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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Demopolis, AL

Demopolis is the largest city in Marengo County, Alabama, United States. At the 2000 census the population was 7,540.

Aerial view of Demopolis, Alabama. The confluence of the Tombigbee and Black Warrior Rivers is visible in the center of the picture. View is to the northwest.


Demopolis, the City of the People, was founded by a group of Bonapartists who, fearing for their lives after the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, sought refuge in the United States. Arriving first in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, they petitioned the U.S. Congress to sell them property and received permission to buy four townships at $2 per acre—provided that they would cultivate grape vines and olive trees. Following advice obtained from experienced Western pioneers, they determined that Alabama would provide a good climate for cultivating these crops. By 14 July 1817, the pioneers had settled at White Bluff on the Tombigbee River, at the present site of Demopolis, founding the Vine and Olive Colony.

Most prominent and wealthiest among the immigrants was Count Lefebvre Desnouettes, who had been a cavalry officer with the rank of Lieutenant-General, under Napoleon. Other prominent figures among them included Lieutenant-General Baron Henri-Dominique Lallemand, Count Bertrand Clausel, Joseph Lakanal, Simon Chaudron, Pasqual Luciani, Colonel Jean-Jerome Cluis, Jean-Marie Chapron, Colonel Nicholas Raoul, and Frederic Ravesies. These French aristocrats and their comrades did not find pioneer life in Alabama to be favorably comparable to Parisian court life. Due to a variety of adversities, their pioneering efforts were not the great success for which they had hoped. Within a few months they were to find that their new homes did not fall under the territories encompassed by the congressional approval, and the Vine and Olive Colony was soon forced to move. According to local testimony, olive tree remnants of their efforts still survive in Demopolis, along with the name (Greek for “City of the People”) they gave their settlement.

King Bridge, Spanning Black Warrior River on U.S. Highway 43, Demopolis, Marengo County, AL

Demopolis has a history of lynching, with at least one incident making it into the national press. On 1911-08-05, a lynch mob went looking for Richard Verge, an African American who was accused of murdering Vernon Tutt, a prominent local white planter. Unable to find him, they captured his brother, Sam Verge, and lynched him instead. A trial into the events that involved both Richard Verge and the perpetrators of the lynching of his brother was never attempted.


U.S. Highway 80 and U.S. Highway 43 both serve Demopolis. A proposed Interstate 85 extension from Meridian, Mississippi to Montgomery is planned to pass near to the city. Demopolis also has a municipal airport west of town and a bus system operated by West Alabama Transportation.

Historic sites

Gaineswood in 2008

A National Historic Landmark and considered one of America's finest examples of the Greek Revival style of architecture, Gaineswood was built between 1843 and 1861 by Nathan Bryan Whitfield. A cotton planter and Renaissance man of his time, Whitfield moved from North Carolina to Marengo County in 1834.

In 1842 Whitfield purchased the 480-acre estate of George Strother Gaines. According to family records, a dogtrot cabin in which Gaines lived became the nucleus for Whitfield's Greek Revival mansion. With the help of artists, craftsmen, and other talented persons, including enslaved persons, Whitfield enlarged and refined the home to his liking.

By 1856 Whitfield decided to name the mansion Gaineswood in honor of George Strother Gaines. Gaines played a large role not only in the history of Gaineswood, but also in the history of Demopolis, the state, and in the 1830 Choctaw removal. It was Gaines who encouraged incoming French exiles in 1817 to establish their Vine and Olive Colony in what was to become Demopolis.

By 1860 Whitfield had added Gaineswood's domed ceilings. With the exterior and folly landscape complete, Whitfield hired artist John Sartain to produce a steel engraving of the mansion's fa├žade and grounds. Shown in the engraving are a hand-dug artificial lake fed by an artesian well and a summerhouse pavilion.

Today visitors can tour the Greek Revival structure which contains many original Whitfield family furnishings donated by descendants.

Mistress Bedroom

Bluff Hall in 2008

Bluff Hall Rear View

Bluff Hall West Side

Bluff Hall, Fireplace in Living Room

Gaineswood is an antebellum historic house museum on the National Register of Historic Places and is a listed National Historic Landmark. It was built between 1843-61 in an asymmetrical Greek Revival style. It features domed ceilings, ornate plasterwork, columned rooms, and most of its original furnishings. Gaineswood is owned and operated by the Alabama Historical Commission.

Nathan Bryan Whitfield, engraving by J. Sartain

The northern facade in 1934

The gate and gatehouse in 1910, they were later moved

The bay window in the mistress' bedroom

The domed library

The ballroom in 1934

Bluff Hall is an antebellum historic house museum on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1832 in the Federal style and modified in the 1840s to reflect the Greek Revival style. It is owned and operated by the Marengo County Historical Society.

The front facade in 2008

Entrance hall in 1935

Parlor in 1935

The Laird Cottage/Geneva Mercer Museum is a restored 1870 residence with Greek Revival and Italianate style. It currently serves as the headquarters of the Marengo County Historical Society. This museum houses history exhibits and works of Geneva Mercer, a native artist and sculptor.

Other historic sites in Demopolis include White Bluff, the Demopolis Historic Business District, Demopolis Town Square, Lyon Hall, Ashe Cottage, the Curtis House, the Glover Mausoleum, and the Foscue-Whitfield House.

White Bluff, below the Demopolis Civic Center.

Demopolis Town Square, Confederate Park, U.S. National Register of Historic Places
The park in 2003.

Lyon Hall, Lyon-Lamar House, U.S. National Register of Historic Places, Lyon Hall in 2008

Lyon's House Rear View

Parlour 1934

HABS photo of front and side elevation in 1934.

Staircase in entry hall.

National Register of Historic Places listings in Marengo County, Alabama

Ashe Cottage, U.S. National Register of Historic Places, Ashe Cottage in 2008

Curtis House, U.S. National Register of Historic Places, The Curtis House in 2008

Glover Mausoleum, U.S. National Register of Historic Places, HABS photo of the mausoleum from the southeast.

Demopolis in the arts

The 1949 John Wayne movie "The Fighting Kentuckian" is set in Demopolis and tells a story about an interaction with the original French settlers. Given its noble beginnings, Demopolis has always been a proud city with an aristocratic social culture. According to a historical marker on the town square, Demopolis society was the inspiration for "The Little Foxes," a Broadway play. A melodrama by Lillian Hellman, it was first performed in 1939, with Alabama-born actress Tallulah Bankhead giving a legendary performance in the lead role of Regina. This hit production ran a year on Broadway. The 1941 film version was directed by William Wyler and starred Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall and Teresa Wright, plus original Broadway cast members Patricia Collinge (Birdie), Charles Dingle (Ben), Dan Duryea (Leo), John Marriott (Cal) and Carl Benton Reid (Oscar). It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1941. In 1949 the play was adapted into an opera by Marc Blitzstein, under the title Regina.

The Little Foxes

List of people from Demopolis, Alabama


Paul Phillips, major league baseball player who played for the Kansas City Royals.

Andy Phillips, major league baseball player for the New York Mets.

Theo Ratliff, NBA star, currently of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Jason Smith, major league baseball player for the Kansas City Royals graduated from Demopolis High School.


Jim Rogers, a Columbia University financier who co-founded the Quantum Fund, called "The Indiana Jones of Finance" by Time Magazine.


James Haskins (1941-2005), public school teacher and prize-winning author (See Diary of a Harlem Schoolteacher, The Cotton Club, Black Music in America, Outward Dreams: Black Inventors and Their Inventions. For younger readers,

The March on Washington, Black Eagles: African Americans in Aviation).

Michelle Richmond (November 12, 1970), Award-winning fiction writer and essayist (see The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress, Dream of the Blue Room).

Hudson Strode (1892-1976) an influential teacher of creative writing at the University of Alabama from 1924-1964, who was honored in 1961 by King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden in recognition of his contributions toward strengthening the cultural relations between the United States and Sweden.


Samuel Ginn, A pioneer in the wireless communications industry who served as chairman of Vodafone and now serves as a member of the Auburn University Board of Trustees and is the namesake for AU’s Ginn College of Engineering.

Waldo Semon, an inductee of the Inventor Hall of Fame and the inventor of vinyl and holder of over a hundred patents, was born in Demopolis.


Man Rock Ski, rapper

Benjie Spence, member of the eclectic post-rock band Garage Sale Warrior.

Jackson House, Demopolis Street, Greensboro, Hale County, AL

Click Here For Website of Demopolis, AL