Friday, May 13, 2011

Remembering the Late Amon Carter Evans and Rattle & Snap

Posted By on Fri, May 13, 2011 at 3:53 PM

Down at the bottom of The Tennessean’s skeletal obituary of Amon Carter Evans, the former publisher at 1100 Broadway whose death was reported this week, was this graf:

After Mr. Evans sold The Tennessean, he owned and operated Rattle & Snap, an antebellum plantation in Mount Pleasant that he restored and lived in before opening it up as a tourist attraction, wife Denise Evans said.

It only hints at the life of this media mogul after the $50 million sale of The Tennessean in 1978 by the Evans family to Gannett.

Amon Carter Evans, son of fiery Tennessean publisher Silliman Evans Sr., bought the bucolic property in about 1985 and retired to what he hoped would be the life of a gentleman farmer. For the first five years he owned Rattle & Snap, he undertook a restoration of the mansion — a conservative estimate says he ultimately sank $6 million into it — with smaller projects following for the next few years.

At that point, he said, it was for sale, if casually. He’d be willing to part with it if someone came looking. Asking price for the house and 4,000 acres: about $15 million. He gradually sold off several thousand surrounding acres, and the price dropped to $5.9 million for the house and 135 acres.

In 2001, I checked in with Evans. Pricey properties were selling like mad all over Williamson and Davidson counties. Evans had hired the third of his six ex-wives to market and sell the place, and was working the Internet to find a larger market.

The Internet listing is where I spotted the storied antebellum Greek Revival beauty in 2001 when I worked for nashvillepost.com. Rattle & Snap was named for the sounds made by the shaking of dice (or more likely, beans) in a craps-type game of chance where the land was the wager, the loser was the Governor of North Carolina, and the winner was William Polk, a cousin of President James A. Polk. Despite her brilliant backstory, Rattle & Snap had no suitors at all.

“I haven't had a legitimate offer on it since I owned it," Mr. Evans told me, "and it has been for sale literally since I bought it, except for the five years it took to restore it."

Evans and his seventh wife Denise began operating the house as a tourist attraction beginning in 1994, attracting 30,000 to 35,000 guests a year with lunch and tours, and dinner by reservation. But by 2001, he was ready to sell because he was tired. You see, Evans was doing the cooking, and it was just more work than he had planned.

“I’m too old to continue feeding thousands of tourists, and visiting with thousands of tourists every year," he said. "I’m not the only cook, but we’ll get thirty or thirty-five thousand people through Rattle & Snap this year. That’s a lot of people. I’m getting too old.”

In 2002 the house was in the hands of the lender. The following year, Evans petitioned the court to stop a foreclosure. The house changed hands that year. And Evans' stake in the house — which he hoped would be the climax in the glorious narrative of Rattle & Snap’s history — became just another chapter in a saga that began with hard luck.

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