Living pieces of history: Lipscomb's cabin and Avalon house

Friday, February 6, 2004 at 1:00am

Nestled at the front of Lipscomb University's campus along Granny White Pike stand a log cabin and a brick house, historical reminders of the simplicity and beauty of Southern houses in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Both dwellings, which belonged to David and Margaret (Mag) Lipscomb, are taken care of by the Associated Ladies of Lipscomb. With their time, money, and effort, the historical log cabin was moved to Lipscomb's campus piece by piece and rebuilt in 1985. They also have accurately restored most the brick house, called the Avalon.

"It's real interesting the feeling I have in this house," said Mary Nelle Chumley, manager of the Associated Ladies of Lipscomb in Nashville. She has close connections with Lipscomb and delving through its history has left her with a deep affection for Avalon.

Most of her knowledge about the house and the cabin came from her next-door neighbor, Zelma Stroop, Margaret's great-niece, who was raised by the Lipscombs until she was 12.

Lipscomb University was founded by David Lipscomb and James Harding as Nashville Bible School in 1891. At that time the school was downtown, and Lipscomb would return to the log cabin on his Bells Bend Farm to "clear his head of the [downtown] smog," Chumley said.

The log cabin, though very modest, was actually very nice for a cabin of that time. It has two windows, instead of one, and the chimney runs through the upstairs, so that its stones can release heat into the bedroom. Displayed on the main floor is Mag's old daybed and tiny chair. Items found under the cabin when it was moved are displayed in a box, and an old pulpit, from which Lipscomb used to preach, sits in the corner. One must climb ladder-like steps to get to the upstairs, where a small bed and table sit on the hardwood floors, underneath a high ceiling. The exact year it was built is unknown, but they probably first lived in it from 1880-82.

In 1900, David Lipscomb decided to move the school to his Avalon farm on Granny White Pike. He and Margaret lived in a large house on the farm at the time, but they gave up their house and converted it to a girl's dormitory. They had a smaller house built in 1903, which is the Avalon house that is there today.

The brick house is simple from the outside, but inside it is quite elegant. It had to be entirely refurbished because it had been converted into a schoolhouse. The Associated Ladies of Lipscomb began restoring the house in the late '80s and finished in the early '90s. Photographs and a recording of Zelma describing the layout of the house were used to bring the house back to life.

In the late '80s J. Ridley Stroop, Zelma's husband, returned much of the Lipscomb's original furniture, with the understanding that the appraised price of the pieces would be put into a Lipscomb scholarship fund in his name. Other pieces in the house are from the time period and some are from their relatives.

The volunteers restored Avalon as accurately as possible. The original door, staircase railing and mantels had been taken out and lost, but a door and railings of nearly the exact design and from the same time period were found, and mantels were rebuilt to match a photograph.

The living room holds the Lipscombs' secretary and table in their original location. Antique chairs, couches and other pieces of furniture are placed throughout the room. The wallpaper is very similar to the original.

The dining room contains pieces from the family and from the time period. The original porch is now an enclosed room that has a display case filled with many of their possessions.

"Uncle Dave and Aunt Mag were as modern as the day," Zelma once told Chumley. They were the first people in the area with plumbing and electricity.

Upstairs are David and Mag's bedroom and a guestroom. The beds and other pieces of furniture in these rooms are all antiques.

Chumley feels a close connection with the Lipscomb couple. "I feel like I knew them," Chumley said, smiling. She said that Mag and David were very generous, always inviting guests over for dinner, visiting the sick, and serving others.

Chumley and other volunteer ladies keep the generosity of the Lipscombs alive by running it as the University's guesthouse. They cook meals in a new kitchen, where the back porch used to be, running a bed and breakfast for campus visitors.

"I feel that Mag and David would be very pleased to know that their house is used for hospitality," Chumley said. Thanks to her and many of the volunteers, the Avalon house and log cabin are not forgotten pieces of history, but living relics of Nashville's rich past.