Among the many historical and beautiful homes in Tennessee, the original Cliffside, built on the banks of Norris Creek in Fayetteville, claimed a colorful legacy.
The original structure in the Pennsylvania Federal hillside style began in 1820 by James Bright, the Surveyor of Fayetteville. In about 1840, James McGahee, the builder of the famed Stone Bridge across the Elk River in Fayetteville, purchased the property and built a second structure on the property in the Victorian Empire style.
He sold this house to Dr. William Bonner, a noted surgeon, who modified the house to a French Second Empire style after the Civil War, completing work in 1884. The completed plans included all of the architectural features of a castle with turrets and towers. Call bells were installed in each of the rooms to resound centrally in the back hall, and the place was surrounded by many acres of rich farmland.
During the time of construction, Dr. Bonner built another lovely home on Mulberry Avenue, now known as the Lamb place. Both homes were built at a cost of five thousand dollars each.
Following the death of his wife, Dr. Bonner offered a choice of homes to his daughter, who was W.D. Lamb's mother. Mrs. Lamb chose the Mulberry Avenue home.
Cliffside was a wedding present for another of the Bonner daughters, who married Colonel James D. Tillman. Col. Tillman was the colonel of the 41st Regiment of Tennessee and later became ambassador to Ecuador.
March 27, 1890 the home was damaged extensively during a cyclone. The cost of restoring the home was said to have been $5000.00, a sum equaling the cost of original construction. Mrs. Tillman accompanied her husband to Ecuador when he was appointed ambassador, but because of ill health was forced to return to Fayetteville to stay with her nephew, W.B. Lamb.
When Col. Tillman completed his term as ambassador and returned to Tennessee, they decided to move to their farm near the Harms community and sold the place in town in 1899 to John Harrison Rees, president of the Elk National Bank and Elk Cotton Mill. He moved his family from Mulberry, Tennessee, and they lived there until his death.
In 1909, Cliffside became the home of their son, Ernest Rees, and his wife, the former Miss Beatrice Milhous of Wooly Springs, Alabama, who moved to the house as a bride. Mr. Rees was one of the owner/operators of the Elk Yarn Mill that closed its doors in 1999.
Mrs. Rees developed the grounds and gardens keeping with the generous proportions of the house. The name "Cliffside" was also credited to Mrs. Rees, the young bride who moved to Fayetteville from the resort area where her father was a country doctor and hotelkeeper. After her death the property remaining vacant for several years the Estate offered the house for sale at auction. The Mahaffey family purchased the estate at auction in October 1968. The present owner is Dr. William R. Mahaffey.
Tragically, this historic building, the site of many weddings, was destroyed by fire in September 2005 after eight years of operation as a bed and breakfast. But this was not the end of Cliffside.
The Present Day Cliffside
The plan was to restore the original cottage built in 1820 in the Federal Style to become the new Inn at Cliffside. Using bricks and poplar timbers recovered from the mansion, the cottage was built out and up into the present three story structure. This was begun in the fall of 2005 and is now complete. Chandeliers are in restoration, and much wooden trim was reused. The sloping area to the Creek was terraced with retaining walls using shelf rock from the addition.
A lawn, scenic garden and young growing trees have reclaimed the site of the original mansion