Today (begun last night, Sunday, March 21, 2021) on the “If You Grew Up in Lebanon (TN)…” Facebook group, Elizabeth Spears asked about that wonderful mansion on the corner of Castle Heights Avenue (now with “North” added) and West Main. Responses explained it was the “Mitchell House” and one included a photo of the majestic place.
i could not help but respond. Now when i should be finishing some editing on my book or closing up shop, i am compelled to meet the obligation i created in that response.
A number of years ago when Danny Evins had bought the Mitchell House and made it the titular headquarters for Cracker Barrel, my mother, Estelle Jewell, wrote a brief essay and i took it to one of the PR folks with an office there. i just ran across her essay. i intended to give it to the City of Lebanon and the Wilson County archives but was not looking for it when i found it, just ran across it while shuffling papers. She played with David Mitchell when they were around five or six years old in that house in the early 1920’s. She also points out that her mother, my grandmother, Katherine Prichard, was a Heights housemother who had up to 20 goobers under her charge from 1958 until around 1971. i will post the link to my comments and her essay on my website soon.
And with no further ado, here is Mother’s essay:
Memories of the Mitchell House
by Estelle Jewell
As I go down West Main Street and see the restoring of the Mitchell House, it brings some vivid memories of my attachment to that house.
I was about four or five years old and David Mitchell was about a year older. After his mother died, his father brought his grandparents here to live and look after his children. They were Rev. and Mrs. Arthur Smith and had lived in Florida. Mr. Mitchell travelled a lot on business and the Smith’s live in the Mitchell house. I don’t remember much about the sister.
The Smith’s came to our church, and in those days people did visiting. My Grandfather was a retired Methodist minister and so was Rev. Smith. My grandparents lived about a mile from town on Hunter’s Point Pike (their farm was on the southwest corner of where Castle Heights Avenue now intersects with US 231 and is where Al’s Foodmart is now located). He decided one day to go visit the Smith’s and asked me to go with them as they had this grandson about my age. My grandfather, grandmother, and I went in the horse and buggy to visit. David and I had a good time playing. Then, the Smith’s asked me to come back and spend the day after that. David had a “Nanny” (I think her name was Mrs. Lawson). I went back to spend the day and the “Nanny” took us up to the play room on the third floor. I had never seen that many play things (even in a store). Most any thing you ever heard of he had. I can’t remember much about lunch but I did have to go to the bathroom. I think they had one for every bedroom and it amazed me because they all had standup bathroom scales. The “Nanny” took us to the library to read to us. Then she let us bring a car (the kind you pedaled with your feet) and a tricycle and a scooter down to the front porch to ride. Of course, I had never ridden any of them before but David let me try and I had a good time.
Later on the Smith’s wanted to move back to Florida and I guess they took the children with them. I wish I could have met him when he came back to Lebanon, but in 1954, I was working and had three children and a husband so was too busy to get there. When he returned in 1994, I was either out of town or was sick and didn’t get there then. But that house and all it’s grandeur and those play things I have thought about many a time.
And then, in 1958, Col. Armstrong hired my Mother as a house mother for some grade school boys, and she lived on the second floor of the Mitchell house with about 20 – 6th, 7th, and 8th grade boys. So I was in and out of there two or three times a week. She worked for Castle Heights for about 13 years.
This may not interest people, but for a small girl it was a wonderful experience.
Also part of the Castle Heights history, both of my boys attended their high school days there.
//Estelle Prichard Jewell//
That wonderful place, Castle Heights Military Academy, on the Hilltop is gone, quietly faded away in 1987.
Only a few of the buildings remain: Main is now the city’s administrative office. Colonel Ingram’s home as Commandant is owned by the Castle Heights Alumni Association, i think. The superintendent’s home is now Sammy B’s Restaurant.
The Rutherford Parks Library (where i spent an incredible amount of time in the stacks on the second level reading everything that wasn’t a homework assignment and still remember how moved I was by James H. Street’s The Biscuit Eater and Mika Waltari’s The Estruscan) is now the Castle Heights Military Academy Museum and Archives.
And of course, there is the round guard house near the Mitchell House. Danny Evins had a circle nearby with the name of graduates and their graduation year on the bricks of the circle.
A goal post and a scoreboard in the back of the lot where Wilson County Bank and Trust’s Operations Center now stands is all that remains of the football, soccer, and track field which was also the parade grounds where the cadet battalion would march down from Main on Sunday afternoons (along with other big events), march onto the field. The band would perform and then the drill team would put on a show with the parade concluding with the battalion “passing in review” before the gathered guests on the commander, his staff, the honored guests on the large podium, and friends, family, and town folks in the stands.
(i must admit i am in the Southwest corner and haven’t been home in more than two years. So my recounting of what remains of Heights is somewhat spotty. i hope i have gotten most of it correct.
i should add my only regret my sister Martha was not able to attend because it was a boy’s prep school when we were in school. i, like my brother, and so many others profited from the learning, the discipline, and the camaraderie of the corps available there. i wish Martha had the same opportunity.
As we have said many times: “Hail, Castle Heights!”