Located in Bolivar, Tennessee, “The Pillars” was home to the politically and socially prominent Bills family. The house once accommodated such notable guests as Andrew Jackson, Davy Crockett, Sam Houston, James K. Polk, and Jefferson Davis. Owners of the house since 1973, the Hardeman County chapter of the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities now operates the mansion as a historic house museum. The Pillars is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of Bolivar’s Bills-McNeal Historic District.
Although the exact date of construction is unknown, Robert Rivers first referred to the structure in his 1826 will. Catherine Lea, wife of Saturday Evening Post publisher John Lea of Philadelphia, purchased the four-room brick house in 1828. John Houston Bills, one of the first town commissioners of Bolivar and part-owner of a successful cotton factor business, purchased the house from the Leas in 1837. Over the next thirty years, Bills oversaw the expansion of the house into its present form and furnished it through buying trips to New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.
Today, the Pillars is a one-and-a-half-story L-shaped house. Its Federal-style façade has six bays, a low gable roof, and a classically columned verandah. Originally, the west elevation served as the front entrance. Bills, however, reversed the orientation of the house to face a newly expanded town road by shifting the entrance to the rear. He also added a two-story section to the north side. The north wing’s low-pitched hipped roof and second-story paired windows give it a tower-like appearance. A one-story wing extends behind the taller section to complete the ell. This wing, added in 1858, is also connected by a breezeway to the small kitchen, built in 1868. Bills had indoor plumbing installed in 1867 through the addition of a back porch with an enclosed bathroom.
The house receives its name from the eight columns decorating the long Greek Revival-style verandah that extends along the façade of the house. White railing surrounds the verandah, and ornamental pilasters decorate the corners where the porch meets the building. The Doric columns support the entablature of the verandah’s flat roof. A paneled parapet above the entablature creates the illusion of greater height. Green louvered shutters flank each of the windows and the front door on the first floor. The tall shed dormers were likely added after Bills’s death in 1871.
Like many frontier homes built by local craftsmen, the Pillars exhibits vernacular construction techniques and contains a mixture of architectural styles, notably Federal and Greek Revival elements. Other buildings on property include the former kitchen and a rural Gothic cottage. The cistern and icehouse entrance are also visible.
The Pillars served as a hospital twice during the Civil War, alternately providing care for the wounded on both sides of the conflict. After Bills’s death, it was home to the John Houston Bills family until the late 1960s. During the Great Depression, Mrs. Lillias Bills started a free library for the community and ran it out of the old two-story kitchen. The property also once hosted an informal school of art and music and the community post office. Today, the Pillars contains a rich historical collection of artifacts including letters, diaries, photographs, artwork, and family belongings.