East TN News
East TN News

Whirlwind's Faded Glory
by Martha Rose Woodward
Published 2/13/2019

Clinton, TN is the location of Whirlwind, the magnificent mansion built by Jake and Sonja Butcher over 45 years ago.


Once a show place, the huge, empty structure seems dated, abandoned and lifeless with overgrown shrubs and trees giving the place an air of defeat. The cream-colored bricks are shaded with green mold, piles of sticks and leaves are settled on the pool cover and the red metal roof hosts patches of leaves and green mold. The white columns of the pillared entry are crumbling from the effects of weathering and the entire place looks battered, rotten, and worn.


Although the property has passed through numerous hands, no one has been able to make a go of it due to the massive expense of upkeep, estimated to be $25,000 per month.


At one point, the house was remodeled into 5 condos, but the tenants complained of high utilities bills--higher even than their rent, and all moved out. Using the building as an assisted living home was also suggested, however, the neighbors rebelled in force at the extra traffic and buses that would come along with that and the idea was squelched.


The mansion sold for $524,000 to Kathryn Gencay in September `2017. It appears to be in the process of being remodeled since that time.


The Butchers chose the site for their 22,000 sq. ft. dream home because Sonja’s mother, Marie Wild, lived next door. The architect for the house was William Denton, who worked for Community Tectonics at that time, and who also designed the Sunsphere. Earl McMahan was the builder of Whirlwind that required two years between 1972 to 1974 for completion and for the mansion said to cost $300,000.

In her groundbreaking book, Whirlwind; the Butcher Banking Scandal, published in 2000, writer/researcher, Sandra Lea, who died in 2014,  wrote, “Nothing but the best would do in the house that Jake Butcher built.”


Lea gave a detailed description of the three storied house on pages 2 to 11 of her book, including a copy of the plans.


Whirlwind had 40 rooms, 13 bathrooms, an executive office suite where Jake conducted some of his business, 7 large bedrooms, a children’s play house with bunk beds, a barn, a tennis court, a wine cellar, a swimming pool with an outdoor kitchen and bar, a sun room, a state-of-the art kitchen for a use by professional chefs, maids’ quarters, a grand ballroom, a library, a four car detached garage and a three car attached garage, a helicopter pad, a man-made boat dock, a caretaker’s apartment and the entire property is enclosed in an undulating white Kentucky fence. Marble and gold inlay were used in abundance as were crystal and wall paper in the dining room that was said to cost $16,000.

Some say Whirlwind is cursed; bought and paid for from money made through bank fraud and deceit. Ironically, the home - built by a man who pinned his future and his fortunes on a World’s Fair with the theme “Energy Turns the World” built a home that’s very size doomed it to ever-expanding energy costs.


It was said that during its hay days between 1974 to 1982, the utilities bill was a staggering $800 plus per month. In today’s dollars at today’s rates, estimates have been made that the cost per month for utilities may be as high as $15,000. Clearly, anyone who could afford the price tag of Whirlwind, which has been between $400,000 to over $l.5 million, would face upkeep expenses of over $200,000 per year just to live there. Who could afford that kind of expense and why would anyone who could afford it want to live in Anderson County near Bull Run Steam Plant?

Jake Butcher, died in 2017 at age 81, and his brother, C.H. Butcher, Jr., died in 2002 at age 63. Both plead guilty to bank fraud in 1985 and were sent to prison. Jake was sentenced to 20 years, but served only 7. He spent his last years living in Georgia supposedly working for a used car dealership and continuing to do real estate deals. The Butchers were the cause of the biggest banking scandal to ever hit America only surpassed by the debacle in 2008.


Martha Woodward is a lifelong journalist residing in the East TN region.


Published 2/13/2019



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