The historical heft of Thistletop Inn strikes me right at the door. Turns out these circa-1860 double doors are from an old stagecoach stop between Louisville and Nashville. Inside, I see materials from other structures around the South: doorknobs from New Orleans, dining room doors from a Louisville hotel, beams from a Nashville candy factory and a Charleston wharf. Seemingly every bit of this building has a backstory.
Luckily, I like stories.
This one, the story of Thistletop Inn, begins with a man named Braxton Dixon. A master builder known for salvaging and repurposing old materials, he was a favorite of the celebrity set, with a client list that reads like a Who’s Who of country and rock music (Johnny and June Cash, Roy Orbison, and Tammy Wynette, to name a few). Dixon built several dozen homes over his lifetime, including the inn, which was originally constructed as a private residence in the early 1970s. Its current owners, Mary Jane and Fred Peace, bought the place in 2006 and opened Thistletop Inn as a bed and breakfast in 2010. It’s the only building by Dixon that’s open to the public, and for that reason alone, it’s worth a visit. But there are other reasons, too.
The inn is a refuge. Located in Goodlettsville, a fifteen-minute drive from Nashville, it sits on eleven acres of rolling countryside. Yet despite the sprawling setting, the inn itself is intimate, with only four guest rooms: two in the main building and one in each of the two stand-alone houses. (The Avalon House, which Dixon originally built as a horse barn, mixes modern furnishings with antiques; the Highland House, which Dixon did not build, features original photography by Fred of rock-and-roll artists, such as Stevie Nicks, Mick Jagger, and Linda Ronstadt, and is a favorite of the singer-songwriter set.) I stayed in the Dauphine King Suite, the larger of the two rooms in the main house. To get there, I climbed a red spiral staircase, salvaged from an old theater on Dauphine Street in New Orleans. The room feels like a luxury tree house, complete with massive windows, an exposed wood ceiling, and stained-glass panels from Scotland. A small balcony overlooks the lawn.
The Peaces live elsewhere in the main house, which includes a kitchen, back deck, and a downstairs area for concerts, which are held about once a month. (They’re BYOB and free if you’re staying at the inn, though donations for the band are welcome.) In the morning, Fred made a simple but delicious breakfast after inquiring about our preferences, (eggs, potatoes, and fresh fruit), and we all sat on the deck to enjoy the view. Later, Mary Jane and I walked around the side of the house to see the etched glass window with a rose and thistle pattern that inspired the inn’s name. The floor-to-ceiling window came from a convent in Kentucky and is believed to date from 1850. Like most everything at Thistletop Inn, if this window could speak, it would surely have a lot to say.
1284 Hitt Lane, Goodlettsville, Tennessee • (615) 851-2153 • thistletopinn.com
While You’re There
Dixon’s list of celebrity clients included the legendary Johnny Cash, who convinced Dixon to sell him a home he’d been building for himself on Tennessee’s Old Hickory Lake, about a half-hour drive north of Nashville. Visit Nashville’s Johnny Cash Museum to see furnishings from that house (upholstered chairs, a wood buffet, assorted knickknacks) as well as a stone wall from one of its rooms. Sadly, they are all that’s left. The building burned down during a renovation in 2007.
This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2019 issue of Southbound.