It’s only 12 minutes from downtown Nashville, but on 136 acres outside of town, the 27,000-square-foot log cabin dubbed the Fontanel seems half a world away.
“Even though it is a tourist attraction, it is not a museum,” said Jaime Dudney, director of hospitality and entertainment at the Fontanel Mansion. “What makes us different than any other attraction is that we want visitors to feel like they are friends — sit on the furniture or strum a guitar.”
Dudney would know: She’s the daughter of Barbara Mandrell and her husband, Ken Dudney, and lived in the home for 14 years. The family fell in love with log homes and decided to build a dream home that was grand but still felt intimate.
The Dudneys sold the home to music managers Marc Oswald and Dale Morris, who eventually opened the mansion to the public, offering group tours seven days a week.
For a hands-on experience, hop on Gretchen Wilson’s four-wheeler; strum guitars previously owned by Buck Owens, Brooks and Dunn, or the Eagles; or lounge on Mandrell’s bed.
Even tour guides are local musicians and artists, so they are as likely to play you a song as they are to talk about the home’s architecture. Guides explain all of the logistics and engineering involved in the project.
Parkersburg, West Virginia
Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett’s 9,000-square-foot Palladian mansion on an island on the Ohio and West Virginia line was one of the largest residences in the United States when construction was finished in 1800. However, Blennerhassett got involved in the Aaron Burr conspiracy, which led him to eventually abandon the home.
“Blennerhassett was involved with Aaron Burr, who took two or three visits to the island trying to get him to invest in his expeditions,” said Pam Salisbury, event coordinator at Blennerhassett State Historic Park. “They were arrested for treason, but both [were] acquitted. It was more about expeditions to the territory out West rather than taking over the United States.”
Blennerhassett fled the island in 1806, never to return, and the home mysteriously burned to the ground in 1811. The home was reconstructed in 1984 based on the accounts of travelers who passed the island on the Ohio River; it features a main building with floor-to-ceiling windows and two covered walkways from the main building connecting two wings.
Groups can learn the story of the island and the family at the Blennerhassett Museum in Parkersburg through a 14-minute video and exhibits, then take a sternwheeler called the Island Belle across the Ohio River to Blennerhassett Island.
On the island, volunteers in period costumes interact with groups and give tours of the beautiful mansion, answering visitor questions about life in that time. Additionally, visitors can take carriage rides, hike or bike around the island.