Dan Emmett's Retirement Cabin

Daniel Decatur Emmett was a composer and minstrel performer from Mount Vernon. He is best known for his work in the traveling minstrel troupe the “Virginia Minstrels” which he formed in New York City in the 1840s. It’s also possible that he wrote the unofficial Confederate anthem “Dixie,” although the origins of the composition are disputed. He later became a fixture in the Chicago theater scene, where he spent most of his life until he returned to Mount Vernon in 1888. For the last 15 years of his life, he was considered a local eccentric, known to many as “Uncle Dan”. Few in Mount Vernon knew about his past as a traveling showman.

 

The original Dan Emmett House was the entertainer’s purported birthplace and was showcased by the Knox County Historical Society for many years. The house was supposedly built by Emmett’s father in the early 1800s shortly before his birth in 1815, according to librarian and historian Charles Burleigh Galbreath. The house, scheduled to be destroyed in 1954 and once again in 1973, was saved from destruction each time, first by a local doctor, and then by the Mount Vernon Jaycees. It was moved to new locations at N. Gay Street and later next to the renovated railroad depot.

 

The house was badly burned in a fire in 2014, and most of the original structure was destroyed. After the fire, a comprehensive appraisal of the history of the house was conducted, which revealed that Emmett had no connection to the house at all. The rumor of the connection between Emmett and the house came from Galbreath’s 1904 biography whose prior scholarship had never been questioned. 

 

The Historical Society rebuilt the house, no longer representing as the birthplace of the famed entertainer. It imitates the style of the home Emmett lived in during his retirement in Mount Vernon. It is still located near the visitor center of the Ariel Foundation Park.

© 2019 Knox County Landmarks Foundation

  • Facebook - White Circle