Friends of Gaineswood to take over day-to-day operation

Published 12:39 pm Friday, July 11, 2014


The Alabama Historical Commission wants Friends of Gaineswood, a local nonprofit, to take over day-to-day operation of the historic home.

The Alabama Historical Commission wants to turn over operation of Gaineswood to the people of Demopolis.

The desired change comes after years of declining state and federal funding as well as visitation at “house museums” across the state.

The commission wants to cede some control of Gaineswood, Magnolia Grove in Greensboro, Fendall Hall in Eufaula and Belle Mont Mansion in Tuscumbia to local nonprofits or municipal governments.

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While the commission would still own the properties and insure them, the state wants local groups or governments to manage each site and assume all costs.

All Alabama Historical Commission workers at Gaineswood will either be laid off or transferred by Dec. 31, 2014.

To help staff the home, Friends of Gaineswood, a local nonprofit, will be given $30,000 in 2015 to hire an executive director, who will not be considered a state employee.

“This transition is intended to bolster support and volunteerism for these sites in the local community,” said AHC Director of Historic Sites Stephen McNair. “One of our objectives is not to have any of these historic sites closed to the public, except for perhaps a brief period when we are coordinating the operations with the Friends of Gaineswood. The end goal is to protect the site, save taxpayers money and make each of these house museums self-sustainable with local partners.”

The move would be a gradual one, with local support taking on more and more expenses over a five year period. The goal is for all four sites to support themselves completely by 2020.

In 2013, Gaineswood brought in $6,292, but cost the state $127,533 to operate. Of the 13 sites operated by the commission, only Magnolia Grove generated less revenue with $2,552.

Friends of Gaineswood president John Northcutt said the nonprofit, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in June, is working with the commission about how to proceed.

“We will have to go about looking at ways to gain support, additional revenue, private donors and new partnerships,” Northcutt said. “It’s a whole new ball game about what is needed.”

Friends of Gaineswood board members will meet with the historical commission in the next 30 days to discuss the future. In addition to still owning and insuring the property, AHC will still maintain the home’s historic collections and will subsidize utilities, mowing/grounds care, pest control and security alarms.

McNair said Friends of Gaineswood would have no out-of-pocket overhead in 2015. After that, the nonprofit will be responsible for making up the difference.

The bottom line is the commission and Friends of Gaineswood want to keep the home open to the public.

“Gaineswood is a state and national attraction. It’s something we want to preserve and continue to operate,” Northcutt said.

Gaineswood is considered one of America’s finest Greek Revival homes. Nathan Bryan Whitfield started construction of the home in 1843 in what would have been the “countryside” of Demopolis, and it was completed on the eve of the Civil War.

The home is on the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973.

“The fact that Gaineswood is a National Historic Landmark is not lost on the Alabama Historical Commission,” McNair said. “We will continue to monitor the site and support the Friends of Gaineswood with the daily operations to the best of our ability.”