city.

Q: Why was the organization formed?

A: Lee Griffin from Valdosta, Ga. was the spearhead for this group. Some of her ancestors were from the original Whitfield family, so she wanted to restore Gaineswood as much as we could to its original landscape. She got a board together of local people and members of the Whitfield family from outside the area. We wanted to restore, renovate and maintain the mansion and help the Alabama Historical Commission in raising money for different projects.

Q: Did the group have any specific projects in mind to first work on?

There are two domed ceilings in the mansion, and when we first started those ceilings were supported by huge timbers sitting out on the floor inside the room, otherwise we were afraid they were going to fall in. We felt like our first objective had to be getting those domed ceilings fixed. That in fact has been done. Not only that, but the plaster has been redone, new wallpaper has been added and its just been modernized.

Q: What have been some more current projects?

A: One of the main projects in recent years has been with being designated as a Save America&8217;s Treasures project. One of the big items is to repair the roof. Others are putting in a wheelchair accessible ramp and repairing some columns near the entryway to the house. They have awarded a $260,000 grant and we have to match that grant. So we have been raising funds to match that grant.

Q: How does the organization raise funds?

A: We have 400 members, locally and throughout Alabama and the Southeast, and their membership fees go to the fund. Charles Goodwin, our secretary, has done a wonderful job applying for grants on behalf of the Friends of Gaineswood. So far well over half a million dollars has been raised to restore the site.

What else does the organization use its funds for?

We try to support the major programs for the year, such as Harvest Fest/ Gaineswood Day in the fall and Heritage Days for students.

Why do you think it is important for the community and those associated with the site to support this site and its restoration?

I think Gaineswood has been recognized as one of the premiere architectural Greek revival buildings in the South. As far as prominence to Demopolis, many people throughout the country are aware of Gaineswood. It&8217;s building that Demopolis can be proud of, and one that we want to maintain for the community. It&8217;s a house that is known throughout Alabama and we need to preserve that heritage.