Historic Structures

Woodlane Plantation, Eufaula Alabama

Date added: September 11, 2020 Categories: Alabama House Plantations & Farms Greek Revival

Available records show that Tennant Lomax, a wealthy Montgomery Courtian, owned Woodlane Plantation in the early 1850s. While it is possible that Lomax may have built a house at Woodlane Plantation, the construction of the main dwelling has historically been attributed to John Raines, a wealthy cotton planter from Muscogee County, Georgia. Raines owned land in Barbour County as early as 1833. Woodlane plantation was part of a 2400-acre tract that comprised all of the land between Barbour and Chaneyhatchee Creek to the Chattahoochee River. Raines' Landing was located on the banks of the Chatthoochee River at the end of the tree-lined canopied drive. In addition to cotton, Raines also raised tobacco and subsequently, constructed the tobacco-curing barn that is still located on the property.

John W. Raines died sometime between December 1856, the date of the execution of his will, and March 2,1858, the date his will was filed for probate. Raines' will shows that his primary concern was for the two children and the unborn child of his "servant yellow woman Mary." The children were Mary Antoinette, Sally Angeline, and Aurora Boreallis, born after Mr. Raines wrote his will. Mr. Raines directed his executors to secure the passage of an act by the Alabama State Legislature to free the children and Mary. His will dictates that if such an act could not be passed, Mary and his children were to be moved to the "Free State of Ohio." At the time Mr. Raines drafted his will, an Alabama slaveholder could not free his slaves without the consent of the state legislature. Raines' executors were ordered to sell by private sale or public auction the entire estate, including Woodlane Plantation, which was valued at more than $75,000. The proceeds were to be held in trust by his executors for the three children, their education, and "a station inlife compatible with their up-bringing." Edward B. Young and William H. Thornton, residents of nearby Eufaula, were appointed as executors while Lewis Cato, a prominent Eufaula attorney, served as Mr. Raines' attorney.

Court records reveal that Mr. Raines' brothers and sisters contested the will in the Eufaula courts. Maintaining that they could not get a fair trial in Eufaula, the siblings obtained a change of venue to Abbeville. The case raged on in the courts until 1865 when it went before the State Supreme Court. The will was finally upheld and in 1865, a state legislator, Alphaeus Baker, was paid $3,500 to secure the freedom of Mary and the two remaining children. Probate records show that after the Civil War, Sally Angeline and Aurora Borealis wee provided for by their court-appointed guardians.

After the death of John Raines, the property became the residence of Reuben Kolb, grandson of Gen. Reuben Clarke Shorter and nephew of Gov. John Gill Shorter. After the deaths of his two parents, Kolb was taken into the home of his grandfather and he spent his boyhood in Eufaula. Kolb attended the University of North Carolina and after his graduation, settled in Macon County, near Tuskegee. After the Civil War, Kolb returned to Eufuala and resumed cotton planting at Woodlane. Due to the depressed cotton market, he also entered the wholesale grocery business and worked as a cotton factor. When the panic of 1873 swept over the state, Kolb abandoned the cotton business altogether and began raising watermelons, including a prize melon called Kolb Gem. Seed catalogues advertise! the Kolb Gem as "America's most famous melon." Kolb conducted a very profitable business, raising melons and shipping the seeds. In 1888, he cut 200,000 for seed and shipped boxcars of melons to all parts of the country. A two-term Commissioner of Agriculture for Alabama and twice a candidate for Governor, Kolb was president of the Alabama branch of the Fanners' National Congress and actively associated with the Farmer's Alliance and the Alabama Division of the Farmer's National Congress.

During his tenure as Agriculture Commissioner, Kolb worked hard to promote Alabama products and in 1888, he made two trips to the Northwest to induce new settlers to come to Alabama. On the second trip, fourteen prominent Alabamians accompanied Kolb on a special railway car containing exhibits of state products and resources. Viewed by over a quarter of a million people, the "Alabama on Wheels" toured Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio. In 1889, the legislature passed an act creating farcers' institutes to be under the direction of the Commission of Agriculture. The institutes met at various convenient centers so farmers could receive instruction in agriculture from lecturers selected by the Commissioner. Kolb conducted much of the workof the institutes himself, picking popular and able men as instructors. Eufaula. Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, Kolb farmed Woodlane and began his advocacy of crop rotation and fertilization of land.

After Kolb's residence, several prominent local families owned Woodlane, including the Edward Young Dents of Eufaula, who used the house as a country home and planted the acreage in cotton. Between 1900 and 1920, in the wake of the arrival of the boll weevil and the devastation of local cotton crops, scores of pecan trees were planted. Today, approximately fifty survive. In the 1930s, however, the property slipped into decline and by March of 1944, the house was almost ruinous. In March of that year, Earl and Anne Wilson purchased the property and began a major renovation/restoration of the main house and the accompanying outbuildings.

Today, the main house rests in a magnificent setting at the end of what remains of John Raines' treelined drive. Outbuildings have been well maintained and the property has been embellished with extensive plantings of azaleas, magnolia, crepe myrtles, camellias, and boxwood. Unfortunately, the house is now endangered by a proposed western bypass around Eufaula. The anticipated route would destroy the remaining tree-lined lane by cutting a 200-foot right-of-way through the middle of the property, destroying much of the setting of Woodlane as well as the 150 year-old gravel road.