1964: Plantation of a Patriot
By NELLE BIGBEE | Gadsden Times, October 18, 1964
The Joseph Wheeler estate in Northwest Alabama spans some 16,000 acres. Every acre throbs with the heritage of our nation. Giant trees fashion a lacy pattern of sunlight and shadows over most of the estate, much of which is untouched by modernization.
Pictured is the exquisite gold leaf mirror presented to Miss Annie Wheeler by the women of Italy for her work in that country during World War One. Reflected in the mirror is a portrait of Mrs. Joseph Wheeler which hangs on the opposite wall in library, and a statue of General Joseph Wheeler standing on a book case which is a replica of the statue in the Hall of Fame.
The Wheeler plantation, amassed by a general who was famous in both the Confederate and the U. S. Army and a statesman respected by both the North and the South, is a domestic empire on the Tennessee. To enter this vast estate at Wheeler Station on the Southern Railway you drive across the tracks, leaving the Joe Wheeler Highway, and face to face, you come in contact with life as it was lived a century ago.
THERE's a quiet reverence that seems to permeate the atmosphere. Fragrant boxwood border pathways, which are thickly carpeted with centuries of crushed brown leaves, leading to the antebellum homes.
Two three-story houses are nestled under the spreading oaks. One of the homesteads was built about 1814, by Mrs. Wheeler's ancestors. Later, Mrs. Wheeler herself supervised the construction of the second house while her soldier-statesman husband was in Congress and spent much time in Washington. There's a third house nearby. It is a log structure: with a dog-trot through the center with a history of its own.
THE log house is said to be the first one erected in North Alabama. Chestnut logs,cut from towering trees now extinct, were hauled from the Mississippi Delta by ox wagon for its construction.
The storms raging across Northwest Alabama have whipped the logs for years,contrasted with beaming rays of summer's sun, leaving the pioneer house a weather beaten gray. Yet it is solid and strong, like the people who built and housed it more than a hundred years ago. Inside, one finds mementos of the past. It's a miniature museum with ox-yokes, a zinc bath tub, a wooden churn, dough boards, old plows, iron cooking utensils about a wide fireplace, and a miniature replica of the world's first cotton gin.
GENERAL Wheeler and his wife were lovers of beautiful furnishings. This is so evident by the handsome, hand-carved furniture, mirrors, china and historical relics. Admirers of antiques would encounter a haven of delight in a visit to the Wheelere estate. Furniture was carved from genuine walnut, red cherry, and oak trees felled from the plantation. Craftsmen were imported and spent months with the Wheeler family, carving intricate designs on wood that fashioned desks, cabinets, chests and beds.
There's a gold-leaf mirror, carved from one piece of wood and overlaid. This was not one of the pieces made by craftsmen, however. It was a gift to Miss Annie Early Wheeler, daughter of General and Mrs. Wheeler, who was a nurse, serving in both America and abroad. The treasured mirror hangs in the library of the home. It was presented to "Miss Annie" by the Women of Italy, for her work as a nurse in that country during World War One.
TWO cabinets encased in glass hold the uniforms worn by Gen. Joseph Wheeler and his son, Col. Joe Wheeler. Other relics used by these famous men include repeating rifles, saddles, sabers and pistols. Two flags, the American and the Confederate, are folded inside the cabinet. Other cabinets hold medals presented to General Wheeler, and to his daughter, Miss Annie Wheeler.
The upstairs bedroom known as "Miss Annie's" room is replete with an assortment of items that unfold a chronology. The high chair she used as a baby, teenage memories, elaborate formal gowns worn as a young lady, and the small black bag she carried as a nurse. In the bookcases are volumes holding clippings of the life of Wheeler, and members of his family. There's a lifesize portrait of the general hanging at the foot of the stairway. Portraits of Mrs. Wheeler, as a young girl, later as a matron, hang in the library. The history of a great family is imprinted here.
KEEPING the memory alive, on the 10th day of every September, the birthday of General Joseph Wheeler, the American flag is vaulted above the towering oaks to flow with the breeze for the day.
With the lifesize portrait of General Joseph Wheeler in the background, Mr. and Mrs. C. A. Turner, who live in one of the houses on the Wheeler estate, thumb through one of the many volumes holding clippings of the Wheeler family.
Visitors come in droves to tour the Wheeler estate. It is open every day and a small fee is charged. Mr. and Mrs. C. A. Turner, longtime friends of Miss Annie Wheeler who lived in one of the two large houses to oversee the homeplace before her death, are the present occupants. Turner is telegraph operator and station agent for the Southern Railway at nearby Courtland. Mrs. Turner is postmistress and station agent at Wheeler Station. A hostess is always at the Wheeler house to guide visitors through. It is still a private estate, however.
At the death of Miss Annie Wheeler, a niece, Mrs. John Q. LeGrand of Chapel Hill, N. C., inherited the houses and 100-acres of land. The remainder of the estate is leased to Chemstrand Corp., and is stocked with game. It is a haven for birds and heirs of the general will inherit it.
One walks slowly toward the plot back of the storied houses to where the burial of family members is so peaceful and tranquil. The trees stand tall, and protecting, repeating the lacy shadows. The marker of the general's son, Col. Joe Wheeler, his daughter, Miss Annie Wheeler, his wife, are here, but not Gen. Joseph Wheeler. His grave is in the Arlington National Cemetery. Perhaps someday this historical estate will become a state shrine in memory and in honor of its builder.