March 12, 2008 12:00 PM

Growing up in cramped quarters in rural Newnan, Ga., Alan Jackson dreamed of owning a plantation home like Gone with the Wind’s Tara, but he would have settled for having just a bedroom door to close. “I had four older sisters, and we had one tiny bathroom, and my bedroom was the hallway,” recalls the singer, whose father worked as a Ford mechanic. When Alan was 10, things began to look up. “My older sister went off to college, and I got a bedroom.”

Three decades and 49 million in album sales later, Jackson now has a 142-acre spread in Franklin, Tenn., which boasts a 17,000-sq.-ft. mansion (with 6 bedrooms and 11 baths), 3 private lakes and a 12-car garage stocked with his collection of mint-condition ’60s and ’70s muscle cars. Scarlett never had it so good. “As a kid I don’t think I would have believed it,” says Jackson, 49. “It’s just like the Beverly Hillbillies. That’s the only thing I could relate it to.”

But despite the gilded entryway, the marble inlay and the 7,000 sq. ft. of wraparound porches, Sweetbriar, as the home has been dubbed by Alan and his wife, Denise (“She’s sweet and I’m a briar”), is a haven even the Clampetts would envy. “It’s like a resort out here; there’s so much to do,” says Jackson, who designed the house, completed in 1997, with Denise. “There’s an enclosed gym with a tennis court and an area by the river where we have bonfires.” That’s not to mention the pool and waterfall, kayaks, paddleboats and the sand beach. “I hardly ever want to leave the gate,” he says with a laugh.

He will, of course, venture out later this year for a tour in support of his new album Good Time, a collection due out March 4. But until then he’s content in his rural sanctuary, located about 20 minutes south of Nashville. “It’s definitely a refuge for me,” says the 16-time CMA award winner.

While tour buses regularly pull up to the gates to give fans a glimpse—and sometimes more—of the grandeur (“We’ve had fans pick grass and flowers under the gate!” says Denise, 47), the back of the property is a hidden retreat for the couple and their three daughters, Mattie, 17, Ali, 14, and Dani, 10. “I never had a thing but a dirt driveway, so I want the kids to have a good place to grow up and enjoy being outside,” Jackson says.

The girls’ favorite spot, however, might be the indoor playground on the third floor of the house. “There’s a theater and a dance machine and a Ping-Pong table, so it’s become a hangout area for our kids where they can be away from us,” says Denise.

And Mom and Dad admit they relish their alone time too. After weathering a separation in 1998—a period chronicled in Denise’s bestselling 2007 book It’s All About Him—”we’ve been so happy,” Jackson says. Most mornings the couple stroll their three-mile trail accompanied by their three pups: Opie, a Westie; Buddy, a mixed breed; and Coco Chanel, a Yorkie. Or, says Denise, “if it’s a nice night, we’ll go out on the lake in the boat with a bottle of wine and watch the sunset.” When he’s not romancing his woman or catching a Tennessee Titans game, Jackson’s likely to be in his garage, which is filled with such treasures as the 1955 Ford Thunderbird he owned when he and Denise met in high school. “My daddy never had money, but he was always fixing up cars, so I inherited that trait from him,” he says.

Still, despite the fancy wheels and stately home, Jackson insists his feet rest squarely on, well, Tara firma. “Even though we have a nice home and cars, I’m still pretty average like I was,” he says. “I wear old tennis shoes, and we have the same old corn bread and peas that I did when I was growing up.”

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