Falcon Rest Mansion restoration has been difficult but rewarding
Monday, May 2, 2011
George McGlothin is shown in one of the rooms at the mansion in McMinnville. (Photo by Nicole W. Little)
That vision got him in very big trouble once with his wife, Charlien.
“Dad said don’t tell her you are going to the auction,” admits McGlothin. “I bought it without my wife ever knowing … I knew I was in trouble.”
“It” wasn’t something like a painting or a set of golf clubs or even a car. It was a 10,000 square foot mansion — in total disrepair. That was 22 years ago in 1989.
Today, Falcon Rest Mansion & Gardens in McMinnville, though always in a state of renovation and ongoing maintenance, is a jewel in the Upper Cumberland.
For McGlothin, his idea was to purchase the mansion as a place to retire. But as Charlien says, “Who needs 10,000 square feet to retire?”
Undaunted, McGlothin began working on the mansion. It was board by board, wall by wall, bush by bush. Everything had to be restored. Eventually, the couple decided to open it up to the public. Both said as the renovations were taking place, people would just stop in and want to see. They reasoned creating a business might be a worthwhile undertaking.
In the beginning …
The mansion was originally built in 1896 by Clay Faulkner, a local businessman with great influence. It is said he told his wife he wanted to move out of the city (at that time it was in the country) and she said if he built such a place, she would make the move. It took him one year to complete the mansion, which was quite quick in those days. The main mansion features 27 rooms and was home to the family for many years. Five children were raised at the place.
But along the way, the mansion was transformed into the local hospital and eventually, in a state of disrepair, it was put on the auction block. That’s when McGlothin decided it might be something worth having.
He said the mansion took four and one-half years to restore, just under the five-year timetable which he said makes or breaks a marriage when doing a project of this scope and magnitude. McGlothin did such a fine renovation job the mansion won the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 1997 Great American Home Award. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, and it was designated as a historic site on Tennessee’s Heritage Trail in 1996.
“Everyday I get up and go to work,” said McGlothin. “It’s like the tortoise and the hare. I’m the tortoise. I do a little bit everyday.”
Where history is fun
The mansion had been referred to by PBS as the “Tennessee Biltmore,” and in its heyday was called the finest mansion in the state. The restoration has certainly shown what a wonderful structure the place is and also showcases its history and the history of the area.
“Where history is fun” is the motto of the mansion, and for good reason.
One major attraction to Falcon Rest has to do with spirits — the ghostly kind, that is.
Overheard footsteps, lights that switch on and off by themselves, items that turn up where they weren’t before, whistled Christmas tunes from an unseen caroler, and strange orbs of light and costumed characters who appear in photos have persuaded the McGlothins they may not be alone.
They have used the ghost theme to develop a play which is performed on occasion at the mansion. In fact, live performances are a staple at Falcon Rest. Not only is McGlothin a visionary, he’s also a pretty good actor and stars in many of the plays which are part of the experience. People can stay next to the mansion at Falcon Manor Bed and Breakfast which is on the grounds.
So why do people visit Falcon Rest?
McGlothin thinks there are a wide variety of reasons. Some like the history, others enjoy the antiques, some for the mysterious and “unusual things,” others the restoration and some people come because “they were born here. It was a hospital.”
There is also the market for the plays, which have become very popular among tourists. McGlothin said in 2011, visitation numbers are up at the mansion, a hopeful sign following the recession. The plays come with a tour of the mansion as well as a full dinner. That’s not even mentioning the raucous entertainment. Much of the entertainment is interactive and people can make up their lines as they go, he said.
McGlothin said people travel from all over the world to see the mansion. He recently received an inquiry from Switzerland where someone had learned about the mansion from another person and is hoping to be able to come to McMinnville and see the place.
Inside the mansion visitors will find a wide variety of furnishings, from magnificent beds to original photographs on the walls to the grand staircase where several brides in the Faulkner family came down for their weddings.
Nearly every part of the house is original, including the fine wooden trims and the stand-alone closets, a rarity for that time. It was also one of the very few houses in Tennessee in the late 1800s which featured central heat and air, indoor plumbing, electricity and telephone service.
The grounds, too, are extraordinary, with trimmed hedges and tailored walkways. An adjoining building houses the kitchen area as well as the gathering place for the plays and other activities. It’s around 7,000 square feet.
A big project
And you can’t miss the gift shop, which also has seating for the restaurant. The gift shop features a wide variety of era-based items and some have called it a tour within the tour. In 2009, it was honored with an Ovation Award from the Cumberland Business Journal for its unique appeal.
All of the hard work has certainly paid off for the McGlothins, but it’s certainly not been easy.
“It is very tiring,” he said.
As for advice to someone maybe wanting to do something similar, McGlothin says, “Think long and hard before you do this.”
He said the five-year rule about saving a marriage has to be in play, though both admit they love old houses and have enjoyed the restoration despite some stressful times. McGlothin also said in the current economic climate, “if you aren’t a multi-millionaire, don’t start!”
McGlothin, who has long, gray flowing locks and is told all the time how much he looks like Buffalo Bill Cody (a character he now portrays), also had this to say: “I used to have dark hair and be skinny!”
For more about Falcon Rest, there is extensive information available at http://www.falconrest.com. The information includes details about the live performances. You can contact them at 931-668-4444.