For six years following the death of Catharine Williams, her grand old home lay deserted. The sounds of servants working, children playing, of visitors coming and going — it was all now quiet. The large windows and the paths once lit by lantern light were now dark. Once more the grandest, most storied home in East Tennessee was up for sale in February of 1876. The executors for the estate, James Deadrick and David Sevier, ran the ad in the Union and American, a Greeneville newspaper, on Jan. 13, 1876, announcing the auction.
The ad is almost identical to the one Sevier ran in 1865. The Lick Creek Mill was gone but the land surrounding it still was part of the estate. As the ad reads, extraordinarily little of the land was sold in 1865. It had been over ten years since the war’s conclusion and people had regained some of their wealth. The social atmosphere had changed drastically since the conclusion of the war. Included in the sale offering was the College Farm. The total acres being sold neared 4,000, which was a lot of land. The prime lots were along Depot Street and near the Depot itself. The prize, of course, was the mansion and gardens.
The mansion and lots were purchased to serve as a school. It was named The Edwards Academy and later changed its name to the Greeneville Academy. They advertised regularly in The Democrat (Greeneville Newspaper) that they had a “large and commodious building and magnificent grounds formerly known as the Williams Homestead.” One ad read that “one student, during the past year, who brought his own provisions from home spent only $4 in cash on his tuition.” They advertised “Tuition expenses $13 to $35 per month according to method of boarding.”
Greeneville Academy later advertised “An English, Classical, and Mathematical School for Boys and Girls. Terms: $1.50, $2, or $2.50 per month, according to class. French and German extra. Payment monthly in advance. Pupils should be present as early in the session as possible. Rev. W. C. Harding, Principle.”
In 1893, Greeneville Academy sold the mansion property to Unaka Tobacco Works which sold their products under the brand name “Som” tobacco. Soon after selling the property, the Academy purchased The Rhea Academy.
By March of 1894 the Unaka Tobacco Works saw their property “seized by the government for the violation of internal revenue laws.” B.F. Stephens, one of four brothers involved in the tobacco enterprise, went missing. To “protect the stockholders from financial loss and probable litigation” the three remaining brothers sought to settle a compromise with the IRS. Unaka had mis-stamped its tobacco products and the friendly folks at the IRS were willing to settle the matter for $700, the amount due on the improperly stamped tobacco and a penalty. This story was picked up by newspapers across the country. In a few days, a follow up story was sent out informing readers that Greeneville businessman and former sheriff A.J. Stephens was not one of the Stephens brothers.
The Unaka Tobacco Works apparently did not fare well after their troubles with the IRS. They sold the business in May 1894 to R.C. Emerson and the mansion in 1895 to Charles G. Armitage. The mansion reopened on Aug. 1, 1897, as The Morgan Inn. It advertised “New throughout. In the center of the town. All outside rooms. Sample room in the business center. C.G. Armitage, proprietor.” The Inn operated for the next 15 years before the mansion was sold again.
Dr. Claude P. Fox Sr. opened Fox’s Hospital in 1912 and added a nursing school in 1913. He died in 1939 with the hospital continued by his son Dr. Haskell W. Fox Sr. It became Greeneville Sanatorium and Hospital. A large, fireproof annex was added in 1930. This included housing for medical, surgical, isolation, and pediatric patients. It also included the operating suites, X-ray department, and emergency room. The medical building (doctors’ offices) was added in 1956 to house the medical practices of Dr. Fox and Dr. Luke Ellenburg.
Graduates of the school of nursing served throughout the country as well as around the globe with the U.S. military. My mother, Minnie B. Southerland, lived in the top floor of the mansion as a nursing student for four years. After completing her RN training in Washington, D.C., she served as Dr. Fox’s nurse for a few years. It served the area as Greeneville Hospital until being sold to Takoma Adventist Hospital and closed in 1978.
On April 4, 1986, the Greene County Commission purchased the old hospital property from Takoma. I was serving on the commission at that time and was on board early to save the mansion. Some of my fellow commissioners felt we should move county offices from the crowded courthouse into the doctors’ offices. Some county offices were located there for a time.
The original plan included knocking the mansion and medical buildings down for those magical thirteen parking spaces we were told we would get. My mother told me she would “pinch my head off” if I let them tear down the old hospital. Men don’t go against their mothers, especially one that squirted Ivory Snow dishwashing detergent in their mouth for trying cuss at age 5.
With completion of the bypass in 1967, the town witnessed the slow migration of business from the downtown area. Homes such as the Milligan and Snapp homes gave in to progress. Some leaders were alarmed at the decay of what was becoming a deserted Main Street. Words like “revitalization,” “preservation” and “tourism” became a common topic.
The early 1970s saw leaders taking action to celebrate the country’s Bicentennial and Greene County’s own coming bicentennial. The Greene County Heritage Trust was formed by a group of historians and community leaders to facilitate historic preservation. They planned a weeklong Bicentennial celebration in 1976 and in 1980 celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Kings Mountain. The beautification of Richland Creek and The Big Spring is in thanks to the Trust.
What would become the Nathanael Greene Museum (now the Greeneville-Greene County History Museum) was started in a storage room at the courthouse. The Trust sought to have the “old-style” streetlights and brick sidewalks installed and saw them lined with trees. They worked to save the Doak House at Tusculum from collapse. This experience would be invaluable in saving the mansion.
In addition, it was not long after the 1977 release of the movie “Roots” that spurred a nationwide interest in genealogy. Many Greene Countians were digging up their own family roots, which added to the excitement knowing just how and where their own family had lived in pioneer times.
Saving the mansion also coincided with the Tennessee Homecoming ’86 celebration, one of Greene County’s largest celebrations ever. Local and community pride was at a peak with the renewed interest in local history only adding to the enthusiasm. Saving the mansion would be another source of local pride.
Every undertaking needs a champion with the foresight and desire to get the ball rolling and see it through fruition. It was Richard Doughty who stepped up; it was long his dream, his vision, his passion to see the old Lady disemboweled from the hospital structure and returned to former grandeur. He needed a small miracle and he needed a lot of help. He needed a lot of money. Doughty was known for his passion for local history. Some found him to be an odd duck. Odd duck or not, he knew history and he knew how to work with people.
Doughty and historian Harry Roberts shared a bit of an oil and water relationship. They respected each other but did not refrain from taking jabs at one another. They were not two people you would expect to see sharing a cup of coffee at Brumley’s on a Saturday morning. To their credit, they put their differences aside and Roberts was one of the mansion’s staunchest supporters. He wrote articles for the newspaper and letters to the editor reporting on the mansion and encouraging the community to support the endeavor.
Saving the mansion was a monumental task as I have related. Doughty recruited from among his base, historic groups, politicians, businessmen and women, many who had been his students. They held a tremendous respect for Doughty and were not about to let him down. I witnessed a slow wave of change come across my fellow County Commissioners. They had decided to save the old hospital and lease it to a historic group being formed and therefore it would not be a cost liability on the county.
Doughty related in a 1995 interview, “I had had the idea of restoring the historical structure for many years and first mentioned it publicly in October 1986 at a meeting of the Greene County Historical Society” who had asked him to make a talk about the mansion. “We held the meeting in the mansion, which was just a shell at the time, expecting 35-50 persons to attend. To our amazement, 196 came.”
Greene County owned the building but The Heritage Trust agreed to sponsor the restoration project until another organization could be formed and take over responsibility. The Greene County Commission voted in 1987 to lease the property to the Heritage Trust for 99 years. The Dickson-Williams Historical Association was soon formed and assumed the lease and responsibilities from the Trust.
At the Trust’s Nov. 29, 1986, Christmas dinner, five families donated $1,000 each to get the ball rolling. Two mornings later the newly formed D-W Historical Association held its first fund raising event, a Christmas brunch held at the mansion which drew 132 people. It netted $8,000. An Easter brunch was immediately announced. While these were nice healthy lumps of cash, they were but drops in a swimming pool of the more than a million dollars that was needed.
It was soon announced that five persons had gone together on a bank note of $100,000. They received two state grants of $50,000 and $33,000. Several grants and gifts ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 were announced. One of the intangible gifts, that of time, labor and equipment was immeasurable. Jimmy Cansler, a Trust board member and owner of C&C Millwright, supplied workers and heavy equipment as needed. The community was indeed coming together to see the grand old lady returned to glory.
Doughty emphasized on that Oct. 17, 1986, evening at the mansion, “Its up to us to see that the old mansion is restored as a memorial monument to our glorious heritage — as something to pass to our children and our children’s children as part of the great heritage of Greeneville.”
Roberts, now serving as vice president of the D-W Heritage Association wrote, “Refurbished, the magnificent mansion will be the pride of the entire area and the supreme achievement of present generations of Greeneville and Greene Countians.” He reiterated, “The mansion will place Greene County in a position of preeminence among towns of Tennessee as a mecca for tourists.” He emphasized that giving money to the mansion was not only “a source of personal satisfaction, but that in this case, it is money well invested in the future of Greene County.”
Raising the funds was one thing, the difficult task of bringing the building back to life was quite another. Next week we will rebuild the skeleton of the glorious building.