Milky Way Farms is Tennessee Sweet Spot

The preservation of a legacy left by a candy-bar king is the most delectable enterprise yet undertaken by a South Carolina developer accustomed to the sweet smell of success. Charles Ausburn is building a 1,100-acre residential development, golf course and equestrian facility on the site of famous Milky Way Farms in Giles County, Tennessee, and he plans to restore the jewel of the property, the 25,000-foot Manor House, to its original grandeur – to imbue it with all the luster of Alpha Centauri.

Mars concocted Milky Way Farms in 1930, and the project gave jobs to almost a thousand men in the midst of the Depression, when jobs were as scarce as peanuts in a Crackerjacks box. Crews dug into the solid rock that comprised a good part of the 2,800 acres Mars had purchased, and chiseled and hammered enough stone to build a clubhouse, 30 barns, a mausoleum, stone fences, rock walls, bridges, rock gardens, and numerous outbuildings by the time Mars died, in 1934.

Ausburn is building on those foundations, those stone works of art. One of the best preserved and most renowned is the crooked sheep barn, immortalized in Ripley’s “Believe It or Not.” He plans to make this into a mini-park, and to rebuild some other structures.

Ausburn has been developing on a large scale for some 15 years, beginning in his home state. He managed the development of Bermuda Bluff in his home of Beaufort, SC, and gained a measure of national attention. As a partner, he developed the Islands of Beaufort, which numbered some million-dollar lots, as well as The Retreat in West Virginia and Doe Mountain in Tennessee. All his projects have been undertaken in the spirit of restoration and preservation, a consideration that attracted him to Milky Way Farms and its illustrious central star, the Manor House.

The financial burden of restoring and preserving the mansion will be spread among a large number of buyers, ensuring its protection forever, Ausburn says. The mansion’s main level will become a fine-dining establishment, with a wine bar and wine cellar occupying the bottom level, eventually. Spa services will be offered at some point. The buildings 21 bedrooms will be put to use to accommodate prospects or those who have already purchased lots. Ausburn, who plans to build a permanent home here, is staying in Mars’ original bedroom.

“I feel like the Candy King,” he says.

A total of 750 lots will be sold. The first stage of development, Founders’ Ridge, is proceeding by word-of-mouth, and Ausburn says that the residents there will be the core of the community. The amenities here will be more upscale than usual, and will include the Milky Way Equestrian Club and the Jay Haas Galaxy Club, featuring an 18-hole championship golf course. The Equestrian Club’s facilities will include the racetrack where 1940 Kentucky Derby winner Gallahadion trained, as well as a polo field, riding trails and boarding stables. PGA pro Jay Haas is collaborating with designer Kevin Tucker on the golf course, whose front nine is slated to open in 2009, with the back nine to follow in 2010. The private club will accommodate 350 members.

The course’s front nine will be constructed in the open areas surrounding the lake behind the Manor House. The 18th green is planned as an island green built into the lake’s upper-left corner. A bridge will carry golfers across the lake to the clubhouse. Plans are to convert the old stone swimming pool into a koi pond that will serve as a hazard on a “warm-up” hole adjacent to the driving range. (Isn’t beaning a koi a punishable offense?)

Ausburn may not be the White Knight that Mars was, but he says that he and his colleagues have enjoyed a “fantastic reception” from people in the area. “This isn’t the biggest thing I’ve ever worked on,” he says, “but it’s the most exciting and fun.”

For information about Milky Way Farms, call 931-363-9769; visit www.MilkyWayFarmsTN.com.

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