For the last year, Springdale has been used for city-sponsored events and private rentals for weddings, parties and birthday celebrations. It’s been the site of Three Notch Market, an annual Easter egg hunt, culinary classes for Lurleen B. Wallace Community College, receptions for legislators and potential industrial development partners, and a Christmas open house with rooms decorated by local civic groups.
When the Spanish-style home was to be sold at auction two years ago, city leaders feared the property would either be developed for commercial use or be left vacant and fall into disrepair.
So the city bought it. As far as Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson is concerned, it was worth every penny.
“Beyond providing us a venue for different things, it has saved an historic landmark in our city,” Johnson said. “If that had been taken from the city or altered in anyway, it would have changed the essence of downtown Andalusia.”
When not in use, the stately grounds are open for picnics or a leisurely stroll.
“I call it our little Biltmore,” Johnson said. “You get that feel.”
Built by John G. Scherf, the house known as Springdale has been one of the most recognizable in this Covington County city for nearly 80 years. Its features speak to the richness of its construction in 1935 even as the U.S. was struggling out of the Great Depression. Handmade molding throughout the house, a chandelier with amber-colored crystal (valued today around $40,000), a meat cellar carved into the backyard landscape, a separate carriage house complete with a laundry wash room, and a 700-square-foot guest house (where Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant is reported to have stayed during a visit with the estate’s second owners).
Thanks to a natural spring on the property, the home to this day is heated using a geothermal system. There are cedar closets throughout the house and a bathroom for every bedroom. Electrical outlets wired into the base molding of the home blend with their surroundings unlike their modern-day, three-prong counterparts. A 425-square-foot basement once served as a wine cellar.
And that’s just the house. The grounds feature ponds fed by the same spring that heats the home. There’s a concrete arbor covered in muscadine vines along with original camellia bushes and brick walkways.
“It’s such a focal point,” said Vanessa Nelson, the City of Andalusia’s horticulturalist and the home’s curator. “This magnificent house has been here for all these years.”
The estate was originally named Springdale by Scherf as a nod to the property’s natural spring, although the home has been referred to as Scherf mansion and even the Tomberlin mansion (the estate’s second and previous owner).
“Springdale was actually lost,” Nelson said of the name. “It got lost in the history.”
Scherf immigrated to the U.S. from Germany in the early 1900s when he was 19. He had a background in civil engineering and law and moved to Covington County in the 1920s to work with the local chamber of commerce. In 1923, he and other investors formed the Alabama Textile Products Corporation, or Alatex, which employed 3,500 people at one point. Scherf served as mayor of Andalusia from 1932 to 1948 and is credited with getting the city out of debt and creating the city-owned utilities, the city planning commission and the recreation board.
The Scherf family sold Springdale in 1981 to Dr. Charles Tomberlin, whose family owned the estate for nearly 30 years. Tomberlin sold the estate to the city for $900,000. The city paid another $300,000 for a lot between Springdale and city hall.
The city added a commercial kitchen on the back of the carriage house as well as public restrooms behind the carriage house and a modern bathroom inside the main home. The estate is now connected to city hall through a driveway.
The purchase wasn’t without controversy even though it was voted for unanimously by the City Council. But since the property had been rezoned at some point for commercial use, Johnson said there was a real possibility that Springdale could have been purchased by developers, its grounds turned into a parking lot and the home split into business offices.
The city, Johnson said, had already lost too many of its historic homes and buildings over the years. It couldn’t afford to lose a historic piece of property like Springdale, he said.
“We had to step up and do the right thing and suffer the consequences,” Johnson said. “Either you have vision and hopefully can do the right thing on what you can see and you take action on it or you don’t.”