Tennessee’s Backroads Heritage Newsletter
Hundred Oaks Castle in Winchester is a familiar name and place to many area residents, and it still stands, nationally known for its architectural design. It is one of the few surviving structures of its kind.
Nationwide, only 13 such buildings have the necessary attributes to be deemed a “castle.”
Although the building was severely damaged by a large-scale fire in 1990, extensive restoration efforts have been in progress in recent years. Restoration has been so successful that portions of the interior were brightly decorated for Christmas and are open for public tours.
According to historical records, construction on Hundred Oaks Castle began in 1830, though that was not the structure’s name at the time.
Originally, it was built as a plantation farm house by Benjamin Decherd, the railroad tycoon for whom the town of Decherd, Tennessee is named.
The property was purchased in the 1860’s by Albert Marks, the 21st governor of Tennessee and a relative to Thomas Jefferson.
It is said that Albert’s son, Arthur, counted the oak trees that dotted the plantation land and came to the sum of 100, hence the name “Hundred Oaks.”
Arthur traveled abroad as a diplomat and met his lovely bride, Nashvillian Mary Hunt, overseas.
They married in Scotland where Arthur fell in love with castle architecture. Upon their return to Winchester and Hundred Oaks in 1889, they began the arduous task of renovating Arthur’s childhood plantation home into a sprawling work of art, appropriately to be christened Hundred Oaks Castle. From such beginnings flowed a history that has touched countless lives and has stood the fierce test of the elements and time.
The castle’s previous owners include the Paulist Fathers who operated it as a monastery for more than 50 years.
The castle has seen days of glory and one fire-ravaged night of devastation, yet it stands today wonderfully embraced in the beauty of its own history, restored to life and joy by the hard work and faith of P. K., Shirley and Robert Bramlett of the Kent Bramlett Foundation.
The extensive restoration was launched by The Kent Bramlett Foundation Inc. in 1997.
The foundation, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt foundation, was founded by Paul Kent and Shirley and Robert Bramlett – after the tragic loss in 1992 of their son and brother, Kent Bramlett, and his girlfriend, Renee Connelly, in a terrible auto accident. Deborah Rains, the former executive director of the Adult Activity Center, now known as New Life, was located at Hundred Oaks Castle from 1987 until the fire devastated much of the oldest part of the structure in 1990. She has fond memories from her time there.
“The Adult Activity Center’s mission is to provide the opportunity for people who have developmental disabilities to be part of the community by living and working within their community,” she said.
“The castle was a wonderful experience for everyone because, not only were people with disabilities employed and felt part of their community but the community, in turn learned and loved to be with the people served.”
Rains and the organization she represented were determined to preserve what remained of the iconic property and pass it along to another responsible caretaker.
“After the fire there was the potential for liability with the remains that were left,” Rains said. “Not wanting to demolish everything that was remaining, we advertised nation-wide for a non-profit to come in and promote the ruins like they routinely do in Europe; that turned out to be the Kent Bramlett Foundation.”
“The Kent Bramlett Foundation Inc., was deeded the same acreage and remains that had been deeded to the Adult Activity Center by Alma Reagan.”
“They, in turn, have been developing the castle for the public to enjoy. Also, Individuals who have lost a child, can come and stay there in order to grieve, and to go through some of the processes of having to experience that loss.”
Looking back on the history of Hundred Oaks Castle, Rains spoke about the legacy the property has garnered over the years.
“The castle has been owned by a number of people throughout its history and has been written about quite often,” she said. “However, the individual local families that came in helped keep it alive so by the time it was deeded to the center we were able to operate a full-time restaurant and tourist attraction. Twenty-five thousand to 30,000 people a year signed in for our tours and enjoyed our restaurant, allowing the center to contribute in kind to the county that had always supported us.
“Further, from 1985 until the castle was destroyed in 1990, the unusual blending of a social service agency funded with state and federal dollars, in companionship with business and tourism proved to be highly successful, as was its mission with the integration of disabled individuals within their community.”
To learn more about the Kent Bramlett Foundation Inc., and schedule a tour, send an email to email@example.com or call (between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.) 931-967-8583.
(Written by Phillip J. Lorenz III, Winchester Herald-Chronicle, December 15, 2014)