History: The Bentons gave Greenwood Plantation a breath of new life

History: The Bentons gave Greenwood Plantation a breath of new life
Photo: The Greenwood Plantation near Pittsview was originally built in 1846 by Dr. John Benson Henry in the developing community of Glennville. It was moved to its present site eight miles south of Pittsview in 1878. The late Russell County District Attorney William “Bill” Benton and his wife Mildred purchased the house in 1989 and began restoring it to its initial beauty.

Editor’s Note: Russell County has a long history that is important to the State of Alabama and its evolvement from an area described in the book “Russell County in Retrospect” by Anne Kendrick Walker as a “barbaric land” to what it is today. Many of the people who set their roots in the county in its early days including the state’s first Territorial Delegate to the United States Congress, important Native Americans who paid with their lives to cede land that created the county, a family that started a place of higher learning in south Russell County that later led to the establishment of one of the state’s most known institutions of education today and a former slave who placed a monument to honor his former owner, are very much important to the formation of Alabama. The story that follows is another of a series to inform you – our readers – about the history of Russell County. 

In 1989, former Russell County District Attorney William “Bill” Benton and his wife Mildred were in the market for a Greek Revival country house, their ambition being to faithfully restore it as a residence and to be a focal point for their interest in Russell County history.

Finding Greenwood at a time when the Pitts-Mitchell family were getting older and finding the estate difficult to maintain, the Bentons purchased the house, most of the furnishings, and something over 223 acres of the land from the Pitts-Mitchell family. Immediately undertaking a major restoration, the Bentons repaired, repainted and reroofed the exterior and completely refinished the interior, with particular attention to the selection of period wallpapers. They have also added a number of fine pieces to the furniture already in the house.

Although the house was not nominated to the National Register based on its association with Samuel Rutherford Pitts, he deserves some recognition and so does Pittsview. Pitts was born in Stewart County, Georgia in 1847, an older son of Russell County pioneer Richard Moore Pitts. He achieved the rank of first lieutenant in the Second Georgia Volunteers, was wounded in the Wilderness and returned to Russell County to become a planter and merchant. 

Pitts and three of his brothers owned farms in close proximity on the 2,000 acres belonging to the Pitts family. After his marriage in 1874 and the establishment of his house on its present site in 1878, Samuel Pitts assumed the role of a prominent landowner in the county.

In 1890, there began to be talk of a railroad, the potential of which Pitts recognized early. After Glennville refused to allow the Savannah, Americus & Montgomery line to be built through its environs, Pitts had about 30 acres of his land surveyed for division into town blocks and exercised his influence to bring the railroad to that place. A depot was built on land donated by him for the purpose, and in his family’s honor the new settlement was named Pittsboro; the name was subsequently changed to Pittsview after some aural confusion with Hurtsboro. The Savannah, Americus & Montgomery eventually became part of the Seaboard Air Line system.

The location of this house at Pittsview predates the establishment of the town itself by some 11-12 years, and whereas its longest association has been with the Pitts family, the Greenwood Plantation house was originally built by Dr. John Benson Henry in 1846 in the developing community of Glennville, which is about eight miles south of Pittsview. Glennville is the location of several very fine Greek Revival houses dating from the late 1830s through the 1840s, all of one storey with the exception of the 1840 Americus Mitchell House – now Glennville Plantation.

The other house most comparable in style and ambience to the Henry House is the 1840 Richardson/Quarles House, although the latter has been more altered in its restoration than has the Henry House. The Richardson/Quarles house, in its original form a “six-column house,” was very similar in execution to the “four-column” Henry house across the street; though necessarily speculative, it is reasonable to assume that both or all of these houses are related in construction history, very likely having been built by the same hand.

There is a local tradition that wintering shipbuilders constructed such houses using all the skills of their trade and, although not proven, such a supposition would be justified by the care and craftsmanship expended on houses like the Henry/Pitts House.

The Henry House was built very near the Americus Mitchell and Richardson/Quarles houses, on Continuation Street just south of the former and north of the latter. Dr. Henry did not live into old age, and after his death the house belonged to the Samuel Eberharts. Mr. Eberhart sold the house to Samuel Rutherford Pitts some time after the latter’s marriage in 1874. Mr. Pitts dismantled the house board by board, numbered every piece, and loaded it onto ox-carts for the seven-mile trip to his homestead. There it was reassembled exactly as it was built.

Cleburne Eberhart, a witness to this process, said they “never lost a plank.” One of Sam’s great-nephews, Robert Feaser, reported that, when the house was restored in 1949-54 and the plaster was being replaced, he satisfied himself that the numbers were still visible on the inner faces of the boards.

For more information on the Greenwood Plantation, check out the National Register of Historic Places online.