Restoring history

Published 8:44 pm Saturday, June 13, 2009

What now looks more like a house trailer than a historic structure will soon be restored to its original grandeur and become a place of great interest at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama.

The pre-Civil War antebellum house, known as the Sharpless or Ogletree house, was moved to a permanent site at the Pioneer Museum last week, and bids are being accepted for the restoration work necessary for the exhibition of the historic house.

“The house was on land that Mack Scott recently purchased between Troy and Henderson,” said Jerry Peak, museum director. “He wanted to build a house on the property and needed to move the Sharpless house to do so. We are proud that he offered to donate it to the museum. The house has a long and detailed history and will be of much interest to the people of Pike County. We are very appreciative of Mr. Scott’s support of the museum.”

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Peak said the exact construction date of the house is unknown.

“But, the story is that soldiers on their way to enlist in the Civil War noticed the latticework being done on the house and were very impressed by it because they had never seen anything like it,” Peak said.

The house was built by Thomas Sharpless, who was one of the earliest settlers of Pike County.

“Thomas Sharpless served in the War of 1812 before moving to Pike County in 1825,” Peak said. “He bought 400 acres of land for cultivation in the area that we know as Ten Mile Creek. The infamous Three Notch Road was a trade route that extended from the North to Pensacola and was marked with three notches on the trees. The trail was blazed between Henderson and Troy and crossed the Sharpless’ property.”

Thomas Sharpless had three sons who served in the Civil War.

“One of his sons, Seaborn Sharpless, served in the Confederate Navy before moving back to Pike County and purchasing land a quarter mile from his father’s homestead,” Peak said. “When his parents died, Seaborn and his wife, Sarah, moved into the Sharpless house. From them it passed to Seaborn’s daughter, Emily, and her husband, John Ogletree.”

Peak said an interesting fact about the Sharpless house is that it was continually occupied for 130 years – from 1850 through 1980.

Since the house was built around 1850, several changes have been made over the years. The open dogtrot portion of the house was closed in and, in more recent years, rooms and a tin roof have been added.

“Our plans are to restore the house to its original structure with dimensions of 24×40 feet,” Peak said. “We feel that the well-documented and detailed accounts of the history of the house and the families that lived in it justify the large expenditure necessary to restore this historical gem.

“In today’s world of commercial architecture, a house as unique and rare at this one should not go to waste and deterioration. We want to preserve this house because it is a landmark of our cultural heritage, and we want to share it with the public.”

Once the house is fully restored, visitors will be able to see for themselves the living quarters of early Americans – the high ceilings in every room, the grand fireplaces in the bedrooms, the dogtrot area used to cool the house in days of high temperatures, the beautiful hardwood floors common in every home and the wide open spaces which are no longer incorporated into most homes today.

“Visitors will be able to walk through the house and imagine themselves living and working in it,” Peak said. “They will see how the homes were furnished and decorated and get an overall feeling of pioneer life. In order to fully appreciate the differences in architecture today and that of the past, visitors must see with their own eyes the buildings of the past and be able to notice the minor subtleties as well as major changes.”

Greater and more intricate details were very important to builders of the past which is unlike the majority of commercially produced homes today.

“We plan to furnish the house with authentic furniture, utensils, linens and pictures as well as an abundance of other items in order for visitors to enjoy the complete experience,” Peak said.

The restoration project is expected to take up to four months from its starting date to complete. Funding for the project has been donated by John Sharpless of Fairhope and Roy Sharpless of California.

“The Sharpless family has been very supportive of the restoration project and we appreciate their interest and their willingness to provide financial support to the project,” Peak said. “When the Sharpless house is restored, it will be a great addition to the museum and provide insight into pioneer living for many years to come. It is a real gem.”