1840 Mills River Farm House

The following article was published in 2005 in the Hendersonville Times-News.

By Jennie Jones Giles
The door was always open at the 1840s homestead, built not far from the banks of the Mills River.
Family, friends, strangers, were welcome, said Betty Brittain Donoho.
The home, pictured in the 2006 Mills River calendar, was the gathering place for each family member’s birthday and the place where everyone came for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
This year (2005), the descendants of Wade and Leila Brittain are opening the home, filled with original antiques and family heirlooms, to the public Sunday for an Old Fashion Christmas.
Wreaths are on the doors, spruce garlands adorn each room. Pine cones and Christmas trees, each with special ornaments, are found throughout the house.

 Seeking advice

The house was built in 1840, according to Henderson County records, by one of three Allen brothers, Donoho said. The first Brittains to live in the home were Minnie and James C. Brittain, she said.
Additions to the house were added since 1840 and porches were enclosed, but many of the original features of the house can still be seen. The family plans to preserve the homestead and needs the advice of historical preservation specialists.
A 60-year-old watercolor painting, painted by a Russian artist and hanging in a hallway, depicts the home before changes were made.
The wash pot, in which Leila Allison Brittain washed clothes every Monday morning, after starting a fire under it, was placed at the end of the driveway. Above it is the house sign with a horse on it.
The four original rooms of the home are named the Gold Room, Red Room, Bear Room and Sitting Room. There are two rooms downstairs and two directly above them upstairs, with four fireplaces and two chimneys on the exterior walls.
The original handmade bricks still line the interior of the fireplaces. Family members made and repaired mantels and floor tile, but the old brick inside remains.
Bricks on the outside chimney were crumbling. Several years ago the red brick chimneys were covered with a strong white plaster coating to keep them in place.
Many of the windows still contain the original windowpanes. The family plans to replace the shingled roof with a tin roof, as they remember from childhood.
The original plaster is still on the walls, the uneven ripples and cracks seen through the new paint.
“When Dad was a little boy, his job was to whitewash the walls,” Donoho said.
Almost every room has the original armoires, tall handmade wooden cabinets with shelves, drawers, doors and room to hang clothes.

 Rooms of memories

When Wade and Lelia Allison Brittain moved into the house in 1940, they brought with them the only possession saved from a house fire, an old Victrola record player.
The more than 100-year-old Victrola stands in the front sitting room. Across the room is seen the treadle Singer sewing machine, also close to 100 years old. Leila Allison Brittain’s Bible rests prominently in the room.
“Mother had a Bible in every room,” Donoho said.
Across the hall, at the foot of the stairs, is the Bear room dominated by a bear rug.
The two upstairs bedrooms, the Gold Room and Red Room, are also filled with antiques and precious memories. One contains all the quilts made by the sister of Leila Allison Brittain, Aunt Bertha Allison.
“She sat up in this room most of her life crocheting and making quilts,” Donoho said. “My mother took care of her for 30 years.”
When Allison died, the door to the room was padlocked. The only one allowed to enter was her mother, Donoho said.
After her mother’s death, family members entered the room and found it filled with quilts. About one-half had rotted, but at least 20 of the original quilts are displayed.
Also found in the room was an old trunk, more than 100 years old, filled with every letter and card her mother had ever received, Donoho said.
The iron bedstead, used by her aunt, was restored and is covered with the handmade quilts.
The back attic rooms were the children’s rooms. Wade and Leila Brittain had nine children, seven of whom are still living: Daniel, Samuel, Horace, Vance, Philip, Geneva Lawson and Donoho. Elizabeth died at the age of 20 in an automobile accident in Texas. David drowned in the French Broad when he was 16.
A Christmas tree encircled by a train is featured in the attic rooms, along with a handmade ceramic village displayed on shelves. The ceramic pieces were made more than 30 years ago, Donoho said.
“There was no electricity when I grew up,” Donoho, 70, said. “We used oil lamps when we went up the stairs.”
About 40 years ago, a vent hole was cut in the floor of the attic room to allow downstairs heat to rise into the rooms. At that time, the house was heated with an oil heater.
Below the attic rooms and behind the original house is the kitchen addition, loaded with old cookware. The metal cupboards are full.
“We saved everything we could,” Donoho said. “We even saved Mama’s hoe.”
One of those items was the kitchen work table with the meat grinder attached to one end.
“My Grandpa made the table,” Donoho said.
Bathrooms were added over the years.
“We had a two-stall outside john and used catalogue pages for toilet paper,” Donoho said.
The old “potties” family members carried out each morning remain by each bed.
Leila Allison Brittain was 93 when she died in the home.
“She kept the homeplace up,” Donoho, her daughter, said. “She was a strict Scots-Irish. She worked like a man.”
Parents, grandparents, aunts and other relatives died in the homestead.
“I intend to die here, too,” Donoho said. “My mother kept people here for the county who had nowhere else to go and no family. She waited on them, took care of them, and they died in dignity.”
The only two living descendants of James and Minnie Brittain are Sue Dillard, 86, who lives across the road, and Connie, 81.
At one time, there were 90 acres of the home place. Over the years, the family has divided the property.
“They gave everybody a home place,” Donoho said.