Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A “Little Log Cabin” For a Country Music Superstar

Before we left for our weekend exploration of the area around Nashville Tennessee, I put together a list of attractions that we might be interested in… Laurie loves to tour open houses, historic homes, etc. so this “little log cabin” on the north side of town was a natural choice for us!

As we approached the visitor’s center for ‘Fontanel’, we were greeted by this great looking Chevy 3100 half-ton Thriftmaster pickup truck. This version was built from 1948 through 1953.  I didn’t know it but from 1947 through 1955, Chevrolet was Number 1 in pickup truck sales.  I found a nice looking 1953 half-ton Chevy pickup truck for sale on the Internet for $25,900.   

This is Fontanel’s visitor center.  This is where you check in to buy tickets for tours of the home…plus it’s a gift shop as well.

Café Fontanella is directly across from the visitor’s center.  We didn’t eat here due to timing…and other restaurants we wanted to try.  However, this Italian restaurant is well rated in Trip Advisor with 79 positive and 8 negative reviews.  Anytime that I see a 10:1 ratio re: good vs. bad reviews, I consider a restaurant to be a likely place to dine.  For more on Café Fontanella, you can go to  

This is the front entrance to Fontanel… By now you’re wondering whose house this is or was and why are all of these tourists lining up for tours?
Fontanel Mansion is a 27,000 square foot log home formerly owned by Country Music Hall of Fame member Barbara Mandrell, and it is Nashville's only country music mansion tour that gives visitors a look into the lives of country music greats.
Why is the mansion named “Fontanel” and what does it mean?  Basically, a fontanel is the soft spot on the top of an infant’s head.  Barbara liked the meaning of the word and since her new home was a ‘soft spot’ in her heart and for her family, that is what she named it!

This is a photo of Barbara Mandrell (bottom right) and her sisters, Louise and Irlene.  Barbara was born in 1948.  She was not only a country music megastar, but she also acted and she was a big television star.  She had her own variety show on NBC from 1980 through 1982.  Barbara was discovered by Chet Atkins when she was 11 years old, met and worked with Johnny Cash the following year and, by the time she was 13, she was touring with Patsy Cline.  She could really play the steel guitar…and sing too!
In 1984, she suffered a near death experience in an auto accident.  Her recovery was difficult and she stopped recording music in 1986.  She completely retired from the business in 1997 at the age of only 49.  For more about Barbara Mandrell, you can go to and

No…these are not the Mandrell sisters!  Laurie and Dawn posed with one of the many country music stars guitars that decorate the walls in the massive great room at Fontanel.  Visitors are allowed to handle and pose with the instruments.
Some of the massive log supports in this huge great room are festooned with the signatures of the performers and other famous folks who visited Fontanel when the Mandrell/Dudley family lived here.  Barbara married a drummer in the Mandrell family band, Ken Dudley, and they’ve been married since 1967.

These manikins are lined up at one end of the ‘great room’ at Fontanel.  This temporary display of performance outfits isn’t Barbara Mandrell’s but instead shows costumes worn by Dolly Parton. (She is a close friend of Barbara’s)

This is the formal dining room at Fontanel.  Our guide, Vance Nichols is at the left of the photo.  He’s known the Mandrell family for many years.  He told us that the family likes to have friends and relatives work at Fontanel and at one point during the tour, he stopped one of Barbara Mandrell’s nieces to introduce her to the group.

This is definitely the party room…or ‘man cave’ at Fontanel.  It has a pool table, bar (no alcohol), juke box, a small stage with instruments, sound system, TV, etc.
The Mandrell/Dudley family sold Fontanel and its 136 acres in 2002.  The current owners, Dale Morris and Marc Oswald, decided to load it with country music memorabilia and open it to the public.  This is in addition to all of the items that Barbara and Ken left behind.  Dale and Marc are well positioned to acquire memorabilia from the stars.  They manage or have managed the careers of Alabama, Kenny Chesney, the Music Mafia, Martina McBride, Jake Owen, Big and Rich, Gretchen Wilson and several others.

Once again, this is our tour guide, Vance Nichols.  Not only has he known the Mandrell family for many years, he grew up down the road from Dolly Parton’s family.  Indeed, he is responsible for most of the glitter on her gowns and costumes.  He sews on all of the rhinestones and bangles that make her outfits sparkle.  Vance doesn’t sing but he does play the piano.  Laurie bought one of his CD’s, entitled “When Country Was Cool”.  To see some of Vance’s credits in the business, just go to Vance is also an actor and he owns ‘Silver Threads – A Creative Stage Wear Company’.

This is simply a view from one of the decks in the family living area. 

This was Barbara Mandrell’s bathroom… A massive space of windows, marble, mirrors & light!  We couldn’t believe how large her total dressing area was!  They even had a huge mirror inserted under the canopy of their 4-poster bed…

This is the massive bathtub in the master bathroom…with candles and a view!  In total, the mansion has 13 bathrooms!

We were especially intrigued by Barbara’s old address book.  On the left hand page you can see the old phone numbers for Minnie Pearl, Dolly Parton plus Chicago Bears football player and his wife, Walter and Connie Payton. (Walter pinched me a couple of times at an event many years ago in Chicago…but that’s another story)

These pages are loaded with big names…Loretta Lynn, Brenda Lee, Dudley Moore, Boom Boom Mancini (boxer), Ed McMahon…and barely visible at the bottom right, Reba McIntyre. 

Laurie took this photo in the family dining area.  One of the family’s rules was that they had to eat at least one meal together every day!  Good rule...
While rooms such as the great room at Fontanel are huge, with the exception of the master bedroom, closet and bathroom, the family area is quite modest.  Even the children’s bedrooms are fairly small.  Another quirky fact was that there are only 2 guest rooms in the mansion…and they are rather small.  Barbara and Ken liked entertaining guests and having parties…but they didn’t encourage overnight guests…

This is the massive indoor pool and party area.  That's a cover over the pool that you can walk on!  The mansion also sports a helicopter pad!  I believe Vance told us that Barbara could fly the helicopter herself!
FYI… The guided tours of Fontanel Mansion cost $22.00 for adults and $20.00 for seniors.  There is a 15% discount for AAA members.  Active members of the military are free and their spouse’s admission is only $11.00.

The NRA would be happy for sure!  This is the former firing range, which is positioned just off to one side of that massive indoor pool area.

One last view of the house... Although Ken and Barbara Mandrell/Dudley were heavily involved in the effort, a local architect firm, Tuck-Hinton had a hand in Fontanel Mansion’s design and building. This firm has been involved in the building of some of Nashville's most impressive structures.  These include: the Adventure Science Center, the Bicentennial Mall State Park and the Country Music Hall of Fame just to name a few.  The company had never built a ‘log cabin’ before…or since.
Among other attractions at Fontanel is their outdoor music venue, The Woods at Fontanel.  The ‘Woods’ can hold up to 2,500 people.  Among others, upcoming shows at the Woods will feature Harry Connick Jr., the Barenaked Ladies and the Black Crowes.  Also available are walking and biking trails, disc golf, zip lining and the Southern Living Idea Home Tour.  For more information regarding ticketing and attractions, go to
Finally…our special thanks to Vance Nichols, our tour guide.  Fontanel was built in the 1970’s and it isn’t really our taste, but that being said, Vance brought it to life.  He told us the stories because he knew so much about the family that lived at the mansion, as well as the stars whose memorabilia fill the space.  We would recommend this experience to those visiting Nashville.  Fontanel Mansion is ranked #2 by Trip Advisor among all of the attractions in the area.  With a little luck, Vance could be your guide!
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for stopping by for the tour!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 


  1. I was interested in your posts about Franklin, TN, because our daughter and family live in Brentwood and we drive to Franklin often when we visit them. Actually my oldest grandson, now 6, was going to pre-school in Franklin, located in an historical house there. I do not know the restaurant you mentioned but took a note of it. For my birthday a couple of years ago my daughter took us to the Loveless Café – don’t know if you know it – good ole Southern food. I wrote a post on it here: . We will be back in Brentwood soon for our second grandson 5th year birthday. Another place we like is called Mere Bulles – they have a great Sunday brunch. I wrote about it in my post Atlanta Historic Snow (we had been to Brentwood earlier for Christmas) There are many good restaurants in Nashville and the surrounding area.

  2. what fun and interest tour David sounds like a really fun time!!

  3. Wow! That is an incredible think that was a home one's massive! I'd get lost in my own home if I ever lived there LOL.

    Thank you for sharing your adventures, Dave..such an incredible time you all had. And I love that classic Chevy.


  4. The food at Fontanella sounds good. What a fun place, I can't believe they even have a jukebox! You always find the most interesting places Dave.

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