Donnell House tells a tale of heartache and drama - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Donnell House tells a tale of heartache and drama

If these walls could talk... If these walls could talk...

Heartache, tragedy and drama permeate thewalls of a stately home in Athens, and boy, if those walls could talk…

"The house was built in 1845 by ReverendRobert Donnell, who was a Cumberland Presbyterian minister," said curatorJacque Reeves. The house eventually became a boys' school and merged withAthens High School.

"The house still has the antebellum characterthat it had when it was first built," Reeves continued. "The furniture is allperiod." One piece of particular note is a sofa in the gentlemen's parlor, anoriginal. "Some other items that are also original to the house are in thegirls' room," she said.

Evidence which saved the house from a 1970demolition is in the ladies' parlor. "The sash window sidelights that open uplike the larger windows," Reeves pointed out, "is something that you're notgoing to see anywhere else."

The curator said the smallest bedroom isbelieved to be the parents' bedroom. "This is our museum room, and this iswhere we have items that belonged to the family."

They hired someone to recreate the stencilingthat was originally in the boys' room. Reeves said the family was from Scotlandand shortened their name from MacDonnell to Donnell. From North Carolina theyheaded south. A bible was with the belongings traveling down river, "and allthe belongings were on a flat boat set fire by the Indians," said Reeves. Thescorch marks can still be seen.

Donnell married his first wife and had fivechildren, but only one lived to maturity. "James Webb Smith Donnell and hiswife Mariah Jones lived in the house with their many children, just in time forthe beginning of the Civil War," Reeves said.

The house was taken over by many unionsoldiers. 16-year-old Nanny Smith Donnell was sick with scarlet fever. "Hermother went outside and asked Colonel Turchin if he could instruct his soldiersto keep their noise down, and his reply was ‘She can go to Heaven listening toYankee music.'" Family legend said she collapsed and died. "Her mother gavebirth the following year to another baby daughter and named her for Nanny, andthe second Nanny was my great-grandmother," said Reeves.

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