History of Cavitt Place

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Col. O. C. BartonThe Paris-Henry County Heritage Center is housed in Cavitt Place, a 1916 Italian Renaissance Revival mansion built by Colonel O.C. Barton. Colonel Barton was one of the leaders of the community in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was a state and local politician who invested in Paris Medicine Company and Dr. Edwin Grove’s “Tasteless Chill Tonic,” which in 1900 sold more bottles than Coca-Cola.  Colonel Barton served as Mayor of Paris from 1893-1897 and later served as president of the City Board of Education. He is reputed to be the first millionaire to reside in Paris. 

The evidence suggests that Colonel Barton’s title was honorary. Col. and Mrs. Barton did many things to help the growth of Tennessee. They built Cavitt Hall, the girl’s dormitory at Grove school; Barton Hall, at Union University, Jackson; Woodie Barton Gibson settlement house, Nashville; Barton Building at Baptist Orphan’s Home, Franklin; Barton Athletic Field, Paris; and they gave large sums to build the First Baptist Church in Paris.

Tillie Cavitt BartonColonel Barton, who married John Forney Cavitt’s granddaughter, Tillis (also known as Tillie), built both Cavitt Places. The first was a Queen Anne style ornate gingerbread home, which burned in 1910. He began construction on the second about 1912-13. The house was finished in 1916 with full electricity. The electrical system was updated in 1995, but some of the original light fixtures and switches remain. Both houses were named Cavitt Place in honor of his wife, Tillie. The second home was designed by Brinton Davis, considered to be one of the South’s premier architects of the day.  No expense was spared on Cavitt Place. It was considered one of the most beautiful homes in the South.

After the Colonel died, his daughter attempted to sell the home to the city, as she and her family had moved north.  Being in the grips of a national depression, the city refused.  The house stood empty for several years; in 1942, the County purchased the home for approximately $8,000 from Matilda Gibson, granddaughter of O.C. Barton. Since that time Cavitt Place has housed the Camp Tyson headquarters, Tennessee Valley Authority, Henry County Health Department, and Carey Counseling Center. 

Camp Tyson was the first headquarters for the only WW II barrage balloon camp in the country. The Tennessee Valley Authority occupied the basement and ground floor from October 1943 to January 1968. The Henry County Health Department occupied the second floor from 1942 until 1968 then moved to the ground floor until 1990. The Carey Counseling Center occupied the second floor until the title was sold to the Heritage Center. 

The idea of a teaching museum originated with Deanna Dunlap. Volunteering her time she was a driving force behind the formation of the Heritage Center, and served as the first Executive Director. In 1988, the North Poplar District was placed on both the Tennessee and the National Registers of Historic Places. Cavitt Place is one of the houses in the North Poplar District. In 1989 the commission agreed to a quitclaim deed with two stipulations: The Heritage Center must maintain the property “in a reasonable fashion,” and if the center ever ceased using the property, title would revert to the county. Title to Cavitt Place was received by the Paris-Henry County Heritage Center in 1992.

Exterior and Yard

The cast iron fence, built in 1890, is the only surviving piece of the original structure.  The two-story brick house is an excellent example of the Italian Renaissance style and retains its original design.  The symmetrical house originally had a hipped roof, arched windows and door, and decorative terra cotta belt coursing.  The main entrance has an original eight-panel door with terra cotta surround with floral decoration and rope molding.  Above the door is a paneled transom with floral designs.  Over the door is a cartouche and garland swag designs.

 


The windows on the first story are twelve-light, French double casement design, above which are decorative brick arches.  Dividing the first and second stories is a terra cotta tile belt course with panels of urns, cartouches and lions’ heads as well as garland and swag designs. The windows on the second story are six over one sash with terra cotta tile surrounds.

Porter Room (Vestibule)
Some of our rooms have been named in honor or memory of residents in Henry County. The Porter Room was named in honor of William Porter, Sr., and his descendants, and the early settlers of Paris and Henry County.

VanDyck Gallery (Gallery)
J.T. VanDyck was a 25-year member of the county commission and a prominent farmer. The glass doors were the best way to get air circulation in the house, since there was no air conditioning at the time. The portico on the far side was used when there was a large amount of people. The carriages would pull around the driveway, drop everyone off and move out of the way for any other carriages.

Kesterson Hall (Entrance Hall)
Millard M. Kesterson was the founder of Kesterson Food Supply.

Jelks Room (Formal Dining Room)
Robert ‘Bobby’ Jelks was a long time Henry County coach. The Jelks Room is used for our permanent exhibit. An artist from St. Louis was commissioned to paint the mural that circles the room The mural, depicting a Greek Garden scene, was painted on canvas, and then applied to the plaster walls. Each of the white panels under the mural is different. Though some are similar, no two are exactly alike.

Mitchum Room (Breakfast Room)
Mitchum E. Warren was a former president of Golden Peacock Cosmetic Company. This room now serves as an office for the Museum Volunteer Staff. The same artist from St. Louis painted the mural on the ceiling.

Kitchen
This room has not been named. The sink is said to be original to the house. The window pulls are Art Noveau style. The windows were placed higher in all servants’ areas to keep the servants from wasting time staring out the windows. The light switches are located at the back entrance for the convenience of the servants; they would be the first down in the morning and the last up at night. The cabinets were added to the kitchen for the convenience of food preparation during different functions such as weddings.

Clifty Farm Room (Butlers Pantry)
Clifty Farms is a local distributor of country hams throughout the Southeast.  This room once housed the dishes and other items necessary for serving in either the adjoining dining room or breakfast room. The home was heated by hot water or steam, which was heated by a coal furnace in the basement and then pumped through pipes housed in marble cases. The plate warmer is original to the house.

Bathroom
It was said during those times that it was rude and impolite to use the restrooms in someone else’s house, so a small bathroom was squeezed into the ground floor for use during emergencies.  There were originally three full bathrooms upstairs.

Currier Room (Foyer)
The Currier family is one of the oldest families in the county. The light fixture (hanging down in the center), the tile floor and marble stairs are all original to the house. At the same time Colonel Barton imported the marble and the tile, he imported a stonemason to do the stonework. The mason did the stonework both inside and outside the house. The banister is black wrought iron that was mass-produced at the time. One of the centralized vacuum system ducts is in the foyer.  The parking lot in the back of the house was originally a tennis court.  During the early 1900’s, tennis courts were cultivated grass surfaces.  The tennis courts were destroyed when the cattle from the farmer across the highway broke loose and came to graze on grass.

Williams Landing (Landing)
W.B. (Bill) Williams has been a big part of the Heritage Center.  Publisher of the Paris Post-Intelligencer newspaper, he has active roles in the community and in church. The ceiling crown molding is original to the house and was mass-produced during that time. The ornate windows in the dining room, the stairwell and the master suite upstairs were hand-blown and painted by Albert’s Studios in Louisville, KY. Only two of the panes of glass have been replaced since the house was finished in 1916.

Plumley Room (Den)
This room, originally used as Colonel Barton’s office, and now used as the Directors office, is named for Harold and Opal Plumley. Harold Plumley was the founder of Plumley Rubber Company in Paris, TN.

Inman Room (Living Room)
W.O. Inman was a county historian and long time superintendent of education. The fireplace in this room, as well as those in the library and den, is original and burned coal. This room is used as a temporary exhibit room, housing exhibits on the history of Henry County. Butler bells can be seen throughout the house, which were connected to servant’s rooms upstairs. The woodwork in the home is walnut and mahogany.

Greer Room (Library)
Lee M. Greer, Jr. was a supermarket pioneer in Henry County. The marble case at the back of the room as well as the other rooms is called a steam heater case. These are what housed the pipes that kept the house warm. This method of heating was used until 1988.  Our collection of high school annuals from around the county are kept in this room. The Heritage Center also has a video library, which includes oral histories on different topics, historical programs, and other important events. The videos and annuals are available to the public.   

The piano was donated by the Upchurch family, and is one of the oldest surviving pianos in the county.  It was purchased by the Upchurch family for their daughter Maryland in 1880, but was manufactured in 1860.  After the purchase, the piano was brought down the river from Louisville and carried by a flatbed wagon from Paris Landing.   

Barrett Room (Conservatory)
Mr. and Mrs. Frank Barrett were Paris building contractors for 50 years.  There has been much work done in the conservatory. Due to water damage it had to be almost completely redone. This room is used as a gift shop. The gift shop features memorabilia and items made in and/or related to Henry County or Tennessee. 

Plumley-Dana Entrepreneur Center (Garage)
This was originally a 1912-13 one-story hipped roof garage. Built for carriages and Model T’s, it was later used for storage. Renovation started in the fall of 2001 and was finished in the spring of 2002. On June 1, 2002 it was dedicated and opened as the Plumley-Dana Entrepreneur Center.

Research for this history was conducted by Jimi Wells while serving as an intern from Tennessee Technology Center, 2002.

Works Cited

Alderson, William T. and Shirley Payne Low. Interpretation of Historic Sites. Alta-Mira Press: Walnut Creek, 1996. Second edition.

Cavitt Place [File].

Greene, W.P. The City of Paris and Henry County, Tennessee. Crown Press: Paris, 1900.  

National Register of Historic Places Home Page. 9 August 2002. http://www.nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com

Prior interpretations. 

Tayloe, Stephanie Routon. “O.C. Barton and Cavitt Place.” The Newsletter of the Henry County Genealogical Society of Tennessee. 5 (2002): 4-6. 

Tour with Suzanne Ruark, past Director. 

Unknown. “Cavitt Place.” The Inkwell. 1 (1989) 1 & 7.

Paris-Henry County Heritage Center, PO Box 822, Paris, TN  38242