A National Historic Landmark

Dr. David Mitchell and his wife Elizabeth Mitchell came to Lebanon, Tennessee from Pennsylvania, where he had a successful mining business. After attending Cumberland University he became its president in 1902. The youngest University President in the nation. He had volunteered to be President and to give the University money from his fortune without benefit of receiving a salary. He also paid the salaries of professors out of his personal funds. With I.W.P. Buchanan, Dr. Mitchell was a founder of Castle Heights School. The construction of the Mitchell House started in 1906 as an elegant home for his family adjoining the school property. The Mitchell family moved into the house in 1910. It was the center of social and cultural activity for the community.

Dr. Mitchell more than likely already exceeded his own expectations for an entire lifetime with an incredibly beautiful and charming wife, a bright and talented daughter, a son with great curiosity of boats, enormous personal wealth, and an international reputation as an educator, newspaper editor, and philanthropist. He was humanitarian, philanthropic, and keenly interested in making the world a better place.

In 1919, the children contracted typhoid fever and Elizabeth nursed them back to health. A short time later, however, Elizabeth became ill and within three days she was dead from typhoid fever at age 42. Elizabeth Mitchell was a beautiful woman in every way; in mind, body and spirit. Her physical appearance was striking and unforgettable, amplified by a natural aura of greatness.

Almost immediately following Elizabeth’s death, David went to California and secluded himself for some months in the home of his friend and business partner. He sold the Mitchell House to his children for one dollar. Elizabeth’s parents, the Rev. and Mrs. Arthur Smith, came to Lebanon to care for the children. After four years, the Smiths departed Lebanon in the middle of the night, taking their grandchildren to Florida, reportedly due to the cold Tennessee winters. The house was vacant from 1923 – 1936.

In 1936, the home was purchased by Castle Heights Military Academy, at which time the home began fifty years as the Junior School and living quarters for boarding students. David Mitchell was never able to recover emotionally from the loss of his beloved Elizabeth. David died in 1945 in Arizona, at the age of 69 ironically, or tuberculosis and a broken heart. He was still experiencing an inordinate level of bereavement and perhaps even yearning to be reunited with Elizabeth in the next life.

The Castle Heights Military Academy had a final commencement address at graduation in 1986, and Castle Heights closed for the final time. There was another period of abandonment and neglect for ten years, until 1997, when Lebanon-based Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. purchased the home as executive offices. It was the renewal of the original dream that is vital and alive. The Mitchell House was restored to the artistic masterpiece of Lebanon, Tennessee homes. Mike Manous, architect for the restoration project, said, “The Mitchell House is incredibly important to the City of Lebanon. The whole Castle Heights campus was important to the city as an institute of learning for eighty-four years. It was part of the community’s daily life for such a long time. Now it has taken on a new central role in the community. The Mitchell House has taken on a new role and is cherished by the people who live in Lebanon.”

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