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Multi-arched building of cemented rock fronts on a grassy field.
Built to survive the end of the world, indestructible Millennium Manor awaits the Apocalypse.

Millennium Manor

Field review by the editors.

Alcoa, Tennessee

William Andrew Nicholson (1877-1965) believed in biblical Armageddon. He was convinced it would happen in his lifetime, and that afterward he would be one of the 144,000 righteous souls who would live on Earth with Jesus for another 1,000 years.

Vintage photo of Emma Fair and William Nicholson standing at the top of an outdoor staircase.
Emma Fair and William Nicholson in 1949.

But live where? Nicholson wanted to spend his millennium at home, so he built a home that could survive it.

From 1938 to 1946 he and his wife, Emma Fair, both in their sixties, labored to create an Apocalypse-proof, thousand-year fortress. He told a reporter in 1957, "I believe in preparing to live instead of preparing to die."

Rejecting anything that could rot or rust (such as wood or metal), William and Emma Fair burrowed into a hillside, then built an all-rock, 14-room, two-story home -- later dubbed "Millennium Manor" -- in the excavation. The two senior citizens hauled boulders into place -- hundreds of tons of them -- then mortared it all together with 4,000 bags of cement. Fifty years later a medieval castle expert examined the citadel and calculated that it was overbuilt by 250 percent, meaning that two additional Millennium Manors could be safely stacked on top of it.

By then, both William and Emma Fair were dead. Emma went first. William sadly explained that, "Her faith just wasn't strong enough," but he remained firmly committed to the thousand-year plan. Using his own Bible math, William predicted that the End Times would arrive by 1959. When they didn't, he pushed the deadline back to 1969. Then he died before he could be disappointed again.

Dark indoor hallway with concrete walls, an arched concrete ceiling, many side doorways, and a staircase leading up at the end.
Central hallway of the catacombs-like lower level.

Two middle-aged people, Karen and Dean Fontaine, stand at the top of an outdoor staircase.
Karen and Dean Fontaine in 2019.

William never left a will (since he was never going to die) so Millennium Manor fell into abandonment and neglect. Squatters and stoners and drunken teenagers trashed what was inside, but couldn't dent the building. Local officials wanted to tear it down, but knew the task was impossible. Millennium Manor was built to survive the end of the world.

Enter Dean Fontaine, firefighter. He was looking for a home that was quiet -- he often had to sleep during the day -- and solidly built, and, of course, fireproof. Millennium Manor ticked all of those boxes. He bought it in 1993, hauled out several truckloads of garbage, and moved in. A tornado passed directly over the building in 2006; Dean slept through it. "A plane could crash on the roof and you wouldn't know," he said.

Since then, Dean and his wife, Karen, have spent years gradually restoring Millennium Manor. Progress has been slowed by the building's many quirks, such as a concrete chair built into the end of the bathtub. William once told a reporter that the chair was a throne for Jesus; Karen guessed that Christ was expected to sit there while he washed William and Emma Fair's feet. In deference to another of the Manor's local nicknames, "Darby's Castle," Dean has been adding medieval touches such as swords, pennants, suits of armor, and gargoyles. "I'm just taking what's there and going with it," he said.

Concrete lions and knights outside the doorway of a building made of cemented rocks.
Concrete lions and knights guard the door to the upper level.

Another unusual kink in Dean and Karen's DIY project is the remote chance that they might accidentally find the remains of William and Emma Fair. The Nicholsons are supposed to be buried in a nearby cemetery, but since neither has a headstone, legend has it that at least Emma Fair is entombed somewhere on the Millennium Manor property, possibly at the bottom of its well or behind one of its walls.

Donation box and newspaper clipping that describes the Manor in the 1980s.
Donation box and 1980s newspaper clipping about "Darby's Castle," one of the Manor's many alternate names.

These kinds of stories fuel public interest in Millennium Manor, and Dean and Karen cheerfully open it for tours over Memorial Day weekend, occasionally around Halloween, and in-between by appointment. Visitors are shown the building's arch-and-keystone construction, the bathtub throne, the all-black "Star Chamber" where Dean slept through the tornado, the kitchen's pot and pan rack anchored into the ceiling with foot-long bolts (Dean can do pull-ups from it). "People come in and they marvel and then you re-appreciate the work you did," said Karen. Dean added, "The great thing about visitors is that when it all starts to look normal, they'll come in and say, 'Wow! Look what you've done!' And you remember it all and you feel great again."

Keystone and arch model shows how Millennium Manor was built.
Keystone and arch model shows how Millennium Manor was built.

Among Dean's favorite visitor comments are, "Wow, you're not crazy," and, "Hey, I got high in your house."

William and Emma Fair thought they would live forever -- and in a not-completely-crazy sense they are still alive in Dean and Karen, at least when it comes to committing time and sweat and elbow grease to Millennium Manor. "It's easier to do it myself than to tell somebody else how to do it right," said Dean, a sentiment that could easily have come from William Andrew Nicholson. "I think he would be happy with what we've done."

Millennium Manor

Millennium Manor

500 N. Wright Rd, Alcoa, TN
Drive south on I-140/Pellissippi Pkwy until the road ends at exit 14. Turn right onto TN-33. Drive a half-mile. Turn right at the third stoplight onto McArthur Rd. Drive one mile. Turn left onto N. Wright Rd. Drive a half-mile. You'll see Millennium Manor on the left; turn left just past it onto Harding St. Park in the church lot on the right.
Summer weekends 12-5, other hrs by appt. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Tours $15 per person.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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