From student banquets to egg hunts, the home of ETSU President Brian Noland is rarely quiet.
The local historical landmark known today as the Shelbridge was purchased and constructed by Roswell H. Spears Sr., a lumber dealer of Johnson City, in 1920. Roswell commissioned an architect, D.R. Beeson, to build a Virginia-colonial style, three-story home on six acres of property overlooking the scenic mountains.
The estate features two formal entrances, seven bedrooms and bathrooms and luscious gardens.
“In the ‘20s, there wasn’t any type of zoning so they would have ponies and cows around and then they had this barn, which was picked up and … connected to the house,” said ETSU First Lady Donna Noland.
The Shelbridge remains in a very similar fashion to the 1920s, adorned with original glassware, corner cabinets, a coffee set, decanters, baskets and crystal chandeliers on multiple floors.
“At one point, the third floor used to be a roller skating rink so in the ‘20s when the Spears built this house,” Mrs. Noland said. “The third floor was empty and so it was a roller skating arena, all of their children skating and one time a chandelier fell [on the second floor] and broke into a thousand pieces.”
Eight years later, the Bridges family bought the 6,000 square-foot home for $42,500 with an additional three acres of land.
Henry P. Bridges, a lawyer from Baltimore who worked at a sand and gravel corporation in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, and his wife Shelby Bridges who was named for the estate by combining her first and last name, moved into Shelbridge in the late 1920s.
“Mrs. Bridges would pick out these sand stones from Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina,” Mrs. Noland said. “She traveled throughout the country for them.”
The stones currently serve as a pathway to the gardens, sculptures and koi ponds.
After moving into the estate, the Bridges constructed a swimming pool, a clay tennis court, bath house, vegetable and rose gardens, and a summer house to cool off during hot summer days.
The summer house includes a gazebo sitting area with a kitchen underneath it.
“The Bridges had two children: Henry Jr. and Powell,” said Mrs. Noland. “Their sons went to the University School and my son does too.”
In the late 1930s, the Bridges also purchased a guest house, which at the time was a parsonage for Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church, where Shelby’s mother and her brother lived lived until they passed away.
The Bridges also had one of the first pipe organs in Johnson City.
“The organ they rounded the pipes up through the attic, they came out through the top of the stairwell, and they [Bridges] had this huge dedication party for 200 people, everyone was in the formal living room and no one could hear it,” Mrs. Noland said. “The pipes had been routed incorrectly, and so they came back and rerouted the pipes through the basement in this waterproof chamber.”
Years later, the organ was donated to local First Presbyterian Church.
After Mr. Bridges passed away, Mrs. Bridges remarried to Hal White and they lived there until he passed away.
Mrs. White passed away one year later and the estate went into the custody of her two sons.
The Bridges are the only other family who has owned the home privately, before it was acquired by the State of Tennessee to serve as ETSU’s University President’s housing for $100,000.
The Culp family moved into the Shelbridge by Thanksgiving in 1973, marking a change for future presidential housing.
In November 2011, Brian Noland was appointed as ETSU’s ninth university president. First Lady Noland and their 11-year-old son Jackson moved into the Shelbridge shortly after in 2012.
“When we moved in, we had a donor who allowed us to graciously redecorate these two rooms to make it more conducive to entertaining because we open up the house quite a bit,” Mrs. Noland said.
The donor enlisted the help of Treasure House Designs to help the Nolands with the process.
“Most things have not changed in this house other than some decorations,” Mrs. Noland said. “So she [donor] came in and allowed us to purchase the furniture and we re-wallpapered and painted.”
Prior to the Nolands, the Shelbridge included a lot of maroon and green décor. The Nolands wanted to make the estate more representative of ETSU.
“It was a lot of fun to be able to do it and our goal was to make it blue and gold,” she said.
In the formal living room, the bookcases are new with ETSU black-and-white photographs of various buildings throughout campus, the couches and chairs feature ETSU’s colors in patterns that compliments the era of the estate and lavish rugs that the Nolands have personally donated.
The entire estate utilizes local and international artwork from the hills of Greeneville to the windmill scape of Greece.
The dining room features a large table, a crystal chandelier, original glassware to the estate, ETSU’s first piece of china from Domestic Science and new ETSU glassware, designed from a company in West Virginia, used for special events.
“My favorite room is the sunroom, although I don’t spend much time in it because I’m not home that much,” she said.
The sunroom features a bright and airy room with a grand piano, where 11-year-old Jackson takes lessons.
Additional rooms on the first floor include a bathroom, family den and kitchen for catering events.
“It’s one of my dreams and hopes is to have a kitchen where we can cater in a little bit more efficiently,” Mrs. Noland said.
With people constantly coming and going, Noland said each day is something new.
“I joke with everyone, we are a revolving door, you just don’t know what’s going to happen, Aramark comes in here, we cater, we have events and it’s just like ‘well, what’s going on today’ and that took some getting used to,” she said.
Although the Nolands entertain frequently on the first floor, the second floor was designed for the family’s privacy.
There are many similarities between the Bridges and the Nolands.
“The barn right here on the side, they picked it up and joined it to the side of the house, which is now what our garage is,” Noland said.
The guest house remains occupied, except this time by Richard Sanders, director of intercollegiate athletics.
The Nolands have even hosted one of the Bridges’ grandsons.
“One of the recent events we had last summer was their grandson [David Bridges] came back for a book signing here, which is really neat being the grandson and remembering coming here for summers to stay with his grandparents,” she said.
Other former first ladies have been hosted at the estate as well, Noland said.
“They come in here and they’ve lived here too, they see how things have changed,” she said. “A lot of interesting have happened in this house, Mrs. [Martha] Culp will always say how there are caves underneath the house.”
The history of the Shelbridge is evident all throughout the property.
“The handprints of the children are in the cement concrete of the pool,” Mrs. Noland said.
Noland said she always tried to keep family first.
“I think this is why the Bridges built this home is because it’s so conducive to having family around and with us being in Johnson City, we’re right in the middle of our family, an hour from Greenville and Asheville, North Carolina,” she said.
The Nolands also have student organizations over quite frequently.
Roan Scholars, POLO leaders, Buctainment, Quest, SGA and top scholars for area high schools are invited to come visit the Shelbridge.
“We invite them to come in, where they get an opportunity to speak with our Deans of each respected college, and they can ask their questions,” Mrs. Noland said. “SGA, we need to be able to have that open line of communication with them, but a lot of times people come to us and that’s part of opening the house to university functions, this is the university’s home, we just have the privilege of living here.”
Depending on the size of the event, sometimes furniture is rearranged and moved to the formal living room to better suit the evening.
One of the most popular events of the year is the annual faculty and staff egg hunt.
“The entire backyard is lined up with thousands of eggs, the children are broken up into age groups and the cheerleaders face paint,” Mrs. Noland said.
Generally, there are between 700-800 people who attend. People bring their blankets and chairs to relax for the afternoon.
There is also a bluegrass band for entertainment, arts and crafts and a bus that shuttles people.
“You don’t necessarily have to have children to come,” she said. “It’s a time for us to be together as an ETSU family.”
Throughout many of the Shelbridge events, there may be a tiny black-cat named Gilligan, who showed up one day at the Noland’s doorstep, roaming around the halls.
In the past, a popular ETSU student team building exercise has been their son’s zip line and there has even been an English professor who jumped on the trampoline.
Whether its hosting with current students, prospective students, faculty and staff members, or even state legislators, the Shelbridge remains an active part of the ETSU community.
“The primary goal of Shelbridge in general is we open it to the community in order so that they can learn about the University because I don’t really think you can have enough ambassadors,” she said.