Mansion Restoration

restoration_pgThe Tennessean Newspaper, May 9th 2015

Donelson– It’s been nearly 30 years since water last bubbled from the stone figurine fountain in the center of the boxwood bush maze at the Two Rivers Mansion. But a history dating back even further has propelled a restoration effort that has the water gushing once again. And for the first time, a master plan could soon chart more improvements for a site steeped in Nashville history.The Metro Council recently voted to let the nonprofit Friends of Two Rivers Mansion pursue a state grant worth $30,000. If the state approves, Metro will match the amount and set in motion long-term planning for the Metro-owned 14-acre mansion property on McGavock Pike.

Built in the 1850s on a sprawling 1,100 acres where the Cumberland and Stones rivers meet, the antebellum mansion has seen some of its best and and worst days in the past decade, with a string of recent projects seeking to guarantee its vibrancy as a place for history tours, music events, weddings and recreation. “I knew the potential, but it had to be fixed. You can’t have brides out here at a ghost house,” said Laura Carrillo, Metro Parks events manager for the mansion and the Parthenon at Centennial Park. “The shabby chic — it had gone too shabby,” she said.

The home deteriorated for decades — including during a Metro staffing reduction that shifted more reliance onto the associated nonprofit group — until a $1.2 million city infusion. Completed in 2012, the project restored the mansion to its 1880s glory, when it was a thriving estate known for horse breeding, fox hunting, and dairy and orchard operations.

For area councilman and friends group president Phil Claiborne, the turnaround preserved the history of some of Nashville’s most prominent families. When he took office in 2007, the woodwork was coming apart and the paint peeling — threatening a property owned by William Harding, whose family also built the Belle Meade Plantation, and where three generations of McGavocks lived.

Metro bought the mansion and hundreds of surrounding acres in 1965 to create schools and the recreation area that now includes a golf course, greenway, water park and skate park. A massive, news-making auction sold off 18,000 items from the home in January 1966, scattering them across the country. Disinterest followed. Before long, the 1920s garden maze fell behind on upkeep and the fountain went dry. But the recent attention has brought a number of artifacts back to the mansion, including several from descendant William Bransford Blundin.

The Metro Council recently voted to let the nonprofit Friends of Two Rivers Mansion pursue a state grant worth $30,000. If the state approves, Metro will match the amount and set in motion long-term planning for the mansion property on McGavock Pike. In addition to his return of a 1780s mirror that weighs 800 pounds, Blundin funded repairs to the fountain and boxwood maze. At the center of the mansion’s tree-lined driveway, the highly visible garden ranked near the top of restoration priorities, Claiborne said. Walking the maze this week, he tugged off a straggling vine from a bush approaching 100 years old. Soon, he’ll make the case to donors on several other projects, including expanded tours and the potential to rebuild a carriage house destroyed in the 1930s. He said creating the grant-funded master plan will help draw support. “Normally, people are willing to give money, but they want to know what it’s going to,” Claiborne said. “It’s not a one-person thing; it’s a team effort.”

The public has gained increasing access to the grounds in recent years, including through private events and a concert series. But limits remain. From 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 9th 2015, an annual open house will provide a relatively rare opportunity to visit.  And the fountain will be flowing, with a dedication planned for 3 p.m.

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