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The Victorian Mansion Where History Is Fun

In 1989, anyone who saw Falcon Rest, the circa-1896 home of McMinnville textile magnate Clay Faulkner, saw a shambles -- but not McMinnville native George McGlothin, home visiting one weekend from Fayetteville. He saw a diamond in the rough. The old mansion, built by the manufacturer of Gorilla Pants (“so strong even a gorilla couldn¹t tear them apart), had served time as a hospital and a nursing home in the 1940s, 50s and 60s and was at last abandoned, looted and forlorn.

“We had been restoring old houses for about 13 years, but the first time I showed my wife that half-dismantled disaster, she took one look at it and said, “You put a mortgage on my house for this?” McGlothin recalls. “We spent 4-1/2 years completing the restoration, doing about 95 percent of the work ourselves."

McGlothin did such a fine renovation job that the mansion won the National Trust for Historic Preservation¹s 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 Tennessee¹s Heritage Trail in 1996. “Bob Vila’s magazine crew said they had never seen a place this far gone brought back to this state,” said McGlothin. “I spent a year of my life under the mansion doing wiring and plumbing. I went in with dark hair and came out like this,” he said, gesturing to his white, almost-shoulder-length hair.

Falcon Rest was dubbed “Tennessee¹s Biltmore” by PBS because of the amenities it boasted for its time. “This is the only place I know of in Tennessee you can tour that in the 1800s they can document having central heat and air, electric lights, pressurized running water, indoor bathrooms, refrigeration, even a telephone, closets, and all the walls running all the way down to the bedrock,” said McGlothin. Once he and his wife, Charlien, returned the mansion to its original splendor, they added their own extensive collection of Victorian antiques and opened it to the public as an historic tourist attraction, complete with Victorian gift shop and tea room.

Individuals are welcomed 9 to 5 daily for guided mansion tours that put the emphasis on fun.

 

Fun for Tour Groups

Falcon Rest specializes in fun for groups – from school field trips to senior motorcoach tours. McGlothin dresses in period costume and delivers humorous, Vaudeville-style renditions of the mansion¹s history. As the fast-talking “Victorian Gentleman,” he regales groups of 20 or more over lunch or dinner with a dizzying array of facts about the 10,000-square-foot mansion.

Groups can become part of the entertainment themselves with three interactive history shows offered along with meals and tours: “Murder at the Mansion," “Ghost at the Mansion," and "The Honeymoon Ball of Gen. John Hunt Morgan."

An interactive whodunit, “Murder at the Mansion” takes place during a banquet served in Falcon Rest¹s Victorian Carriage House dining room. The show is set at an elegant dinner party given in 1897 by Clay Faulkner and his wife, Mary, who are celebrating completion of their new mansion. The guests – portrayed by group members -- include the extended Faulkner family and a variety of McMinnville notables from 1897, along with nationally prominent individuals such as President William McKinley, Rev. Sam Jones, Susan B. Anthony and Annie Oakley. To Mrs. Faulkner¹s dismay, a town drunk and the local madam could show up as well. When a dastardly murder mars the celebration, audience members help special guest star Buffalo Bill Cody discover which one of them is the culprit. After the meal is completed and the murder is solved, guests are treated to a tour of the mansion.

“Ghost at the Mansion,” was inspired by some real-life occurrences at the mansion. Overheard footsteps, lights that switch on and off by themselves, items that turn up where they weren¹t before, whistled Christmas tunes from an unseen caroler, and strange orbs of light and costumed characters who appear in photos have persuaded the McGlothins that they may not be alone.

"People have been asking us to do something about the ghosts at Halloween ever since we opened,” said McGlothin. “We decided to incorporate some of the most popular features of the murder show into an original play about our unseen “inhabitants.” Instead of the typical haunted house scenario, the setting for “Ghost at the Mansion” is a ghost convention. “Falcon Rest players are the 'host ghosts,' and audience members are assigned characters of no-longer-living folks as well,” said McGlothin. The show ends with a special surprise twist and a “spooktacular” buffet in the Victorian Carriage House reception hall. “Ghost at the Mansion’” is now offered by request to groups of 30 or more.

The newest show is "The Honeymoon Ball of Gen. John Hunt Morgan." Based on actual events in McMinnville during the Civil War, it is set at an 1863 banquet and ball given in honor of dashing Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and his 21-year-old bride Mattie.

Falcon Rest actors portray Gen. Morgan and local hostess Lucy Virginia French. Once again, the real stars of this original Civil War show are audience members, who assume the characters of real people who were actually in McMinnville in 1863. One of them even gets to portray the blushing bride herself!

Step-on guide service may be added for groups desiring to discover more about the McMinnville area. The Victorian Gentleman will board a coach or tour bus to provide a rollicking tour of the town¹s history, including a stop at the waterfalls at Rock Island State Park.

No visit to Falcon Rest is complete without a visit to the Victorian Gift Shop next door to the mansion. The 1,200-square-foot store features 1890s-style treasures, from lithophane nightlights and old-fashioned toys to books on the era and die-cut greeting cards. Adjoining the shop is The Victorian Tea Room, where visitors can enjoy a basket lunch or formal Victorian tea, both offered 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

For more information about Falcon Rest, call (931)668-4444 or visit them online at www.falconrest.com.

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Adapted from 2005 article by Margaret Schuster of the Cookeville, Tenn., Herald Citizen newspaper

For additional information contact
Charlien McGlothin, General Manager
Falcon Rest Mansion

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2645 Faulkner Springs Rd. | McMinnville, TN 37110 | 931-668-4444 | falconrest@falconrest.com