My Trip to Cragfont

Today I went out to Cragfont and, let me tell you, that was the best $5 I have spent in a long time. I was the only person there, so the curator, the guy who’s been responsible for the home for the past three and a half decades, showed me the house. Just me. I got a personalized tour.

I really wanted to focus on the house itself. Not that the Winchesters aren’t interesting and, hey, thanks for Memphis, but I wanted to walk around a house just a little older than Ashland would be, if it were a real place. A house like this or the Hermitage is more of the style of Ashland than later homes.

When Cragfont was built, it was the largest home in Middle Tennessee, which, by today’s standard’s is not that large. But it has three rooms downstairs–a front ladies parlor, Winchester’s office, and a large sitting room that takes up the whole other side of the house. It’s also built in a lollypop shape, so there’s a kind of middle entrance hall with stairs going up to the ballroom, then the dining room and then the kitchen. On the other side of the kitchen is the smokehouse. Yes, all attached. In the early 1800s.

Which, of course, was my first source of questions. But the construction of the house is ungodly amazing. It’s all limestone. All of it. Every wall and those walls are at least a foot thick, I’d estimate. So, what worry did the Winchesters have of fire? I assume the house was built to withstand Indian attack, even though it was built after relative peace had broken out. I mean it’s clearly intended to be a fortress. And the cook slept above the kitchen, which, to me, is another sign that they didn’t want to risk losing a valuable, skilled slave to attack.

The stars on the building are the outside ends of long metal poles put through the house to hold it together during an earthquake. Much to my delight, these went in after the 1812 earthquake. Because, of course they did.

I also think the rock served to keep the house a steady temperature–like building yourself a giant, above-ground cave.

Also cool is that much of the stuff that’s painted in the house is painted with a buttermilk-based paint. The greens are buttermilk and various plants. The reds are buttermilk and… ready?… goat’s blood. Hell yes, I’m stealing that.

I was really impressed by how much he talked about the slave labor and basically how it made the house possible.

I had heard that Cragfont is ridiculously haunted, but I have to tell you, he’d been having such problems with things falling off the walls and it was so creepy in parts of the house–the front hallway, for instance–and we were in there all alone, so I just didn’t have the guts.

But it was beautiful and awesome and I’m so glad I went.

I would love to get into Fairview, too, even though it’s been substantially remodeled.

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