Building Description Joseph Wheeler Plantation, Wheeler Alabama
Located 16 miles west of Decatur, Alabama, on Alabama 20, the Joseph Wheeler Plantation retains much of the atmosphere of postbellum southern plantation life. Moreover, the property contains residences representative of three 19th Century building styles. At one time Wheeler's holdings included 18,000 adjacent acres, most of which is owned presently by his heirs, but the historic buildings rest on a 100-acre tract. Oak, dogwood, redbud, Japanese cherry, crepe myrtle, and cedar trees from a grove around the manmade structures, and wisteria vines and English boxwoods grow in abundance.
John P. Hickman settled first on the property and erected the Log House, a one-room house of hewn logs about 1818. Shortly afterward he added a second room and a dogtrot. The house has a shaked roof and board floors, and each room contains an end fireplace and one shuttered, 15-over-15 sash window. Thought to be one of the earliest log houses in northern Alabama, the structure is in good condition.
Possibly as early as 1820, Hickman built the gable-roofed, rectangular-shaped, two-story log and weatherboard house immediately north of the first dwelling. The white-painted newer residence has a two tiered central porch, five bay front, 12-over-12 sash windows flanked by green louvered shutters, and two end chimneys that serve fireplaces on both floors. Entrance to the house is through double, paneled doors graced by side and transom lights. Apparently the central hall and U-shaped stairway divided the house initially into two wings of two rooms each, but several irregular single-story additions were made to the rear during the late 19th Century. A modern kitchen was attached to the west end of the structure. The oldest portion of the house contains much original flooring and woodwork and some period furniture.
Ownership of the Hickman property passed eventually to Col. Richard Jones, and Wheeler acquired it about 1870, after he and Daniella returned to Lawrence County from New Orleans. The Wheelers erected the two and a half story, white, frame house sometime prior to 1885, but the exact date of construction is not known. One of Wheeler's biographers proposes 1870 as the most likely time, while the recollections of Annie E. Wheeler, the general's daughter, suggests the period 1880-1884. Whatever the case, the structure stands only a few feet east of the log and weatherboard house, and the two buildings are connected by a covered walkway.
The frame house is little altered and in good condition. Weatherboarded and rectangular shaped, it is five bays wide at the front and rear and five bays wide at the sides. It sits on a stone foundation, and three red brick interior chimneys pierce the metal-covered, gabled roof. On the first two stories green louvered shutters border six-over-six sash windows. A front-balustraded, one-story veranda extends across the face of the house, and a two tiered veranda spans the rear. Of particular interest are the six pairs of scroll-bracketed two-by-fours that support the front veranda. Also noteworthy is the balustraded, single-flight servant's stairway that connects the two levels of the rear porch. Except for evidences of modern plumbing, addition of a concrete floor to the lower portion of the rear veranda, and enclosure of the upper tier of that porch with screening, the exterior exhibits few changes.
Double, paneled doors flanked by side and transom lights lead into both ends of a central hallway that is approximately 15 feet wide and 40 feet long. This passageway divides four 20-foot-square rooms into two wings. On the right are a bedroom and dining room, and on the left are two parlors. Entrance into the front sitting room and passage from it into the rear parlor is by large four-part folding doors. A single-flight stair leads from the hall to the second floor, which contains a central corridor and four bedrooms. An enclosed stairway provides access to the unfinished half story.
Small baths were built into four of the rooms about 1906, and a furnace was installed in the first-floor hall. No other notable internal alterations have been made, however. Almost all of Wheeler's furniture remains in the house, along with his military uniforms and the family china and silverware. Original handmade curtains hang in the front parlor, and numerous portraits and photographs of the general adorn the white plaster walls.
Located in close proximity to the three residences are six outbuildings erected during Wheeler's lifetime and one newer structure that covers a water well and pump. The older buildings include a gable-roofed, frame two and a half story cotton warehouse; a rectangular-shaped log barn with hay loft and tin gabled roof; a vertically boarded barn of similar design; the original frame wellhouse; a frame woodhouse; and hewn-log icehouse.
The Wheeler family cemetery is located at the rear of the property. Although Joseph Wheeler's remains lie in Arlington National Cemetery, the family plot contains an impressive spire monument to his memory.