City buys ‘Scherf mansion’

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 20, 2010

Dr. Charles Tomberlin and Mayor Earl Johnson reached an agreement for the City of Andalusia to purchase Springdale, the historic East Three Notch estate, just before the property was to be auctioned Thursday.

The purchase price was $900,000, Johnson said. Prior to the auction, the property was listed for $1.6 million.

“It was clear to me from analyzing the situation the property was not going to be purchased as a residence,” Johnson said.

Mayor Earl Johnson signs documents for the purchase of Springdale Estate.

He said his fear was that the property would be purchased by a developer who would “destroy the historical integrity of the building.”

“During the last 50 to 75 years, dozens of our most historic homes and buildings have been lost,” he said. “Some of the ones we haven’t lost have fallen into disrepair.”

Springdale Estate was built in the 1930s, by John G. Scherf, the former four-term mayor of Andalusia, who founded John G. Scherf Industries, including Alatex and Andala in Andalusia.

The six-bedroom home rests on three acres and features meat and wine cellars, hardwood floors and beamed ceilings.  The property, which is 4.4 acres, joins the campus of city hall at the Covington County Veterans Memorial. The mayor said he plans to clean out some of the growth on the backside of the property to give it more of a park feel.

Johnson called Scherf “the father of modern Andalusia” and said but for Scherf’s efforts, “Andalusia would just be a crossroads right now.”

Johnson said he’s not sure exactly how the city will use the property, but he believes it offers tremendous potential for economic recruitment and special events.

“We may rent it out for wedding receptions and those kinds of things,” he said. “It will be a multi-use, multi purpose property. With its historic interior, it could even be a museum or sorts.”

He said the property is among the most unique in South Alabama.

“It would be an absolute sin to allow it to be lost in our community,” he said, adding that if the city hadn’t purchased it, in a decade local residents would be wondering “why the city didn’t buy it.”

He compared it to the sale of the Alatex property at auction in the 1990s.

“The mayor at the time said he wouldn’t bid more than $300,000 for the property,” Johnson recalled. “It sold for less than $350,000. We just bought it for $1.2 million and it was a good deal.”

Springdale, the historic estate of Charles and Mary Margaret Tomberlin, was built by John G. Scherf.

The purchase agreement allows the city to pay for the property over five years.

Tomberlin and his wife, Mary Margaret Tomberlin, offered 21 pieces of property for sale at auction as Dr. Tomberlin prepares to retire from his 46-year medical career.

A total of 37 bidders attended the event and bid a collective $2.6 million for the properties, auctioned by the National Auction Group of Gadsden, Ala.

Tomberlin had reserved the right to refuse offers on some of the property and said Thursday afternoon he wasn’t sure which properties, which ranged from the Springdale Estate to a beachfront condominium, would actually be sold.