Millenium Manor

Millenium Manor

Millenium Manor

Steve and I are extremely fond of vernacular visionary architecture and folk-art environments. We’ve been known to take some fairly extreme detours to visit these fascinating places, and we’ve experienced the delight of stumbling across others unexpectedly in our travels.

The artists who create these site-specific constructions are typically self-taught, eccentric individuals who are driven to follow their personal visions, and labor extensively and steadfastly over long periods of time to create a single great work of monumental scale. Whether created as private sanctuaries for solitary reflection or to make public statements for intended audiences, these works often give expression to powerful underlying philosophical, religious, or political views. Created with improvised construction methods and readily available materials, they are often inherently fragile. They are forced to withstand weather extremes, often face misunderstanding and ridicule from unsympathetic neighbors, and are vulnerable to acts of vandalism. Upkeep can be costly, time consuming, and challenging, and in all too many cases, they are destroyed following the artist’s death.

We were intrigued to learn about a structure in nearby Alcoa, Tennessee, known locally as the Old Stone House or Millennium Manor, so naturally, we decided to check it out.

W A Nicholson

W. A. Nicholson

William Andrew Nicholson, a mason and carpenter from Pickens County, Georgia, constructed the Old Stone House along with his wife, Fair, the mother of his ten children. Nicholson had come to Alcoa in 1937 during a worker’s strike at the aluminum smelting plant, as a “replacement for striking workers”—more commonly referred to as “scab labor.” (By the time the strike was over, 28 people had been wounded and 2 killed in a violent clash between striking workers and the company’s police force, and the National Guard was called in to restore order.) Following the strike Nicholson stayed on at Alcoa, and the following year he purchased a lot overlooking the plant and began building the house. He was 61 years old when he began his great project.

Nicholson’s goal was to build the house to last. Specifically, he wanted it to survive Armageddon and a thousand years beyond. He took a literalist view of the Bible, and was inspired by Revelations 20:6, “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” Nicholson had somehow calculated that the Apocalypse would take place in 1959; when that year came and went uneventfully, he revised his calculation to 1969. He believed that he would be one of 144,000 righteous people to survive and live for a thousand years.

To that end, Nicholson built the house with materials that would not corrode or decay—no nails or wood were used with the exception of window and door frames. The house is constructed primarily of local granite and Tennessee pink marble quarried at nearby Friendsville, and more than 4,000 bags of cement. There are 14 rooms and a 2-car underground garage, for a total of about 3,000 square feet under a 3-foot thick roof said to weigh more than 400 tons. The walls vary from 19 inches to 25 inches thick, and the floor is more than 4 feet thick. The entire lot is enclosed within a rock wall.

Millenium Manor 2

Working without formal plans, Nicholson used the stone arch technology developed by the ancient Romans some two thousand years ago. Nicholson first created wood forms. Upstairs, to make smoother interior walls, he placed rubber tarps over the wood. After stacking the stone on the forms, he set the center keystone to keep the rocks steady. He poured cement over the stones to fill cracks and hold the rocks in place, and then removed the wood form and tarp.

William and Fair hauled all the rock themselves, some weighing up to 300 pounds each, on their flatbed truck. Fair mixed the cement for the mortar. They toiled together on their project over a period of 9 years, working from 6 to 8 hours per day after William had put in a full shift at the plant.

Millenium Manor Interior

Fair died in 1950, and the grieving William followed her in 1965, four years before the predicted Millennium. The house stood abandoned for a number of years, was briefly used as an Odd Fellows lodge, and was run as a Halloween haunted house by the local Jaycees before falling into disrepair. It became a drinking place for local teenagers, was ravaged by vandalism, used as a trash dump, and encased in a jungle of vines until, facing demolition, it was rescued in 1995 by its current owner, Knoxville fire captain and paramedic, Dean Fontaine. He has been working for 17 years to restore the house. He took time out to give us an impromptu tour of his home yesterday afternoon.

Of course, no architectural oddity would be complete without tales of hauntings, and it is said that you can still see candlelight through the windows and hear Mr. Nicholson working on the house at all hours.

—Lynne Adele

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Punkin and Melinda: A Love Story

We in The Victor Mourning always appreciate a good tale of eternal love. Whether it be Adam & Eve, Johnny & June, or Lux & Ivy, nothing warms the heart more than a story about two people who seem made for each other finding one another against all odds—especially when those two people are relatively unique sorts.

Recently in our reading we came across the story of John Wayne “Punkin” Brown of Parottsville, Tennessee. Punkin was a devout fellow. He believed in following the “five signs” as outlined in Mark 16:17-18: casting out devils, speaking in tongues, laying hands on the sick, drinking poison (usually strychnine or lye), and taking up serpents. Punkin was well known amongst the followers of the five signs, and he preached at little churches all over the southeast.

Punkin Brown

Punkin Brown

Sometime around 1981, when Punkin was in his late teens, he attended a “homecoming” for serpent handlers at a church in Kingston, Georgia. During the service, he spotted 14 year-old Melinda Duvall in the crowd. His brother Mark tells us, “Punkin had seen her down there handling big rattlesnakes, speaking in tongues, and shouting. He seen all that and that just hooked him right there. He found a woman who liked to do the things that he liked to do.” After Punkin got back home to Parrotsville, he told his brother, “I’ve met me a tongues-talking, serpent-handling Holiness woman and I’m going to marry her!” Punkin and Melinda were married a year later.

Like all the best stories of true love, this one lasted till the very end. On August 6, 1995, during a service at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, Kentucky, Melinda was bitten by a black timber rattler she was handling. Within two days, the 28 year-old mother of five was dead.

Three years later on October 3, 1998, Punkin Brown was preaching a service at the Rock House Holiness Church of God in rural Jackson County, Alabama. During his sermon he was bitten by a yellow timber rattler. Punkin looked at the bite and said, “God don’t ever change. It’s gonna be all right.” Soon after, he uttered what may have been his last words, “No matter what comes, God’s still God.” He was dead within minutes.

Rock House Holiness Church of God

Rock House Holiness Church of God

Punkin and Melinda died as they lived. And most all the folks who knew them are certain that they’re together again, no longer following the five signs. For as all good Holiness people know, there are no serpents in heaven.

—Stephen Canner

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;

The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:

Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;

Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:

For never was a story of more woe

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

—William Shakespeare