|Nathaniel Francis Cheairs IV|
Built in 1855, Rippavilla was the home of Nathaniel and Susan Cheairs. Nathaniel was the youngest of ten children born to Nathaniel III and Sarah Cheairs. Notice the names of his parents: Nathaniel and Sarah. Guess what his grandparents names were? Yep. Nathaniel and Sarah. And his great grandparents too! The tale goes that there were five generations of Nathaniel Cheairs's who married women named Sarah. So you can imagine what his family, especially his father, thought when Nathaniel IV fell in love with a pretty girl named Susan! When Nathaniel announced their engagement, his father offered him $5,000 to break it off and find a wife named Sarah. Can you imagine? Today that would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $230,000.
|Susan McKissick Cheairs and daughter|
Work began on Rippavilla in 1852 and would continue for three years. The family lived in rooms above the kitchen until the mansion was completed in 1855. Susan gave birth to her fourth and last child soon after moving into their new home.
No one is quite sure why Nathaniel named the home Rippavilla (some stories say it was Rippo Villa), but no matter what it's called, it's a grand and beautiful place. The main house is over 10,000 sq. ft, with lovely rooms and a staircase that stirs my imagination. Like many southern plantations--including Rose Hill, the fictional plantation in my historical novels--the porch ceilings at Rippavilla are painted "haint blue." It was believed that painting the ceiling blue would ward off "haints" or haunts and evil spirits by tricking them into believing the blue was water, because apparently evil spirits can't cross water.
|Haint Blue porch ceilings at Rippavilla|
|The music room at Rippavilla|
Rippavilla played a role in the American Civil War. At various times during the war, both the Union Army and the Confederate Army commandeered it. Prior to the Battle of Spring Hill on November 29, 1864, the Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood, camped on the grounds of the plantation. After failing to inflict serious damage to the Federal army, the Rebels slept while the Yankees sneaked right past Rippavilla during the night, a tragic mistake that would lead to the Battle of Franklin the following night, resulting in more than 10,000 casualties. After the battle, the house became a temporary hospital and many wounded soldiers were brought there.
|Slave cabin at Rippavilla|
Like all southern plantations, Rippavilla has a shameful past involving slaves. I couldn't find any information on the exact number of slaves it took to build Rippavilla nor how many slaves the Cheairs family owned, but it would have probably been in the hundreds. Nathaniel owned more than 1,100 acres at the time and grew all kinds of crops which would have required many, many slaves. A small slave cabin still stands on the land as a reminder that despite the beauty of the grand home, people lived in bondage in its shadow.
If you're ever in the Spring Hill area, I encourage you to stop by Rippavilla and take the tour. It's well worth your time. (As an interesting little side note, Nathaniel Cheairs is buried in Columbia, TN in the Rose Hill cemetery! Sound familiar? 😃 )
My question to you: If you'd been in Nathaniel's shoes, would you have taken the money and found a mate that made your family happy? Or would you have chosen love?
The Planter's Daughter and The Widow of Rose Hill. Her historical novella set in the New Mexico Territory is included in The Mail-Order Brides Collection. Michelle and her husband of thirty-one years make their home in Tennessee. Connect with her at www.MichelleShocklee.com.
Widowed during the war, Natalie Ellis finds herself solely responsible for Rose Hill plantation. When Union troops arrive with a proclamation freeing the slaves, all seems lost. How can she run the plantation without slaves? In order to save her son’s inheritance she strikes a deal with the arrogant, albeit handsome, Colonel Maish. In exchange for use of her family’s property, the army will provide workers to bring in her cotton crop. But as her admiration for the colonel grows, a shocking secret is uncovered. Can she trust him with her heart and her young, fatherless son?