|Cedarvine Manor goes on the auction block|
|Wednesday, October 27, 2010|
By KEN BECK
“The first gutters on the house were made of Virginia red cedar and the roof was covered with handmade, white oak shingles,” said Denney, 79, gazing toward the green tin roof that tops the mansion today.
In late December 1930, Denney, at 12 days of age, moved into this 12-room house in the Major community with his parents, Henry and Robbie Lee (Barrett) Denney, and his older brothers, Gene and Ralph. The 178-year-old white house stands on the east side of Highway 231 South about 10 miles from Lebanon.
The last Denney to live here was Leon’s mother, who moved out around 1985. Leon sold the place in the late 1980s, and it has since undergone a glorious restoration. Auctioned off for $982,000 this past February at the Wilson County Courthouse, Cedarvine will go on the auction block once more, at noon Saturday.
The two-story home, whose grounds were purchased through a Revolutionary War grant, began construction in 1832 but was not completed until 1865. Its original owner is believed to have been a physician named Jennings, who, according to Denney, “doctored the Union soldiers after the Battle of Murfreesboro.” Apparently the house served as a convalescent home for post-Civil War veterans. One room served as a morgue, and while there may or may not be ghosts here, there are ghost tales.
The manor, with a gorgeous winding staircase, 14-foot ceilings, five chandeliers and hand-stenciled hardwood floors, endures as a testament to American craftsmanship.
“It has been a fantastic entertainment facility. A lot of weddings happened there. The winding staircase is magnificent, and the front doors are beautiful,” said Carl Montgomery of Murfreesboro, who will be auctioning the property. “What is intriguing to me, it’s an old house, but they have really done a fantastic job of having the modern conveniences in it and still keeping the old country charm.”
Today’s version of his old home place seems pretty fancy to Denney, who has been a country boy, farmer, logger, timber buyer and furniture maker through the decades. Since 1965 he has lived in the house he built on the opposite side of the road about 300 yards south of Cedarvine.
His memories of the house that he grew up in during the Great Depression, World War II and Eisenhower years reflect how vast the changes have been.
“My grandfather, George Gore Denney, owned Cedarvine at one time, probably between 1910 to 1915, (it changed hands) before my father bought it in 1930 at auction from the Northwest Insurance Company,” Denney said.
He recollected the road out front was known as Highway 10 before it became Highway 231 and that it was a toll road built so people could haul cedar north to the factory in Lebanon, while the Virginia red cedar was carted south to Murfreesboro to a cedar bucket factory and a company that built water towers.
It cost travelers 40 cents to travel the toll road from Lebanon to Murfreesboro. Five blacksmiths kept busy here in the ’30s. A lot of their work consisted of repairing wagons, powered by horse or mule, that broke down on the road.
“We had a 320-acre farm, and we did all of it,” Denney said. “We bred mules and horses. We raised sows and pigs and sold Grade B milk. After we strained it and cooled it the primitive way, then Herman Knight picked it up and carried it to the Carnation Milk Company in Murfreesboro. We milked 12 to 15 cows. I started milking Old Blackie when I was 4 years old. We got a milk check every two weeks.”
As a youth, he worked hard beside his father and brothers. They drove the cattle to ponds to be watered. They grew corn to feed the horses. Wheat was raised to be sold and to be milled into flour. His mother raised guineas, Rhode Island Red hens, ducks and turkeys. There was also an orchard with pear, peach, apple and plum trees.
Beside the main house and dairy barn, the grounds held a smokehouse, four-seater outhouse and a cistern. They were all necessities. But there were a few luxuries.
“We got our lights on Nov. 6, 1936, from TVA. It cost $60 to wire the house after Daddy took the carbide gas system out. There was just a bulb hanging down in each room. Our first appliance was a little refrigerator, less than 10 cubic feet, with little ice trays. People would carry back some ice to give somebody something cool to drink,” said Denney, who attended the Major school.
His family had one of the first telephones in the community as they were on a 10-party phone line that ran from their house to Walter Hill to Norene to Gladeville.
As a young man in the 1950s, Denney began making furniture. His living room and den hold a few of his works that range from cedar Bible boxes to tables, cabinets and cedar closets. Not only did he work hands-on in the wood, but he also bought and sold it to numerous lumber companies.
For Gibson Guitars of Nashville in the mid-1990s, he found curly maple, grade 4X and without defects, that went into the construction of such name brand guitar models as the B.B King, the Chet and the Les Paul.
For years Denney sold white oak timber to Brown-Forman Corporation in Louisville and Chess & Wyman in Lebanon, Ky., that was made into barrels to hold whiskey where it could age into a fine sipping libation.
In the meantime, over the decades the old home aged as Father Time and Mother Nature took their toll. Denney would not be the one to give it a facelift.
“My dream was to restore it, but I didn’t have the carpentry experience nor the money,” Denney said. “I couldn’t keep people out of it. They were looting it. It was a constant thing of people getting in there. So I sold it in the late 1980s.”
At that time the old house and 32 acres fetched $35,000. Then in 1994, Jack and Jackie George purchased the place, restored and expanded it and opened it as an inn in 1999.
“It’s unreal how much he did in there. Mr. George liked cedar, and he was the one that named it Cedarvine. It’s all fond memories to me. I am so proud of it,” said Denney, who has witnessed the evolution of his old home into a handsome bed and breakfast and an old farm regenerate into a luxurious event center.
As for what the future holds for Cedarvine? Well, that remains to be determined by Saturday’s highest bidder. But for Denney, the memories of his humble home remain priceless.