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The Victorian Mansion Where History Is Fun
Where do a Victorian mansion, humorous tales from the past, a friendly ghost, festive meals, and an 1890s department store add up to "fun" for history lovers touring Middle Tennessee? At the1896 mansion Falcon Rest, called "Tennessee's Biltmore" by PBS.
Located between Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville in McMinnville, the mansion is open daily for fun-filled individual and group tours that bring both the gilded-age elegance and carefree optimism of the "Gay Nineties" to life.
"The South is rich in antebellum mansions that tell the bittersweet story of the Civil War era," said General Manager Charlien McGlothin. "However, the 1890s were a lot more fun than the war years, and Falcon Rest is one of very few late Victorian mansions open for tours in Tennessee. "New forms of transportation, communication and entertainment were transforming the way people lived. 1890s Victorians eagerly embraced the progress which signaled the beginning of our modern era, but they still enjoyed the gentility of an innocent time. Our tours reflect those attitudes."
Like many fine homes built before and since, Falcon Rest owes its existence to a man's efforts to please his wife. In 1896, Warren County entrepreneur Clay Faulkner told his wife Mary he'd build her "the grandest mansion in Tennessee" if she would move next to their woolen mill 2-1/2 miles from downtown McMinnville.
Mary agreed, and Faulkner supervised construction as enthusiastically as he promoted the mill's "Gorilla Pants" (so strong even a gorilla couldn't tear them apart) and mineral water at the Faulkner Springs Hotel, the "ideal health and pleasure resort" he would eventually open on the lake across the road. A year later, the Faulkners and their five children moved into the 10,000-square-foot Victorian mansion. The careful attention to detail, tasteful elegance, top-notch materials, and quality workmanship in Clay Faulkner's home testify that he was a man of his word.
In addition to its architectural beauty, the solid-brick dwelling had, in the words of a local December 1896 newspaper article, all the "modern improvements conveniences of a model city residence" -- electric lights, indoor plumbing, central steam heat, spring water for air conditioning and refrigeration, closets, and even telephones. Falcon Rest's innovative systems and rock-solid construction inspired PBS to call it "Tennessee's Biltmore." Though Faulkner's residence was not as large nor his self-earned fortune as great as Vanderbilt's, Falcon Rest's cheerful decor and the fact that folks can imagine real people making a home there give it a special appeal.
A painstaking 4-1/2 year restoration, completed in 1993, won the National Trust for Preservation's 1997 Great American Home Award for outstanding restoration. Today, the mansion is filled with museum quality antiques, and some say it's presided over by a friendly ghost -- perhaps the proud builder himself. Guided history tours are offered for individuals from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. Visitors can enjoy a delicious "lunch in a basket" in Falcon Rest's Victorian Tea Room before or after their tour, then browse the adjoining Victorian Gift Shop, filled with 1890s treasures from lithophane night lights and old-fashioned toys to books on the era and elegant statuary.
Falcon Rest is a popular day trip destination for church and civic groups, as well as a memorable stopover for motorcoach groups traveling through Tennessee.
"We love to entertain tour groups, and the entire facility is designed to be group-friendly," said McGlothin. "Our approach to group tours -- which combines top-quality meals, entertainment and shopping with the mansion tour -- is probably different from any other heritage tourism attraction in the country."
"The Victorian Gentleman," decked out in top hat and cane, greets groups at their bus and escorts them to the lavish Victorian Carriage House dining room for a festive meal. After dessert, he regales them with stories about the mansion and its history in a style reminiscent of a Vaudeville show. Group members tour the mansion at their own pace without ropes or barriers, then shop for souvenirs of their visit to the 1890s in the Victorian Gift Shop.
For groups desiring to spend more time in the area, the fast-talking "Victorian Gentleman" can board the bus as a step-on guide for a rollicking tour through local history. From the Trail of Tears to the Civil War to the story of how dead cows gave Warren County one of its leading industries, all his "tall tales" are true! The beautiful waterfalls at nearby Rock Island State Park highlight the tour. Some groups also include shopping for bedding plants at one of the hundreds of nurseries that make McMinnville the "nursery capital of the world.
For more information, call 931-668-4444 or visit online at www.falconrest.com.
2645 Faulkner Springs Rd. | McMinnville, TN 37110 | 931-668-4444 | firstname.lastname@example.org