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Idler's Retreat/ Dillon-Tucker-Cheney/ Tucker Place/ Cold Chimney

Photo by Skye Marthaler

Sitting at 112 Oak St. in Smyrna, Idler’s Retreat ( aka Dillon-Tucker-Cheney House, Tucker Place, Cold Chimneys) is a 2 story brick Greek Revival home built about 1865.

Locally known as Idler's Retreat or the Dillon-Tucker-Cheney House, the 2004 National Register of Historic Places entry notes the name being changed to the 1878 version of Idler’s Retreat. The property originally consisted of about 513 acres. Joseph D. Dillon, a prosperous Smyrna merchant, lawyer and pro-Union supporter, bought the property from Charles Lewis Davis (local hero Sam Davis’ father) and built the home. After the Civil War, Dillon and his brother left Smyrna and his property.

In 1882, John Fulton Tucker (1858-1936) and Linnie Cannon Tucker (1861-1939) bought the property and named it Tucker Place. (John’s father, Major Silas Tucker, had contributed the original platte of land for the establishment of Smyrna in 1865. He owned a store in Stewartsborough. When farmers wanted to establish a new town north of Stewartsborough, Silas offered land for it. He had also heard that a new railroad was being built from Nashville to Chattanooga. He offered to build a nearby section that would pass by Smyrna in exchange for railroad stock.) After John’s death, Linnie remained until her death.

The house was left to her four children, but a cousin, Mrs. Johnnie Tucker (Mrs. Walter C.) Hibbett (1874-1955), bought most of the house. She willed the house to a niece of the children, Frances Neel Cheney and her husband, Brainherd Cheney (1900-1990). Brainherd was a member of the Vanderbilt University English Dept. when the Fugitives and their Agrarian movement began. Due to frequent visits by Allen Tate, Donald Davidson, Ransom Crowe and others, with the Cheney household, the name became Idler’s Retreat and was a busy social place. Brainherd contributed pieces to the Fugitives’s literary piece and encouraged them. The Cheneys were also friends with Robert Penn Warren and Flannery O’Connor. Critical passages of All the King’s Men were written at Idler’s Retreat. Brainherd was a journalist for The Nashville Banner from 1925 -1942. Then was public relations director for Governor Frank G. Clement from 1952-58.

During World War II, Dillon-Tucker-Cheney House was used by the United Service Organization (USO) for military social use by soldiers at Smyrna air base. In 1952, the Cheney family got the house back from the USO. In 1953, because there was no heat in the house except for the fireplaces, the house was renamed Cold Chimneys. The Cheneys continued to be part of the Agrarian literary movement which was concerned about technology coming to the South and keeping rural Southern identity.

After Brainard and Frances died, their nephew, Roy Neel, inherited the property. Neel began as a sportswriter with The Nashville Banner and later worked around the Senate and White House between the 1970s -2000s with Albert Gore, Jr. He sold the home in 1999 to Mary Jenkins Kline who now owns it with 1.3 acres. Mary founded Rutledge Interiors in Nashville. Mary has returned to calling the home Idler’s Retreat. NRHP 2004

See other Vanderbilt Fugitives connections: Riverview/ Benfolly, Cornsilk/ T Stringer House, Far Hills



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