LYNCHBURG, Tenn. — The two-story, white, colonial-style home that has anchored the edge of the Jack Daniel Distillery property near state Route 55 in Lynchburg for more than 140 years has certainly stood the test of time. But unfortunately, time has finally caught up with the house where Lem Motlow lived until his death in 1947.
Motlow — Jack’s nephew and the legendary proprietor of the world-famous whiskey for nearly 40 years — was a State senator as well. He lived in the house, which was built roughly around 1870, with his wife Ophelia.
Now, parent company Brown-Forman has plans for the age-old home that’s been an icon in Lynchburg for nearly as long as whiskey has been made here.
Eric Doninger — Jack Daniel’s VP Global Marketing Creative Director — was in Lynchburg this week to reveal architect’s renderings and the company’s plans for what will be a fully reconstructed Motlow home.
Doninger, one of the creative forces behind the Jack Daniel’s Family of Brands, also happens to hold a Masters in Architecture. He met with Steve May, the Director of Jack Daniel’s Homeplace, on Monday to go over the construction plans that he says will inject new life into the dilapidated old home, while also giving the company more usable space near the main distillery.
“The house fell into disrepair. When the lease ended, it just sat there and kind of got in bad shape,” said May.
A tour of the building’s interior proved May spot-on. The structure is in far worse shape than it appears to passersby from the highway. That revelation has made the task of renovating the Motlow home difficult for Doninger and his marketing team.
In fact, renovating the house has been deemed impossible.
“As time has passed the building has become extremely fragile … there are significant structural issues,” Doninger said. “We were looking at ways to try to take the back off of the building to try to expand it, because we knew what we wanted to do would require a much larger footprint.
“However what we found (during) part of the permitting process was that this building is sitting in the middle of a floodplain. Mulberry Creek is sitting back here, so all of the sudden we paused and said, ‘What do we do if we are making a significant investment in renovating this building and it’s sitting in the middle of a floodplain?
“At that point, we said we just can’t.”
While the options became a bit more limited, there were options nonetheless. Among them was tearing the structure down completely and leaving a larger greenway for visitors to enjoy. Another was to leave the building as-is and watch it slowly decay, taking a big part of the brand’s history with it.
“As we’ve tried to figure out what to do with it, we knew that we wanted to keep this last remaining green space on (the distillery) campus,” Doninger added. “This is really what you see when you drive up. We’re doing everything we can to try to protect that green space and not turn it into more parking and more streets and things like that.”
With that in mind, the group chose perhaps a more difficult path, but one that will stay as true to the brand’s identity and the Motlow name as possible.
For more on this story see the Sept. 4 print edition of The News. To sub scribe, click subscribe.