Historic Structures

Building Description Gaineswood Mansion, Demopolis Alabama

Stately in appearance and classical in massing, Gaineswood is a sprawlng Greek Revival mansion with Italianate influences Its exterior appearance is imposing, with its bold scale and its simple lines of the Doric order. The deep shadows of its columned porticoes add strength and depth to the structure.

The plan of the house is atypical. There is no grand entrance and no pattern of circulation. "One enters," notes architect Clay Lancaster, "from the porte-cochere and drifts into the reception rooms to either side, these being not clearly defined from the entry, or finds the doors to the drawing room or library; the staircase has its back turned to the visitor." After citing this list of what would be termed inadequacies in any other house, Lancaster goes on to explain something of Gaineswood's uniqueness. "Inside any of the principal rooms, one gets a deep sense of satisfaction from its symmetry, elaborate detailing, and self-containedness." Whitfleld seems to have concentrated on and finished one remarkable room at a time, with little thought for axes, vistas, or flow of space between them.

The main mass of the house is two stories high and constructed of stone which was scored to resemble rectangular blocks, the blocks then being marbleized with veins of grayish blue interlacing the lighter background.

Although the main entrance to the house is through the porte cochere, another entrance opens onto the north veranda which is the front of the house The main part of the veranda is rectangular with a flat cornice supported by eight square pillars. A pedlmented projection of the veranda is supported by four fluted wooden Doric columns.

The 20-by-30-foot drawing room at Gaineswood is somewhat cruciform in plan. Twin gray marble mantels face one another at the far ends of the room and there are full-length mirrors imported from France in opposite recesses in the long walls, reflecting infinite motifs. Corinthian columns and pilasters modeled after those of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, lush frieze rows of dentils, anthemion antefixes on the intersecting beams, center flowers in the variously shaped coffers of the ceiling, and stained-glass transoms over the doors give a right effect. The master's room beyond has, in one corner, a marble chimneypiece with Ionic colonnettes, and the chamber is bisected by a screen of two matching columns. A vestibule, with private stairs to an upstairs bedroom, connects with the mistress' room. The Lafeve columns are placed in antis in the curved bay window that looks out on the concentric semicircular Doric gallery. This room has seven windows and three doors, which prompts the realization that most of the rooms are generously supplied with openings of assorted kinds and sizes.

The twin library and dining rooms at Gaineswood, the one instance in which rooms are arranged en suite, are crowned by ornamented domes having columned cupolas set atop their oculi. The motifs here are anthemion variations in plaster. Similar reliefs in cast iron are applied to the upper part of the door facings. The two main staircases in the house adjoin the vestibule between the library and the dining room, and they ascend to sections of the second floor separated by the roof pierced by the two lanterns. The upper floors are not actually on the same level, the back block of the house, balancing that of the drawing room, being divided into two stories. According to Lancaster, "Monticello presents an analogous situation, and one is tempted to compare these houses, over which Jefferson and Whitfield thought much, worked on their designs, built in part and then redeveloped, and eventually ended up with buildings so attractive in totality that one must forgive any shortcomings of individual parts."

The grounds at Gaineswood were embellished in the Romantic tradition with balustraded terraces, statuary, a circular- garden temple, and a small lake (no longer there) encircling a tiny verdant island. The main gateway to the estate was composed of four square pillars capped by finials and bridged by lintels, the centermost, over the carriageway, displaying a handsome cresting, and there were wrought iron gates below.

The kitchen area of the house has been altered, with the original kitchen having been destroyed.