Albert Swain Bryson home still standing guard after 142 years

Historically known as the Albert Swain Bryson home, it looms large and majestic at the entrance to Franklin’s Main Street. Photos by Vickie Carpenter

Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer

The looming brick and columned home at 387 Main Street in Franklin was built because the original owner happened to see one like it while visiting a friend in Buffalo, N.Y., in the 1800s. Albert Swain Bryson, a “largely self-educated, civic-minded merchant,” according to “Images of America: Franklin,” married his first cousin, Leona Linden Lyle, and had the home built in 1877. More than 100 years later, in 1984, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places. 

Records at the Macon County Historical Museum indicate that the couple had seven children; ironically, the two who carried his name did not live to see their first birthdays. 

Albert was described in a historical architecture survey report, as “a great reader,” who “wrote and spoke fluently and well.” He was also “public spirited,” cited for planting shade trees in the Town of Franklin as well as supervising the building of the courthouse. 

One of his business endeavors was a mica mine. One use of mica is as a thermal insulator. Albert, like many at the time, also farmed. He also served as a magistrate for the town. 

The United States Department of the Interior Heritage Conservation and Recreation Services, on its National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form, listed Albert as owning in 1894, at the age of 42, 35 acres in and around Franklin. Value at the time was $3,600. 

His grand Romantic Revival home, displaying both Gothic and Italianate features, has two and a half stories and was reportedly made of the brick from clay gathered in his fields and then baked on site in a kiln. It overlooked (before development) the Tennessee River bottom lands as well as distant mountain ranges. The home features a central two-story portico and the distinct architectural features of continuous box columns, a hip and gable roof, and a two-tiered porch. For adornment, there are scrollwork brackets. Distinct solid black walnut millwork throughout the interior was made by a master craftsman at the time, William Gould Bulgin, who died in 1914 at age 83 and is buried at the Franklin Methodist Church Cemetery. 

The U.S. Dept. of the Interior reported in the 1980s, “The ground floor center hall features a paneled staircase with decorative brackets on its open stringer, turned balusters, and a boxed paneled newel. The doors have handsome molded walnut surrounds and are surmounted by three-pane transoms.” There are eight rooms and eight mantels. Built-in pie cupboards flank each side of the dining room’s mantel. 

The report further maintained, “The Albert Swain Bryson house stands as a prominent landmark in the town of Franklin. Architecturally… the use the Romantic Revival styles in a vernacular brick house is unusual in Western North Carolina.”

As were many imposing estates of the era, this home had a name: “Hall in the Pines.” 

When Albert died in 1900, the entire estate, valued at that time at $10,000 (approximately $300,000 today), went to his wife. Albert is buried in Woodlawn cemetery in Franklin. Part of the estate went to their daughter, also named Leona, and son-in-law Thomas W. Porter. In 1936, the Porters gained possession of the entire estate. In 1966, they sold the home and land surrounding it to a Mrs. Chandler Queen (full-name possibly was Lelia Cooper Queen who is listed as part of Cherokee’s Qualla community) who died in 1989. Although the records are not clear, it appears the home passed to her daughter, Reva Queen, who married Robert Reneau. In 2002, Reva Queen Reneau was the home’s trustee, and then it was deeded to family member Herbert R. Reneau. 

At present, the home is not occupied but maintained – and it is unclear as to the current owners. 

Still, the home modeled after an architectural style viewed long ago in the North, continues to grace the entryway of Franklin’s Main Street for visitors and residents alike.