Eutaw, Ala., hosts tour of homes and churches
special to The Star
Oct. 5, 2003
When you think of the "Old South," does your mind conjure images of elegant, white columns and expansive porches shaded by massive magnolias?
If so, you won't be disappointed by any of the homes on this year's Tour of Homes and Churches in Eutaw, Ala., Oct. 11 and 12. All four of the homes on the tour are stately examples of Southern architecture at its height before the onset of the Civil War.
Two homes in particular will be showcased, since they have not been on the tour in recent years.
Basil Hall, one of four surviving pillared mansions in Eutaw, was last on tour in 1999. The home was built in 1858 by a carriage maker, Captain Edwin Reese. The home, in the heart of downtown Eutaw, took three years to build. This example of the grand Greek Revival Mansion was painstakingly restored in the early 1980s.
It features two interior stairways and original Venetian glass sidelights flanking the double door entrance way. Original portraits, the family Bible, photographs and personal effects of earlier owners remain with the house.
Thom and Sheila Smith, fashion designers from New York City who divide their time between New York and Alabama, bought Basil Hall in 1988 and have incorporated their artistic flair in decorating the home.
Smith's parents, Ouida Hann and the late Richard Hann, fell in love with Eutaw upon visiting their daughter and son-in-law. When Merifield, an antebellum home several blocks away, came available, they purchased it.
Merifield, built in 1840, is a large cottage that sits on a slight hill overlooking several acres. Surrounded by magnolias, its porch is perfect for sipping lemonade or mint juleps on a hot summer day.
Its builder, William G. Pierce, was a lawyer, planter and one of the earliest settlers in Eutaw. The main living area is on the second floor above a full ground story with walls that are 12-inches thick. The home is built on a typical floor plan of the time: four rooms over four, with central halls and double entrance doors with sidelights.
In 1879, the home's second owner, John Broadnax, added many Gothic influences to the house. All of the original dependencies still remain on the property. Mrs. Hann has added her own touch to decorating the home, and since Merifield has not been on tour for almost 20 years, it will be a treat for visitors and townspeople alike.
Thornhill, built in 1833, is one of the five large original plantations constructed in this area. These plantations were all positioned on hilltops, miles apart, but within view of each other.
Of these, one has burned, one is in total disrepair and unoccupied, and two are owned privately and not open to the public. Thornhill is the only plantation that has remained in the original family and is open to the public for viewing through tours.
This home, constructed as a classic six-columned Greek Revival house, was built for James Innes Thornton, Alabama's third secretary of state. The plantation schoolhouse was built in 1845 and still remains. The family cemetery, 175 yards east of the house, has Thornton, his wife, four of 11 children, and three grandchildren buried there.
Thornhill, originally 2,600 acres and now 1,600 acres, is owned by Brock Jones of Tuscaloosa a great-grandson of the original builder. While sitting on the porch of the home, surveying great expanses of forests and meadows unscarred by any modern blemishes, it is easy to imagine yourself 170 years in the past.