Lifestyles

Story published: 04-05-2010 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

A Proud History

The Rhea-McKinley House, pictured above, has seen it all — births, deaths, epidemics, war and even a good mystery or two.
(Charlie Mauk/H & T Photographer)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a part of an ongoing series focusing on historic homes

and buildings throughout Jonesborough and the surrounding area.

The front room of the Rhea-McKinley House is a study in color.

Deep yellow and coral from the color palette of the Federal period complement the yellow tile on the fireplace surround, blending together in a golden glow as the setting sun streams through the deep windows.

Paintings and photographs of horses adorn the walls. Round tables await their crisp white linen cloths and the six-course gourmet dinner prepared by Chef James Taylor to be served later in the evening.

Located less than a mile from downtown Jonesborough at 920 Old Boones Creek Road, the Rhea-McKinley House, known today as Proud Annie Mystery Theatre and Bed & Breakfast, is a solid, comfortable looking Federal-style home in a country setting.

Braden McKinley, owner of the house, is a retired law enforcement officer and a veteran actor with 20 years on stage to his credit.

Prior to moving to Jonesborough from Santa Barbara, Calif., the Pennsylvania native starred in his own television series, which is now in syndication.

“For five years, I did a children’s show called ‘Critter Gitters’ and it’s still in re-runs,” said McKinley, who is also an animal rights activist. “It’s about a group of kids who come together at a veterinarian’s office, and that’s their club, the ‘Critter Gitters.’ They are on a mission to rescue abused and neglected animals, and to save endangered species. I played the veterinarian, the ‘wisdom’ of the show.”

The mystery theater is named for McKinley’s horses, Proud, and Annie. Proud was the horse he rode on the TV series. When McKinley moved to Tennessee, Proud came with him. Annie arrived later as a rescue and is now Proud’s companion. The two horses face one another on the sign out front, and are seldom spotted apart in the pasture adjacent to the house.

“I was looking for a house and looked in several states before choosing Tennessee,” McKinley said. “I wanted to have a place where I could have my horses with me, and not have to board them. I was wanting something where I could have a dude ranch and ride horses, and have a dinner theater and a place for a barn dance. Then I found this house, and it had a good energy about it.”

Built in 1857 of varying shades of red brick that were manufactured in a kiln still standing on nearby property, the old house sits on a limestone foundation. The home boasts five fireplaces, each with the fireboxes configured to burn coal.

Situated close to the road, the home served both as a clinic and family residence for the first three owners, all of whom were physicians.

The builder and first owners of the house were Dr. Joseph S. Rhea and his wife, Lady Kirkpatrick, who emigrated from Ireland. According to McKinley, the Rhea family lived in a neighboring log cabin while the brick house was under construction.

The front rooms on either side of the foyer were the doctor’s waiting room and the examining room. The downstairs bedroom, which is now the present day ‘Green Room,’ for actors of the mystery theatre was where the Rheas slept. It is thought the two upstairs rooms belonged to the children.

Shortly after the beginning of the war, Rhea was conscripted into the Confederate Army and served as a battlefield surgeon until the end of the war, while Lady Kirkpatrick was left behind to tend their five children and the 180-acre estate.

According to some local old-timers, ‘ruts,’ were dug under the house to hide the boys; there is no record of their having been taken to fight in the war. After the war ended and Lincoln was assassinated, the Rhea family sold the house to another physician, Dr. Henry Hoss, and re-settled in Kentucky where they had investments in coal.

Hoss reportedly turned the home into a hospital and makeshift morgue during the cholera epidemic that carried away numerous residents of the community in 1873.

The house stood empty for three years before McKinley purchased it from the third owner, Dr. Frank P. Haws.

“You can just imagine what it was like when I moved in,” McKinley said. “Until 1982, this was open-faced brick, but it was plastered at some point after that, and wallpaper was hanging from the walls when I bought it.

“It had to be re-wired, central air and heat installed, and totally cleaned, painted and wallpapered before I could open it to the public.”