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Hundred Oaks Castle in Winchester Tennessee

Interesting Site Short Drive From Huntsville

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Hundred Oaks is one of thirteen historic castles in America and is listed in the Smithsonian Guide to Historic America. Be sure to check out my Hundred Oaks Castle Photos. And, more importantly, Hundred Oaks Castle has ties to Huntsville, Alabama. Castles aren't just found in fairy tales any more. A short 55-minute drive from Huntsville to Winchester, Tennessee provides a glimpse of a majestic castle--complete with towers, a carriage house, a great hall, underground tunnels, and beautiful gardens. In fact, one garden designed by the famous garden designer, Rosemary Verey of England, is presently under construction.

History of the Plantation House
If you think it's strange to find a castle in Tennessee, you should know that the castle didn't start out as a castle. It started out in 1830 as a two-story plantation house for Benjamin Decherd, a railroad tycoon, for whom the town of Decherd, Tennessee is named.

Decherd sold the plantation to Elisha Thompson and his son-in-law, Benjamin Parks. They, in turn, sold the house to Benjamin McGehee who rented the plantation to George and Priscilla Hunt. The Hunts later bought the plantation. George Hunt was a descendant of John Hunt, for whom Huntsville, Alabama was named and Clinton Hunt, for whom Huntland, Tennessee was named.

The Hunts sold the land in the early 1860's to Albert Marks, a relative of Thomas Jefferson and the twenty-first governor of Tennessee. Albert's son, Arthur Handly Marks, was the first person to count the large oak trees on the plantation from which came the name "Hundred Oaks."

Arthur Marks was given a diplomatic position in England where he spent much of his time in the countryside, admiring the architecture of the homes and castles. On a trip to Germany he met and fell in love with Mary Hunt, a wealthy native of Nashville. They married in Scotland and returned to Winchester in 1889. Arthur began the expensive and time-consuming task of converting the plantation home into what is now Hundred Oaks Castle.

The Plantation Becomes a Castle
The plantation house was converted to a 12-bedroom castle, with 40-foot high ceiling in the Great Hall, a dining room with oak beamed ceiling, a small study patterned after Sir Walter Scott's study in Scotland, a wine cellar, loggia, and other features of medieval architecture. The stones were brought by wagon from Sewanee Mountain, the brick was baked locally, and the woodwork was handmade by a local Winchester craftsman.

Arthur Marks died in 1882, at the age of 28, from typhoid fever. His widow remarried. The estate was in a number of lawsuits. The land changed hands several times. In 1900, Paulist Fathers, an order of Roman Catholic priests, bought the castle and 400 acres of land.

The library was converted into a chapel with large stain-glass windows. These were removed when the monks later sold the property. The Monks sold much of the land, established a creamery with Holstein cattle. The church, monastery, and school continued until 1953.

Fire Destroys the Castle
The property changed hands many times in the 50's and 60's. In 1975, Winton and Peggy Douglas purchased the castle and built a brick caretaker's home next door, added a large commercial kitchen, and opened the castle as a restaurant and private club.

In 1981, Alta Reagan bought the castle at an auction. She leased it to the Franklin County Adult Activity Center which used it as a training center for many years. After 4 years, she deeded the castle to the center as a gift. In May 1990, a fire broke out on the property, destroying one wing of the castle. The property remained boarded up until 1996 when it was purchased by the Kent Bramlett Foundation, a charitable organization.

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