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- [Narrator] Tennessee Crossroads is made possible in part by: This season there's something small that makes a big difference. Flu vaccines, protect ourselves and others. Flu vaccines are available. Learn more at tn.gov/health/fightFlu - [Joe] This time on Tennessee Crossroads, we explored the restored and resplendent Belle Air Mansion and Inn. Then we'll discover why a Nashville company is a leader in hand forged metalwork, we'll visit a boathouse for hungry visitors in Chattanooga, and finally explored the Short Mountain Distillery in Woodbury. That's our lineup for this edition of Tennessee Crossroads, everybody. I'm Joe Elmore. Sure are welcome. Just eight years ago, the subject of our first story was listed as one of the most endangered historic properties in Nashville. Thankfully, it was purchased just in time to save it from being turned into rubble then restored to its former glory. As Cindy Carter discovered, now it's just the way it was 200 years ago. - [Cindy] Every morning is a busy morning at Nashville's Belle Air Mansion and Inn. The kitchen is bright and bustling as the breakfast portion of this historic bed and breakfast is served up and sent out to the mansion's guests who are greeted. - Good morning, ladies. Hi. - Good morning! - [Cindy] and treated like family. As these travelers from all over, sit down for the mansion's main meal. They're probably a bit surprised to find out they're not the only ones who spent the night here. - Although it's a big house, the rooms are spread out a lot and it's a lot of privacy and people like that. - [Cindy] Lewis James and his wife, Connie are the owners of this Greek revival mansion. The couple bought Belle Air in 2016. One of the precious few historic homes Nashville has left of this style and beauty. - [Lewis] We've seen a lot of historic properties just get demolished and torn down. And you just wonder why couldn't they have been restored? You know, I mean any historical property that can be saved should be saved. - [Cindy] And saving Belle Air was one lengthy, laborious, but rewarding process. The mansion was in shambles when the couple purchased it, but Lewis says they started renovations literally with a firm foundation. - [Lewis] The framework of this house is magnificent. I mean, it's very solid. The floors, being 200 years old, are in remarkable condition. - [Cindy] The original four room, handmade brick home was built in 1790 and is still standing. It was a stand in until the mansion was finished in 1832 by the Harding family, whose patriarch John Harding owned Nashville's Bell Mead plantation. A few years later, the property was sold to former Nashville mayor, William Nichol, who made a few additions of his own. So tell me a little bit about this room. - This is what we call the Magnolia dining room. Back in 1838, when this room was built, added on by the Nichol family, it was the library. And you'll notice in this room, like, first of all, the fireplace, this fireplace was hand carved in 1840. - Beautiful. Yeah. The hand carved fireplace, the chandelier, the original front door to the 1790 home that hangs on the dining room wall, all authentic pieces from the mansions past that appeal to present day history buffs and speaking of history, this former library also once doubled as a courtroom where local attorney Andrew Jackson practiced law. Now this mansion was once referred to as "the house in the country" because it's a six mile carriage ride from Nashville. Meaning when circuit court was held here in the 1840s, they needed a temporary place to put the prisoners. The solution? This dungeon right underneath the parlor. - [Lewis] Bars on the windows and all that. It's got some writing where I guess some of the criminals- - Get me out? - [Lewis] Yeah. Get me outta here. - [Cindy] The dungeon is strictly off limits to modern day guests don't even ask. Seriously. Besides there are far more pleasant areas to explore and take in, like the grounds, which is picturesque, no matter where you stand. - [Lewis] But just the beautiful original doors, all the windows original, a lot of original shutters on the windows. All of the outside porch is original with the columns. This house, when you walk in, it's got 13 foot ceilings, it's got the original fresco ceilings. - [Cindy] 27 Chandeliers, 11 fireplaces, and one gorgeous cantilever staircase that leads to the guest rooms. - Strickland was the consulting architect on this property. And he was also the consulting architect on the Hermitage. And he was the primary architect on Belmont Mansion. And so if you look at our staircase, that's the same staircase that you'll find in other properties in Nashville. - [Cindy] All total, there are 15 bedrooms and suites, 10 in the main house and five in the nearby retreat house. And all of the rooms have their own style and private baths, like the gold suite or turquoise room. There's the rustic yet modernized 1790 hideaway, part of the original four room house. And of course the luxurious Sapphire Room, which also holds a secret, a hidden space once used to hide the Nichol family's jewelry, valuables, and perhaps a Confederate soldier or two. - [Lewis] Now the secret room is about four and a half feet tall and it's about 400 square feet. It's behind this wall here. - [Cindy] With so much mystery and elegance, it's hard to believe Belle Air Mansion was considered an endangered property until Lewis and Connie James snapped it up. - [Lewis] I mean, we were the backup offer. The primary offer was gonna put in townhouses and just really destroy this place. - [Cindy] Today the Belle Air Mansion and Inn is a charming and popular bed and breakfast. No longer forgotten it is a graceful reminder of a different era, a place where hospitality meets history. - Thank you, Cindy. Well next we visit a family owned business that started creating decorative metal work in Nashville back in 1959, the folks at Herndon and Merry aren't metal workers, they're metal artists, and you can find their art all over middle Tennessee and beyond. You can't drive down a street in Nashville without passing something made by a company called Herndon and Merry. Whether it's a simple mailbox or a fancy wrought iron gate. Well flashback to 1959, that's when Cecil Herndon and Bill Merry Sr. launched a little ornamental iron fabrication business. After Mr. Herndon retired in 1979, the Merry family continued to develop the business into a leading designer of architectural metal work. - What's really changed, we just used to be a little small iron shop with good old boy welders in it. You know, when we specialized in carports and patios back in that day. But now we employ very skilled workers. Some of these guys have degrees in engineering, and we love to bring people into our business that have backgrounds in art or design. I have a degree in interior design. We have other people here with degrees in fine arts, but we combine design and metal work together, which most shops don't do. And that's kind of our specialty is the design. - [Joe] Today Bill Jr and Keith Merry carry on their late fathers' vision. Along with a team of accomplished craftsmen who blend old time skills with newer technology. - We're still heating that iron just like they did a thousand years ago. And we're still hitting it with a hammer. But that design process and how it actually goes out into the shop, we're using more computerated design work. We have a full staff that does that and provides the drawings, both for our customers to review and approve, and then those drawings go out into the shop up. So we're gonna typically print that drawing out full scale, and even on a big gate, we may paste together some drawings and then they start putting that on their fabrication tables and start the fabrication process. Cutting the materials first, then starting the welding process of bringing that together, there may be some scroll work on it. So the blacksmith is working on the forge work and then over to the fabricator for him to weld that forge work into the gate itself. Then onto sandblast for cleaning, then onto painting for painting, onto the install truck, and then out for install. - [Joe] From the a mid '80s to 2017, Keith was heavily involved in repurposing architectural antiques. In fact, today his office is like a museum of timeless treasures. - [Keith] We were in the architectural business for 30 years. And so I had access to thousands of pieces of 18th, 19th, or early 20th century iron work. And many times they were damaged pieces or rusty and, or I didn't use all of 'em. So I began to salvage pieces as the replacement parts. And before you know it, I had over 400 pieces piled in boxes, and I thought, man, I've been taking everybody into my closet to look at this stuff, let's get it up and display it. So we brought it in here and I created this kind of shelving system to display it and let everybody come and enjoy it. And even though I, I see it every day, I still, it warms my heart when they come in here and I get to see it. - [Joe] Today, the focus is on more high end custom design work. In addition to iron, metals include everything from stainless steel to aluminum, and while looks may endure, more modern styles have developed as well. - Where we've seen this shift really, we saw from about the early '90s up into about the past three, four, five years that heavy European look, that French look, Italian look, but there has been a shift in design changes that's a little bit more towards transition of what we call transitional to more modern. Our number one product is railing. Every year railings, whether those are front porch railings, interior iron railings, balcony railings, the need for railings, especially in a hilly area like Nashville is always gonna be there. - [Joe] The company's newest venture is this, a line of mass produced, customized drapery rods. - [Bill] Most of the drapery rods you see on the market are just imports. And so we decided, let's see if we can make them here in our shop. We could do a much better quality job. We could- our turnaround times would be much faster and people knew who we were and knew we did high quality work. - [Joe] It was high quality work that helped forged this family business in 1959. Now a couple of talented brothers are committed to continuing the tradition while also beautifying homes and landscapes around Tennessee and beyond. - Well, I guess it's the reward when the customer calls you on the phone or sends you an email and says, we love it. That's what it's all about, is making that customer satisfied with what you did because they look to us to help them and to do it right. And we have always been real quality people. My father are always instilled in us to always try to give the customer more than what they expect. And when you can do that, you can be around for 60 years in business. - You normally find rowboats and other small watercraft stored in boathouse houses, around rivers and lakes. Well, Ken Wilshire found a boathouse in Chattanooga where you'll not only find a couple old rowboats, but also some of the finest casual dining on the banks of the Tennessee River. - [Ken] While it may appear to be an exciting sport, rowing is extremely challenging. It takes balance, strength, perseverance, and teamwork. This is why it's so fitting that this 1940 vintage racing shell is stored in its new boat house. It's the Boathouse Rotisserie and Raw Bar on the banks of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga. The eight person rowboat was built for the 1940 Olympics, but never made it there because of World War II. - Then it was in the Dead Poet's Society movie. - Oh. - Baylor School here, local prep school bought it to start the first rowing club here. When I was building this, the head guy down there came up and says, listen, I got something you might want. We will give it to you on permanent loan if y'all will display it. And so that's how that wound up up here. - [Ken] It's a constant reminder to boathouse owner, Lawton Haygood and his team. Just like rowing, the restaurant business is tough, but despite all the obstacles to success, Lawton has developed a strategy for winning. It keeps this warm friendly eatery filled with customers whenever it's open for business. - You gotta love what you're doing, I'll tell you that because you gotta give it a heart and soul to make that work. And I think that's a big part of it. I think you have to have a combination of skills. I'm not sure some of 'em that you can learn, you know, it's native to some people and that is you gotta care about customers and you gotta realize that to produce the product that customer's gonna want, you gotta have employees that love what they're doing and you can't have a whole lot of turnover and have a good restaurant. - [Ken] So to ensure these goals are achieved , in rowing terms, you might say Lawton's the coxswain or captain of his boathouse crew. And it's certainly no corporate franchise. In fact, Lawton left the world of committees and structure for the freedom and flexibility to set his own course for success. - Just wasn't happy with it really don't like sharing the decisions too much, I guess. I'm not a very good committee person, you know. I grew up in the back end of a little country grocery store. And this small business really appealed to me and being entrepreneurial was more appealing than being in a corporation. It just didn't fit my personality exactly well. - [Ken] Well the Boathouse certainly reflects Lawton's gracious personality and hospitality. You'll discover a fine dining experience on a wonderfully casual scale with a cuisine from a diverse area of the country, not too far from home. - [Lawton] We call this foods from around the Gulf and it has a lot of my Texas influence in it. And my time spent with a lot of the Southwestern cuisine type people. You'd find a little bit of stuff on that menu that you might, a couple items from New Orleans, like the barbecue shrimp, which is not barbecued. It's a sauteed dish with a whole pile of butter and on down through Texas to the brisket and some grilled oysters. That kind of stuff like you might what we did down on the coast. And then it has a little bit of Mexican flare to it. And then we have a little bit of Caribbean. - [Ken] One of the most popular items isn't catfish, barbecue or fried chicken, try fresh oysters. - [Lawton] Oysters is an enormous deal here. Other than New Orleans or someplace like that, I don't think anybody around sells more oysters than we do. Our volume is substantial enough that we get our own deliveries from the packers. That I wasn't sure about, would Chattanooga for that? But we sell a lot of oysters. - [Ken] Still the boathouse's success isn't all about the care employees give their customers, it's also about babying their products. - [Lawton] I think it's more of the care we give our products, it's probably what we're most unique at. We put a lot of labor into our products. For example, shrimp, we bread our shrimp to order before we fry 'em, we cut our own steak. We don't really buy anything predone, cut all our own vegetables. We don't use any prepared sauces, we do of stuff that finer dining restaurants do, but just on a simpler scale. If it has more than six ingredients, I don't want it. - [Ken] And if you think the boathouse has a leak in the ceiling, it's only the ice machine on the roof, dropping ice into a container to make sure the seafood stays cold and fresh. It's ironic that the secret ingredient to the wonderful flavors you'll find in so many of the Boathouse dishes is also another factor in its success. It's a unique wood burning grill that Lawton designed and then marketed years ago when he was in Texas. - [Lawton] I went back to Dallas and built a restaurant there. And in that process built the wood burning grill, which became a real popular thing. And I sort of got out of the restaurant business and ended just selling that grill and working with chefs around the country. And it was a great experience, learned a whole lot about what to do and what not to do and how they ran a good kitchen. And I'd give most of my credit as far as education, to that item right there. Now that's a hot fire you'll agree, but see, I can touch that door. There's no insulation. And again, the air comes up through the door and dumps back in the same concept. - That's pretty good. - I don't know why some gas grill company hadn't ripped me off on that. - [Ken] The Boathouse is only a few steps away from the scenic Tennessee River walk if you need a place for a little after lunch or dinner exercise, or just set on the spacious outside deck, the bar, or dining room, and simply watch the river traffic go by. - [Lawton] Our customers are extremely loyal to us and they come here when they brought young kids. And now those young kids come here. You know, it's that kind of place. It's a comfortable place. They come casual. It's a fun place. You know, they come and relax and just want to be fed and taken good care of, and they know that we don't miss very often. - [Ken] So while the Boathouse may not be used for storing racing shells from the local regattas, it is filled for lots of winners. Teams who prepare and serve its fare, to its guests who reap the rewards of this cozy boathouse on the river. - Tennessee is well own for its distilleries. Some have been around a long time while new ones are popping up left and right. Well the Cannon County distillery that Gretchen Bates visited a while back may not be the oldest or the most famous, but as she says, it's got plenty to make a day trip worthwhile. ♪ Come and listen to the story about a man named Jed ♪ ♪ A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed ♪ - [Gretchen] You're probably familiar with Jed's story, which is the opposite of our story. While the Clampett's found bubbling crude and went to Californee, Billy Kaufman left Beverly for the Hills of Tennessee. And while what he found bubbled, all right, it wasn't black gold. It was white lightning. But Billy's journey, which led to the creation of Short Mountain Distillery, originally had nothing to do with drinking corn, but growing it, as our tour guide explains. - My name is Jeff. Hello, welcome. Welcome to Little Short Mountain Farm ladies and gentlemen, when he got this place, it was all about, I just want to get away, which he's actually from Beverly Hills, California. Can you believe that? And wanted to settle down, "if I can I'd like to try to establish an organic farm" if he could. So he got this place and that was the aspiration. - It took a few years, but I realized after a while that people weren't really making their money, small farming and what they were really doing was making money moonshining. They've been doing it here for so long everyone is related to a moonshiner, whether they like it or not. - Tell, tell 'em how you blew yourself up. - Are you filmin' already? - [Gretchen] Meet Ronald Lawson and Ricky Estes, Billy's co-consptir- er- business associates. Two Cannon County natives with a vast knowledge of what granny called, tonic. - You wanna hear stories about moon shiners trying to outrun the law or anything like that you should talk to Ricky and Ronald. Ricky has been caught, you know, a bunch of times probably. - I love to make moon shine. I born and the whole, my whole family'll moon shine. - And Ronald has never been and caught. - It wasn't that I out smarted'em. It was just pure luck. - Their personalities are very different. Even though for decades, they've been making the same exact recipe. - [Gretchen] Who makes better shine? - I think I do, Ricky thinks he does, so I - The way it is you know, you it try to do to best with it. - Ronald was the first person to introduce me to Tennessee moonshine. - [Ronald] Good moonshine'll have that good mellow corn taste. - [Ricky] Yeah. And you feel that warm feelin' coming back up. - That's right. - If you drinkin' moonshine and quick as you drink it, it just burns you up, it's not good shine. - It was just so foreign to me. And when I tried it, I really loved it. It became my favorite spirit. - [Gretchen] For many years, making that spirit might have resulted in a change of address. Hey, what about my phone call? Luckily for Billy and friends, that changed a few years back. - The Tennessee legislature deregulated hard liquor. Well, what do you think Billy thought when he heard that? Yee haw, he was ready to do it then. - [Gretchen] Ready, willing, but unable to finance it on his own. So Billy followed the example of other moon shiners and made it a family tradition. - When we knew that it was a possibility to have a distillery in Cannon County, I called my brothers and they both decided to help me finance the distillery. And my brothers and I thought it was a good idea to put our family value, the golden rule, on every bottle that we produce. So if you look at one of our bottles, you can see a coin on it, on the back are the three stars of Tennessee and the golden rule. And now we're making things that we made before prohibition like Tennessee whiskey and rye whiskey and bourbon, and all that's starting to come out now, 'cause we've just matured as a real distillery. There's no bells and whistles. It's just really good corn, organic corn, if we can do it. Really good rye, really good malt and grind them fresh all here, pure spring water. - [Gretchen] Pure water that owes its quality to the distilleries namesake. - [Billy] Short Mountain is one of the last little outcrops of the Appalachias. And it's filled with limestone and little crevices and caves. And when it rains on Short Mountain, it gets filtered down through that limestone and all around Short Mountain there are these Springs. And one of them actually used to be the spring where Cooper Melton made moonshine for Al Capone. And we used that spring to supply all of our water here at the distillery. - [Gretchen] After have toured the distillery, it's just a short walk to the Stillhouse Cafe where you can grab a bite to eat and sample the spirits. - [Billy] We don't just want to be like a regular distillery tour. We try and give people a lot of hands on experiences. And one of the things that we do is, we have a cocktail class and this cocktail class is all about having a good time and learning how to make classic cocktails with our spirits. This place is not very far away from Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, but it's a different world. That's what it's all about. It's really about getting out of the hustle and the bustle and coming somewhere where there's not gonna be big crowds, where you're gonna be able to walk through the woods and hear the birds and sit outside and watch the cows graze. We just encourage people to come out here and experience the place and enjoy themselves. - Well, I'm afraid it's time to bid you farewell. That is after our usual reminder to visit our website, Tennesseecrossroads.org, follow us on Facebook. And by all means, join me right back here next week. See you then. - [Narrator] Tennessee Crossroads is made possible in part by: This season, here's something small that makes a big difference. Flu vaccines, protect ourselves and others. Flu vaccines are available. Learn more at tn.gov/health/fightflu
March 31, 2022
Season 35 | Episode 34
Cindy Carter explores the restored and resplendent Belle Air Mansion and Inn. Joe Elmore discovers why a Nashville company is a leader in hand-forged metalwork. Ken Wilshire visits a boathouse for hungry visitors in Chattanooga. And Gretchen Bates explores the Short Mountain Distillery in Woodbury.