Historic Structures

Rattle & Snap Mansion - Polk-Granbery House, Columbia Tennessee

Date added: June 15, 2021 Categories: Tennessee House Mansion

William Polk was a North Carolinian and a Revolutionary soldier. In his later years he claimed that his was "the first American blood spilled south of Lexington" during the Revolution, having been shot from his horse during an early encounter with the Tories. He fought at Brandywine and Germantown and spent the winter at Valley Forge. He was with General William Davidson when the General was killed at Cowlin's Ford. It is said that it was Polk who suggested the name for Davidson County, North Carolina, now Tennessee.

In 1784, Polk was appointed Surveyor-General of the Middle District of Tennessee. He opened an office in Nashville and through his speculation in Tennessee land became one of the largest landholders in the state. By 1819 he owned 100,000 acres. William Polk never moved permanently to Tennessee, but several of his sons did.

The Rattle and Snap tract of 5,648 acres had been reserved for Polk's sons by his second wife, Sarah Hawkins. They were Lucius Jurnik, who built Hamilton Place; Leonidas, who built Ashwood; Rufus King, who built Westwood; Andrew, who bought Ashwood from his brother and enlarged it; and George, who built Rattle and Snap. The pioneer days were past when these wealthy young men came to Tennessee. They built fine homes, established fortunes in land, slaves, and business ventures, and became leaders in the social life of the time. Only Hamilton Place and Rattle and Snap remain standing.

At the point where their properties joined, the brothers under the leadership of Leonidas Polk built St. John's Episcopal Church. They shared its cost, worshipped in it, except for Bishop Leonidas Polk, who is buried in New Orleans, they are buried there.

Rattle and Snap is a two story typical farm house. In exterior appearance varies from the simple classic portico as seen on most houses of that time. The front porch projects almost all the way across the front of the house with an additional break in the porch at the center projecting farther forward. The porch is the full height of the building, having three bays for the center and fartherest projecting feature flanked by extensions of the porch on either side having two bays each. There is a cast iron balcony within the porch and back of the center feature, as is typical of that period. Facing the house there is a minor porch on the right side and another minor po rch on the left side. The one on the right, story high, is of Corinthian Order. The one on the left varies and in this variation adds a rather distinctive touch to the structure. It is a very delicate cast iron affair projecting from the house, end surmounted by, but unattached to, is a small cast iron balcony. There is a servants' or service wing attached to the house at the rear to form an "L" shape and which in the character with others of this period, degenerates in detail as it gets farther from the living suarters of the master. The interior wood work, cornice, nmntle and columns are beautifully done in wood and in plaster. No expense seems to have been spared in the execution.

Rattle and Snap was built by George Polk and was the last of the Polk built mansions in Maury County. It was built by him with materials principally at hand by slave labor and is remarkable for its delicate handling. It remained in the family of Polk until 1887 when it was bought by James J. Granbery. It remained in the Granbery family until 1920 when it became the property of Mr. William Ridley.

The gardens which it originally had have disappeared, but the beautiful approach and the beautiful setting of trees which surround it remain. It Is about one half mile off the highway and approached through an avenue of trees.

The two houses, "Rattle and Snap" and the "Hamilton House", are the only two houses still standing of the four original Polk built houses. The "Hamilton House" was the first built and "Rattle and Snap" was the last. The other two have been destroyed either by fire or demolition.

A fact of interest is the method in which "Rattle and Snap" received its name. It seems that Rattle and Snap was the name of a gambling game popular in North Carolina with the Polks before they moved to Middle Tennessee, George Polk, son of Colonel William Polk, won the land in Middle Tennessee during a game of Rattle and Snap while he was in North Carolina and then moved to Middle Tennessee and built thereon, the house which he named for the game, "Rattle and Snap", because of having won the property in that way. While the rest of the story is not included in the published "Memoirs of Mary Polk Branch" who was one of the later Polks, it seems that the older natives verified the fact that George Polk lost the property and the house shortly after building it in the same game, Rattle and Snap.

For purposes of record some mention should be given to the other two Polk built houses. They were "Ashwood Hall", how destroyed, built by Bishop Leonidas Polk and later sold to his brother Andrew, both of whom were sons of Col. William Polk. The other house "Westbrook", now burned, was built by Rufus Polk.

Colonel William Polk, the head of the Polk Clan in Middle Tennessee, was a Colonel in the Revolutionary War and all of his sons, George, Lucius, Andrew and Bishop Leonidas, were Generals in the Civil War, and played probably the biggest part of any one family in the South during this war.

The following is from History of Homes and Gardens of Tennessee

It was in 1845 that George Polk began the erection of his home - the last of the mansions of the Polks to be built in Maury County. The construction of such a home, with its fine brick and stone work, is indeed a monument to the Negro laborers who built it. The magnificent columns of the portico came in sections by boat from Cincinnati to Nashville, and were hauled by ox wagons from Nashville to Columbia. A story is told of how, during the Civil War, it became necessary to find a safe hiding place for the family silver. A small son of Mr. Polk was lowered into one of these columns, and on a platform the silver was placed where it was secure until the war was over.

In the picture is shown details of columns, cornices, and doorways in the hall- These are repeated in varying designs throughout the great rooms of the house. Other architectural features are the two spiral stairways and the two dining-rooms which, upon State occasions, were thrown into one great banquet hall.

In 1867, Rattle and Snap was bought by Joseph J. Granbery, who changed the name of the estate to Oakwood Hall. It was owned by hie family for 53 years.

There are those who still remember the gardens and wide-bordered walk leading through the lovely rose garden to the three greenhouses, the formal rose beds forming an intricate pattern in the setting of bluegrass lawn. A second garden devoted to flowers was divided by a high hedge of lilac from the vegetable plots, arbors, orchards, and lawn.

Mrs. Caroline Polk Horten, who was a daughter of George Polk, wrote the following description of Rattle and Snap:

'Rattle and Snap' was built of brick and stone. The bricks were made on the place, the stone hauled by wagon from Cincinnati. The portico, said to be one of the most imposing in the South, is built of solid stone masonry with ten huge Corinthian columns from the floor to the roof. They were made in sections and with the stone were hauled by wagon trains from Cincinnati. The cost of this magnificent portico alone was $40,000.

The interior was in perfect accord with the exterior, large elegant drawing rooms, halls, sitting rooms, dining room, bedrooms, four bathrooms, in all eighteen rooms.

The spacious grounds and gardens covered acres, planned and planted under the personal supervision of Mrs. Polk by the head-gardener - five greenhouses. Many rare shrubs and plants were imported from time to time.

I quite remember as a small child being told that our stables and coach house which was all under one roof was often mistaken for a church. I suppose they took the pigeon house for a belfry.

None of the original outbuildings remain. No attempt has been made in the present garden to follow the lines of the original garden.

The house appears to be built of native stone rather than of stone brought in from Cincinnati. Since no records are known to exist which account for the costs involved in building the house, it is possible that Mrs. Horten's memory may have been in error on the costs of the portico.