Stone Plantation, Montgomery Alabama

Date added: September 20, 2023 Categories: Alabama House Plantations & Farms Greek Revival
East elevation (side) and north front (1936)

The Stone Plantation is an excellent and intact example of mid-19th-century Greek Revival plantation architecture, and combined with the remaining smokehouse, stands as the extant domestic core of a once vibrant plantation complex. In Montgomery County, the Stone Plantation is one of the few remaining two-story brick Antebellum Greek Revival rural plantation houses. The Greek Revival style spread rapidly in the state, especially in the Black Belt counties of central Alabama. Stone Plantation, which remains a rural property, is comparable to a few other urban 1850s Black Belt houses, such as the demolished William Cochrane House in Tuscaloosa, Sturdivant Hall in Selma, and the Knox Mansion and Murphy House in Montgomery. There are very few high Greek Revival style residences of this scale and material that were also situated in rural settings in the state. Alabama never produced the quality and range of grand plantation houses found in other parts of the South. Those that were constructed tended be frame buildings. Architect Stephen Button worked in central Alabama and designed or influenced several porticoed mansions in Montgomery, such as the Charles Pollard House (c. 1851-53). Stone Plantation shared many design features with the demolished Pollard House. Stone Plantation also exhibited a "heroic" use of the Doric order, as opposed to the more popular use of variations on the Corinthian order.

Barton Warren Stone was born March 24, 1800, in Oglethorpe, Georgia to Warren (b. 7/22/1766 in Charles Co., Maryland, d. 10/28/1849 in Lowndes County, Alabama) and Martha (Bedell) Stone (b. 4/16/1772 in Alamance Co., North Carolina, d. 10/8/1849 in Lowndes County, Alabama). Barton Stone was named after his maternal grandfather, Barton Follett Warren. Stone's father, John Stone (b. 11/29/1715 in Charles Co. Maryland, d. 8/1775) was a soldier in the Revolutionary War. After John Stone's death, his widow, Mary Warren Stone (b. 1730, d. 1796) moved from Maryland to Pittsylvania County, Virginia. From there, her sons Barton, Absolam and Warren migrated to Lowndes County, Alabama with a brief stop in Oglethorpe, Georgia. While in Georgia, Warren's wife Martha gave birth to Barton Stone in 1800.

Written information documents that Barton Stone constructed the residence in 1846. However, an earlier house dating prior to 1830 may have been greatly altered in 1856 to reflect the current architectural fashion. Stone's first purchase of land in Lowndes County, Alabama, appeared around 1825. Stone married the widow Caroline Walton of Macon, Georgia, in 1823. They had five children who lived to adulthood. Stone, his wife Caroline Walton, and two of their six children, along with ten slaves, are listed in the 1830 Lowndes County census. By 1840, Stone's family had grown to seven, and his slave holdings had grown to forty, twenty of which were engaged in agriculture. Caroline Walton Stone died in 1841, and Barton married Carolina Sophia Whetsone of Autauga County. No records were found to provide a date for this marriage, which produced two children. Perhaps Stone used the occasion of marriage to express his new wealth and success as a planter, and provide his second bride, twenty-three years his younger, with a "handsome residence." The construction date of 1846 for the present house falls within this window of time. In addition, Warren Stone, at the age of 74, constructed a two-story Greek Revival residence on an adjoining piece of property. Barton and Caroline's son, George Stone, was killed during the Civil War in 1862 at the Battle of Seven Pines in Henrico County, Virginia. Carolina Stone died in 1864. Barton Stone married a third time to Beatrice Wall of Coosa County.

The Stone family was very successful in their agricultural pursuits. Records from Warren Stone's estate show that at his death in 1849, he owned 1,040 acres, forty-two slaves, a cotton gin, and "substantial holdings of livestock." The value of his estate was estimated at over $30,000. Eleven years after his father's death, Barton Stone was listed in the 1860 census as possessing $100,000 in real estate and $105,880 in personal property. His plantation grew to over 3,200 acres. However, the period of the Civil War was hard for the family. Barton's brother, Warren, who inherited the majority of his father's estate, was forced to sell his property to out-of-state interests. The 1870 census lists Barton Stone's real estate holdings valued at $15,600 and personal property valued at $1,000, barely 10% of the value just ten years before. Barton Stone died in 1884 at the age of 84 and is buried in the Stone family cemetery adjacent to the Warren Stone house near Burkeville, Lowndes County.

The property was purchased by L. C. Young in 1903, and again by J.D. Baggett, Sr. in 1926. Following the stock market crash and the ensuing Great Depression, it was a common practice for families to earn extra income by taking in boarders and renting rooms. The extensive period of remodeling, including removing two of the six front columns, re-stuccoing the exterior without replacing the faux stone joints, constructing an attached kitchen to the back porch, and the installation of bathrooms upstairs, occurred between 1937 and 1939.

For a period spanning between 1934 and 1935, then Captain and later Lt. General Claire Lee Chennault (1880-1958) rented a room in the Baggett's residence (Stone Plantation) while stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base serving with the U.S. Pursuit Development Board and Air Corp Exhibition Group. Chennault was an American army officer, born in Commerce, Texas and educated at Louisiana State University. During World War One he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and pioneered in aviation pursuit tactics. He was an originator of the idea of using paratroopers. After his stint in Montgomery, Chennault resigned from the army in 1937 and became aviation advisor to the Chinese government, who at the time was at war with Japan. While in China, he organized a group of American volunteers known as the "Flying Tigers." During World War II, Chennault was recalled to American service as a brigadier general and in 1942 was given the command of the China Air Task Force. He was promoted to major general in 1943, and retired from active service in 1945. After his retirement from the Air Force, Chennault formed the Civil Air Transport (CAT) and served as chairman of the board. A number of organizations supported this company, including the CIA, Chang Kai-shek's Nationalist Chinese government, and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. This company was created as a covert operation to fight communism in Asia. Chennault died in 1958, and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery. His headstone is inscribed in both Chinese and English.

In 1995, Colonel and Mrs. Will Gardner purchased the property and undertook an extensive restoration, which included reconstructing the missing front columns, removing an inappropriate rear addition, and constructing a sympathetic rear kitchen and back porch addition.

Building Description

The Stone Plantation is a two-story masonry residence, constructed in the Neoclassical Greek Revival style with subtle hints of Italianate influence. The structure is located on the south side of Montgomery County Road 54, the Old Selma Road, 0.3 miles east of the intersection with Montgomery County Road 17, approximately 3.5 miles east of Pintlala Creek and 1.2 miles south of Catoma Creek. The residence and one outbuilding occupy a portion of a tract of land deeded by the U.S. Land Patent Office to Barton Warren Stone from the Land Patent Office at Cahawba, recorded May 15, 1837. The grounds remain intact, and feature a fruit orchard on the west lawn, and a magnolia and crepe myrtle alley on the west lawn. At one time the front lawn was a pecan orchard, but currently only a few of the trees remain. Also, photographs suggest that the magnolias and crepe myrtles were planted after 1935. Other historic landscaping includes mature camellias and azaleas.

Several physical characteristics are evident to suggest that the current residence may portray alterations to a previous structure. The ceiling height changes from 15' - 3" on the first floor to 11' - 11" on the second floor. Along with the change to ceiling height, the wall thickness and building materials change between levels. The first floor walls, interior and exterior, are 16" solid masonry. The second floor exterior walls are reduced to 12" in thickness. The interior walls are of wood frame construction. The unique design of the staircase is typical of the late-Federal period. The handrail terminates in a curved volute supported by slender turned balusters. The bottom step is wider at the wall and tapers from the left to the right side. The stair ascends 19 steps to a landing the width of the hallway, and returns back seven steps to complete the run to the second floor. The use of this type stair design is unusual at this late date in terms of architectural history. A heavy, American Empire-inspired newel post with heavier handrail, incorporating either a straight or curved run, would have been more in keeping with the exterior Greek Revival/Italianate architectural style. Even the Warren Stone house, constructed by Barton Stone's father, an imposing frame Greek Revival plantation home, was constructed with a heavy turned Greek Revival newel post, as were most other two-story structures of this period. Possibly the original residence may have been a 1 1/2-story cottage similar to Bride's Hill and the John Johnson House, both located in the Tennessee Valley region. Stone, whose family moved to Alabama from Pittsylvania County, Virginia, would have been quite familiar with the colonial Virginia prototype.

The exterior walls, once scored to resemble ashlar stone blocks, currently have a smooth stucco finish dating from 1939. The house is symmetrical in form, and features six massive stucco-covered masonry Doric columns. In 1939, two of the six columns were removed and the remaining columns were coated with stucco to conceal the original fluting. The current owners replaced the missing columns in their 1997 restoration. The columns support a heavy entablature and denticulated cornice. The footprint of the residence is rectangular in plan, with a pair of one-story wings at the rear of each side, connected by a sympathetic modern addition constructed to look like an enclosed porch. A shallow-hipped roof is concealed from view by a false entablature, which is carried around the perimeter of the residence. French-inspired laurel wreaths adorn the heavy cornice, and are centered over each of the six columns, similar to those proposed by Asher Benjamin and illustrated in plate 18 in his book The Architect, or Complete Building Carpenter, published in 1845. Benjamin's prototype is " example of the antae and entablature, copied, with deviations, from that on the choragic monument of Thrasyllus at Athens. Their detail are in themselves beautiful, and are arranged with such judgement and good taste, as to give elegance to the whole composition."

The front facade features a raised masonry terrace, covered by the monolithic roof structure and supported by columns reaching two stories in height. The main entry is framed by a denticulated entablature with heavy cornice supported by a pair of paneled pilasters, and is constructed of a combination of wood and cast iron decoration. The main entablature is 30" deep, and features one flat moulded panel and one curved moulded panel. The curved panels increase the entablature opening from 3' - 4" to 4' - 0". The recessed panel entry features a single four-panel door surrounded by a pair of three-light sidelights with panel below, and a three-light transom, consisting of two panes the same width as the sidelights and a large single pane over the door. The wood framing of the sidelights and transom configuration features a pair of wooden carved Italianate brackets. Above the entablature is a wood cantilevered balcony, supported by elegant cast iron scroll brackets. The cast iron balustrade ornament features anthemions, rosettes and acanthus leaves in its design, very similar to those delineated by Asher Benjamin on plate 53. Similar elements are found in the ventilator grilles located in the foundation along the perimeter of the residence. There are six interior chimneys visible from the roof line, each featuring a zig-zag sawtooth pattern, and sheathed in stucco. The one-story wings at the rear have a cornice similar in design to the main cornice, but at a scale more appropriate for the proportions of the wings. Each wing features a recessed porch supported by a plain round Doric column, and two four-panel wood doors providing access to the porches from both the wing spaces and the main house. Windows across the first floor are six-over-nine in style, and raise up into the wall to provide access onto the front porch. Second-floor windows are six-over-six in design. East and west elevations are identical in design, and feature six-over-six windows, cast iron ventilator grilles, and a continuation of the front cornice and entablature. The rear of the structure was originally constructed with a shed porch running between the wings supported by two stucco-over-masonry Doric columns. Later additions enclosed and increased the depth of the porch, which now extends out past the line of the original wings, and features a three-sided porch supported by simple wooden round Doric columns. The original exterior wall of the main house is intact, along with the rear door, transom and sidelights, and two doors opening into the rear rooms on the main floor. The 1997 enclosed porch construction uses glass as the predominant building material and respects the integrity of the original structure.

The floor plan is typical of the period, and features a wide central hall flanked by two rooms on either side. This plan is repeated on the second floor. The wing rooms, at the rear of the structure, are accessed through the rear rooms, the front side porches and the rear addition. These wings originally served as the office for the Stone Plantation (left side facing house) and a serving room off the formal dining room (right side facing house). The entry hall features heart pine flooring, smooth plaster over thick masonry walls, and a plaster ceiling with heavy plaster cornice. Greek Revival eared battered door architraves are constructed of wood.

The floor plan consists of a central hall with double parlors to the right of the main entrance, connected by a pair of four-panel pocket doors, and two single rooms on the left side of the hall, connected by a single four-panel door. A U-shaped staircase with a landing rises to the second floor level from the left of the hallway. An unusual feature of the staircase is the slender and elegant, multi-spindled newel at the foot of the staircase. The design appears in earlier houses of the 1820s and 1830s, as opposed to the large, American Empire-inspired newel posts common in the 1840s and 1850s. Eared architraves with heavy moulded cornices frame all the downstairs windows and doors.

The double parlor features heart pine floors, plaster walls with high, multi-profiled baseboards, and plaster ceilings with deep plaster crown moulding. Simple moulded plaster medallions adorn the 15' - 3 4" ceilings. Windows across the front of the house are floor-length, and open up into the ceiling to allow access onto the front porch. Windows along the sides of the house have moulded wood panels below the sill and sash. The depth of the walls allows space for small recessed panels at all window and door openings. The front parlor mantelpiece is turn-of-the-century Neoclassical Adamesque in design, and features a pair of wooden fluted engaged columns supporting a denticulated cornice and mantel shelf, and a pink marble surround. The rear parlor, currently used as the dining room, features a wood mantel in the Moorish taste, with an ogee-style arch supported by paneled, chamfered moulded pilasters. A pair of gas-electrified sconces, dating from the 1840s with documented provenance as being one of three sets that originally hung in the first State Capitol in Montgomery, constructed in 1847 and destroyed by fire in 1849. The sconces were purchased from Belvior, a Colonial-Revival mansion in the Old Cloverdale Historic District of Montgomery, and were added by the current owners. These sconces, probably either Cornelius & Baker or Starr, Fellows and Company, are an appropriate addition to the interior. A pair of single four-paneled doors along the rear wall once allowed access onto the rear porch and access to the serving room, but currently link the dining room to the kitchen and family room on the back porch and allow access to the half bath and utility room which occupy the space that once served as the served as the warming kitchen. A door along the right wall connects the dining room to the side porch of the right-wing, while a door along the left wall provides access to the rear of the main hall.

The rooms on the left side of the hallway are simpler in design. Floors are heart pine, and walls and ceilings retain original plaster. The Gothic-inspired mantel is original to the room, and the green marble surround is a later addition. Two floor-length windows allow access onto the front porch, while the side windows have moulded panels below. A single four-panel door centered on the wall separating the two rooms allows access from the front to the rear of the house. The mantel has been removed and the firebox covered with sheetrock, but the configuration of the fireplace is still visible. The rear room originally had an identical door configuration to the dining room, with two doors on the rear wall and on door on the left wall providing access to the rear porch on the left wing. The left wing, originally the plantation office, serves as the current owner's library, and has built-in bookcases along the perimeter of all walls. A single four-paneled door, identical to those throughout the residence, allows access to the rear of the main hall.

A four-paneled door flanked by slender three-light sidelights with wood panel below and topped with a three-light transom above is located at the rear of the main hall. Once providing access to the rear porch, this doorway now opens into the large kitchen/multi-purpose room that incorporates the original rear porch.

Exterior walls were retained and are still visible. The heavy cornice once supported by two large plain Doric columns is still visible, and acts as a visual separation at the ceiling of the kitchen from the multi-purpose space. While modern and simplistic in design, the sympathetic addition does not detract from the integrity of the original structure. Multiple sets of French doors provide access from the addition to the new rear porch, which wraps around the addition on three sides, and supported by wooden Doric columns. The use of large areas of glass provides views and vistas of the rear of the property, the fruit orchards, and the original brick smokehouse.

The stair ascending to the second floor is broken by a landing two-thirds of the way up to the second level. At this point, a change in the masonry wall thickness is evident. A wide hallway on the second floor mirrors that on the floor below. Floors throughout are of heart pine. Walls and ceilings are of plaster. The ceiling height drops to 11' on the second floor. Four large bedrooms, to on each side of the main hall, are now separated by modern bathrooms and closets. All doors on this level, with the exception of the door onto the cantilevered balcony, are double panel framed by battered eared architraves. A single four-paneled door, flanked by slender three-light sidelights with wood panel below, and topped by a four-light transom, is located at the front of the main hallway. This door allows access onto the cantilevered balcony over the main entrance. A pilastered entablature, similar to the one below but not as elaborate, surrounds the exterior of the second-floor door. On both sides of this doorway there are an unusual configuration of built-in storage areas. Single-panel doors conceal original closets that take advantage of the thickness of the masonry walls. Existing mantels on the second floor are simple wood Greek Revival-style mantels with battered pilasters and mantel shelves.

The brick smokehouse, measuring 23' square and 35' tall, was originally a one-story building with exposed brick walls and a four-step corbeled cornice, dirt floor and hipped roof. Diamond-shaped vents woven into the brickwork allowed smoke to escape from the interior. In his book, Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery, John Michael Vlatch described the Stone smokehouse as "substantial... Larger than many of the dwelling houses in the county, this building stood more than thirty-five feet high and had a storage volume of almost 22,000 cubic feet. Constructed with brick masonry and decorated with diamond-shaped ventilators, it no doubt symbolized plantation owner Barton Stone's pride of place." In 1939, a garage addition with apartment above was constructed to the west elevation, and the entire building was covered in stucco, creating a uniform interior and matching that of the main house.

Stone Plantation, Montgomery Alabama Front/north elevation looking south (2001)
Front/north elevation looking south (2001)

Stone Plantation, Montgomery Alabama Front/north elevation looking southwest (2001)
Front/north elevation looking southwest (2001)

Stone Plantation, Montgomery Alabama Rear/south elevation looking northeast (2001)
Rear/south elevation looking northeast (2001)

Stone Plantation, Montgomery Alabama Detail of cast iron bracket supporting cantilevered balcony on front porch (2001)
Detail of cast iron bracket supporting cantilevered balcony on front porch (2001)

Stone Plantation, Montgomery Alabama Detail of wood and cast iron architrave on front elevation (2001)
Detail of wood and cast iron architrave on front elevation (2001)

Stone Plantation, Montgomery Alabama Detail of cast iron balcony railing on cantilevered balcony on front porch. Second floor architrave in background (2001)
Detail of cast iron balcony railing on cantilevered balcony on front porch. Second floor architrave in background (2001)

Stone Plantation, Montgomery Alabama West elevation looking southeast, showing one story wing (2001)
West elevation looking southeast, showing one story wing (2001)

Stone Plantation, Montgomery Alabama Detail of front porch first floor exterior door architrave (2001)
Detail of front porch first floor exterior door architrave (2001)

Stone Plantation, Montgomery Alabama Detail of second floor door architrave (2001)
Detail of second floor door architrave (2001)

Stone Plantation, Montgomery Alabama Magnolia and crepe myrtle alley looking north (2001)
Magnolia and crepe myrtle alley looking north (2001)

Stone Plantation, Montgomery Alabama Main hallway, first floor, looking north (2001)
Main hallway, first floor, looking north (2001)

Stone Plantation, Montgomery Alabama Detail of main hallway and front door interior architrave (2001)
Detail of main hallway and front door interior architrave (2001)

Stone Plantation, Montgomery Alabama Detail of plaster ceiling medallion in front double parlor (2001)
Detail of plaster ceiling medallion in front double parlor (2001)

Stone Plantation, Montgomery Alabama Detail of plaster cornice in front double parlor (2001)
Detail of plaster cornice in front double parlor (2001)

Stone Plantation, Montgomery Alabama Double parlor, looking north, through double pocket doors (2001)
Double parlor, looking north, through double pocket doors (2001)

Stone Plantation, Montgomery Alabama Detail of gas-electrified wall sconce in dining room (2001)
Detail of gas-electrified wall sconce in dining room (2001)

Stone Plantation, Montgomery Alabama Northeast parlor showing heart pine flooring, original mantel, panels under windows and window architraves (2001)
Northeast parlor showing heart pine flooring, original mantel, panels under windows and window architraves (2001)

Stone Plantation, Montgomery Alabama Southeast parlor, showing heart pine flooring and original mantel. Note no panels under windows and simpler architraves (2001)
Southeast parlor, showing heart pine flooring and original mantel. Note no panels under windows and simpler architraves (2001)

Stone Plantation, Montgomery Alabama East elevation (side) and north front (1936)
East elevation (side) and north front (1936)