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“I’ve been everywhere, man!”
In the 1962 country classic “I’ve Been Everywhere,” Country Music Hall of Famer Hank Snow rat-a-tat-tats more than 90 locales, chronicling travels across North and South America in a rapid-fire delivery that’s as catchy as it is staccato.
In a career that spanned 66 years, 140 albums, and 80+ chart singles, Snow was indeed a hard-traveling troubadour. But there was only one place he considered home: the Rainbow Ranch in Madison.
Now restored and operated as a home-stay rental by Snow’s great-nephew, Cal Blakney, and his wife, Sandy, Rainbow Ranch is a rhinestone affixed to the tapestry of Nashville’s musical history and a hidden jewel in the hills of Madison, just as Snow intended.
Clarence Eugene “Hank” Snow was born in Nova Scotia on May 9, 1914. After a turbulent childhood, Snow signed on as a cabin boy on a fishing schooner at the tender age of 12. He was first exposed to country music through American radio broadcasts and, after teaching himself to play guitar, began pursuing a career as an entertainer.
By the end of World War II, Hank Snow, “The Singing Ranger,” was one of the biggest country stars in Canada. He spent a good portion of the late ’40s crisscrossing North America with a traveling tent show that included music, comedy, and a trick riding exhibition by Snow and his beloved show horse, Shawnee.
In late 1949, Snow and his family moved to Nashville. With Ernest Tubb’s support, Snow joined the Grand Ole Opry in January 1950. Five months later, he scored a No. 1 hit with the locomotive drive of “I’m Movin’ On.” That record launched a run of more than 80 U.S. chart hits over the next three decades. More immediately, it gave Snow the confidence to buy the Rainbow Ranch.
In July 1950, Snow paid $14,900 for an unfinished house on slightly over three acres. Before the Snows moved in, they added a large den and office, which would soon become one of the first home studios in Nashville. Knotty pine paneling and Western-themed fixtures were installed throughout. Snow also began constructing a detached garage and a concrete block-and-wood barn near the back of the property.
Snow valued his privacy and home life due to his turbulent childhood and early nomadic career. To that end, he built a second garage in the basement of the house and installed a trap door that led to his den. Nicknamed “Dracula’s Hatch,” it allowed him to enter the house directly, away from prying eyes.
Over the years, Snow continued adding rooms to the house. In the mid-’60s, he added a trophy room/office/home theater and small workshop next to the den, which had been taken over by recording equipment. Next came the additions of a large living room, a new den with a fireplace, a small bathroom, and an expanded basement. In 1970, Snow made another large extension to the back of the house, with a separate entrance, to accommodate a complete recording studio and larger office.
Snow filled his home with Western-themed furniture and artifacts, mementos of his long career and travels around the world, family photos and portraits, and a dizzying array of electronics and recording equipment. A pioneer in home recording, he began making demos at home in the early 1950s. He progressed to cutting basic studio tracks at home, to be overdubbed and mixed at RCA’s Nashville studios. Eventually, he was able to cut entire albums at home.
In his 1994 autobiography, The Hank Snow Story, he wrote, “We took a lot of pride in our new home from the first day we moved into it. We intended it to be our one and only home.” And Rainbow Ranch remained Snow’s home until he passed away on December 20, 1999, aged 85.
‘Someone needed to preserve it’
Its history as a cherished homeplace notwithstanding, by the time the property was listed for sale in November 2014, the house had been vacant for several years and had fallen into disrepair.
“Our daughter was living in Nashville, and we’d been coming to Nashville for some time to visit and loved it here,” Cal Blakney recalls. “We found out that my cousin, [Hank’s son] Jimmie Snow, was going to put this house up for sale and ended up buying it from him because I just felt someone needed to preserve it.”
Although Rainbow Ranch had obvious familial and historical appeal, restoring the property proved challenging. “It was rough,” Sandy Blakney recalls now. “The plumbing was all frozen and burst. There was a hole in the roof where a neighbor’s tree had fallen. All the electrical needed to be redone, and the last tenants had large dogs, so there was a lot of damage to the flooring. Plus, vines were growing over everything in the backyard. You could barely see the barn.”
The Blakneys’ first thought was to restore the house for their retirement, to escape the harsh Canadian winters. However, the costs of restoration and taxes soon nudged them toward opening it as a short-term rental, albeit with a unique twist — a domestic museum designed to be lived in.
“We kept it as original as we could,” Sandy says. “The original denim blue bathroom fixtures were still there, but the pink ceramic tiles were cracked and broken, so we replaced them with modern white tiles. The kitchen counter had been damaged so badly that we had to change it out. We couldn’t get the original color, so we got a retro-style counter that was close to the same color.”
Fortunately, much of the original furniture and many of Snow’s personal possessions were still in storage and now have been returned to their rightful places. You’ll even find one of Snow’s ubiquitous toupees in a place of honor in the home studio.
Other original items have been repurchased by the Blakneys or returned to them by others. They’ve filled in the gaps with period-appropriate items and a few country music artifacts, such as a leather sofa once owned by Opry star Porter Wagoner. Even Snow’s custom 1968 Silver Eagle tour bus has been restored to its parking place in the backyard, thanks to a sharing agreement with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
The Blakneys still make regular trips to town to work on the property and welcome guests. Thanks to neighbor and property manager Terry Tyson, Rainbow Ranch has hosted hundreds of guests since opening for rentals in 2016. “When guests come to stay, they get a walkthrough tour of the house so they can understand and appreciate what pieces are original,” Sandy says. “Sometimes they don’t know the history, but by the time they leave, they do — and they’re fans!”
Strict preservationists might be horrified that a historic home is open to extended-stay guests, but perhaps there’s no better fate for Rainbow Ranch. It has become a place where guests can enjoy a small measure of the “home and hearth” joy it brought to Hank Snow.
“There are definitely days that I think we were crazy to be doing this,” Sandy says. “But knowing how it’s gone from where it was to where it is now is a remarkable feeling. When we had what we called our ‘grand opening,’ we invited several family members for a barbecue.
“Jimmie Snow’s mother-in-law walked in, and she was shocked. She had seen it right before it sold. She started to cry, and she said, ‘It smelled so terrible in here. It was just so awful. How did you get it to be this house again?’”
Rainbow Ranch, 312 E. Marthona Road, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and will soon receive a historical marker from the Metropolitan Historical Commission. For more information and rentals, visit hanksnowsranch.com.