It's a 119-year-old building with a thousand secrets that will never be revealed.
First an infirmary and second a sanitarium, this three-story brick structure on South College Street later saw duty as a boardinghouse and hospital. For the past 40 years or more it has provided safe haven for men with nowhere else to go.
There's no telling how many souls breathed their final breath between these walls, but multitudes more took their first gasp of air here, as thousands of babies were born here when it was known as Martha Gaston Hospital.
Today, 112 men live in the two buildings that make up Cedarcroft Home (the second structure was formerly Margie Anna Nursing Home).
Thomas A. Bryan, chairman of the board of Cedarcroft Home, Inc., describes the site as "a supportive living facility for men who otherwise might not have a place to stay.
"If God didn't tell me to do this, I don't know if I could do it. I have a heart for people," said Bryan, who has been helping the helpless for over half a century. "I've always had a heart for people that have been down on their luck and cause their own luck, too."
Bryan takes over in 1965
The owner of Bryan Insurance and several other Lebanon men began Faith Rescue Mission in 1965 and a couple of years later joined forces with the Wilson County Help Center, but it folded.
"I still wanted to help people, alcoholics especially," said Bryan, who then had a door open.
"Dr. John H. Tilley practiced here, but Medicare wouldn't pay him, so he shut it down. One day Tex Maddux came by and said, 'That place is for sale. I want to take you up there.'
"I told Dr. Tilly, 'I like your building. The price is right, but I don't have the money to buy it.' Dr. Tilly told me, Yeah, you do. I'll loan it to you, and after that, I'll rent from you.'
"So he loaned me the money, and I bought it in April 1969, and it became the Bryan Office Building. I bought it for office space, and I knew it was big enough to take in some of the homeless people up on the third floor, and that's what I had in mind," said the soft-hearted businessman.
'A permanent halfway house'
He started with two or three men and went to four or five and soon there were seven men living on the third floor.
"I let them take care of the building and cooking. It was a self-run rescue mission for a while, an ideal place for it," he said.
In 1974, he incorporated Cedarcroft of Lebanon Inc., and in an interview a few years later described it, saying, "You might call our home a permanent halfway house, taking in people that other institutions will not accept."
Bryan recollected, "In the mid-1970s, the state of Tennessee decided that people would be better treated outside of institutions in homes. Well, that didn't work out so well. Cumberland Mental Health told me, 'Why don't you get licensed and we'll help you and bring in some men?' So we took in seven more and seven more later. Then it just kept growing and growing and growing."
World to Cedarcroft
As an office building, it housed the Wilson World newspaper (predecessor of The Wilson Post), Wilson County Telephone, the Office of Economic Opportunity. Bryan kept his insurance office there until 1985 or 1986.
"That all went away, and it became Cedarcroft for Men," he said. "In 1996 we changed to Cedarcroft Home, Inc. We're a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, and the board members include myself, my sons Tommy and John, Troy Putnam, Jay White and Larry Locke.
"We're required to have 24-hour coverage and one person for every 16 residents. We make all the state requirements now and always have. Cedarcroft operates with an annual budget of $1.85 million," he said.
"The fee to stay here is $1,400 a month. We charge the men only what they have the ability to pay. Only about 10 of them can pay that much. Our average is $1,000 a month," he noted.
So where would these fellows be without Cedarcroft to call home?
Answers Bryan, "I'm sure a lot of them would be on the street."
Current CEO a servant first
Coming aboard 11 years ago was Peggy Zide, who formerly worked as a church administrator and benevolence director and a professional organizer. She now serves as Cedarcroft's chief operating officer and administrator.
"I enjoy helping people. God created me to be a servant, and I love serving others. This job is very unique. I haven't done anything like this before."
She describes her role, saying, "I oversee 35 staff members and 112 residents and handle all new admissions and the day-to-day operations. I love it because I love organizing. It's certainly a challenge, and there's never a dull moment. Whatever needs to be done, I do."
Cedarcroft underwent a $600,000 expansion in 2012 as a kitchen, dining hall and chapel were added. The chapel doubles as a rec room where the residents can watch movies, munch popcorn, work jigsaw puzzles and play pool, and it also serves as a storm shelter.
Hospital, sanitarium, infirmary
The structure has evolved in many ways since 1897 when Dr. H.K. Edgerton built the three-story brick building with porches on two floors and a white-picket fence running around the grounds. His Edgerton Infirmary was the second hospital built in the Cedar City.
Noted Bryan, "The rumor was that people paid him with chickens and produce. He saw that Lebanon needed some jobs so the people could make some money, so he helped establish Lebanon Woolen Mills."
In 1910, Edgerton sold the building to a couple of doctors, including Dr. Power Gribble, who had created Cedarcroft Sanitarium.
An advertisement in a 1910 issue of "Bob Taylor's Magazine" reads: Cedarcroft Sanitarium.
For the humane and effective treatment of drug, alcohol and tobacco addictions. New Sanitarium has 30 rooms and is equipped with the most modern electrical apparatus and baths. Five years ago, Dr. Gribble established Cedarcroft Sanitarium in Lebanon, and by honest methods and the effective treatment employed he has won the confidence of the entire medical profession as well as the co-operative endorsement of the leading citizens. Those who cannot visit the Sanitarium can be cured privately by the home treatment. For booklets address Dr. Power Gribble, Medical Director, Lebanon, Tenn.
Gribble moved his sanitarium to Nashville in 1914, and from 1915 to 1917, Dr. Sam Walker McFarland took the building and called it McFarland Infirmary.
In 1917, McFarland sold to a group of men who reopened it as the Lebanon Hospital Inc. This soon closed, and the hospital was converted into a boarding house for Cumberland University law students.
Then in 1932, Dr. Robert Bernard Gaston bought the site and christened it Martha Gaston Hospital after his mother. Gaston sold out in 1939 to brothers Dr. John Hill Tilly and Dr. W.K. Tilly, and they operated Martha Gaston Hospital for many more years. Among the other physicians who practiced here in the mid-1900s and later were R.C. Kash, O. Reed Hill, F.B. Dunklin, Richard Mudd and Joe Bryant. In 1967 John Tilly closed the hospital, and two years later sold the building to Bryan.
Today it stands not as a monument but as a testament to caring people who believe they are their brothers' keeper.
Cedarcroft Home, Inc.
For more info about Cedarcroft Home, go online to cedarcrofthome.org or call (615) 449-0825.