Airdrie – Let There Be Paradise

Musings by Mike Slate.

Life is fundamentally different on Airdrie’s three acres. Hours and minutes dissolve into the background; decades and centuries move to the forefront. The cavalcade of history is palpable there; yet a timeless tide flows among the magnolia and poplar trees, across the columned portico, and around back through the sanctuary where birds and humans study one another through the porch screens.

Scene in the Airdrie gardens (photo from NHN collection)

In Paul Clements’ monumental work, A Past Remembered: A Collection of Antebellum Houses in Davidson County, the home is called the Petway House, after owner Hinchey Petway, a Middle Tennessee businessman whose memorable name could easily have come from a Dickens novel. Clements’ research reveals that prior to Petway the plantation and dwelling – which was originally a log house – had belonged to not one but two members of the early 19th-century U.S. House of Representatives, William Dickson and Thomas Claiborne. Still further back we encounter William Coldwell, who owned the property at about the time Tennessee became a state. Perhaps it was he who built the frontier home now largely enveloped by the present structure. (A few of the interior rooms clearly show their log-house origins.) Finally, we meet John Foreman, the recipient of the original 1784 North Carolina grant for the land on which the mansion would be built.

In the Metro Historical Commission’s Nashville: A Short History and Selected Buildings, Airdrie is called the Buell-King residence, highlighting not only the present owners but also the post-Civil War Buell family, who owned the house for about 80 years. An interesting sidelight mentioned in the Commission’s book is that a relative of the Buells, Don Carlos Buell, was the Union general who accepted the surrender of Nashville in 1862. Around 1910 another relative of the family, architect George Norton, extensively renovated the structure and engineered the Classical Revival style presented today.

Entrance to Airdrie (photo from NHN collection)

Tennessean columnist George Zepp has alluded (21 June 2006) to the origin of the current appellation, “Airdrie.” That name is derived from the Airdrie Land Company, set up by the Buell family in the early 20th century to stimulate the sale of surrounding acreage. The Kings preferred “Airdrie,” and the mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places under that designation.

An article by Rebecca Rice in The City Paper (12 August 2005), titled “Own a Home as Old as Tennessee,” also documented Airdrie’s provenance, including the ownerships of Judge John Brien and Vanderbilt professor Ward Allen. Brien owned the estate after Petway and before the Buells, while Dr. Allen’s possession covered the decade prior to the King’s 1963 acquisition of the property.

Harold and Dorothy King, contemporary heroes of historic preservation, have simultaneously nurtured two marriages: one to each other and a second to Airdrie. Together the Kings have opposed boredom, embraced adventure, conquered illnesses, and championed enthusiasm. Through prodigious labor and uncommon spunk, they transformed the estate from ramshackle relic to refined retreat, from anachronistic anomaly to alluring arbor. After 43 years of devotion to this landmark, they finally chose to move to a neighboring state in order to be closer to their family.

Since Airdrie has such a mystique and so many historical facets – some known only to the Kings – we might aptly call it the Hope diamond of Nashville private residences. Complete with two historic outbuildings (a log cabin and a barn) as well as the notable Buell spring, the compound features one of the finest historic homes in Nashville.

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