July 1, 2021, Barry Lamb
Grantlands, so named because of the grant of land on which the manor house was situated, was the ancestral home of the Dickinson and Murfree families. It was once located near the intersection of West Clark Boulevard and Hamilton Drive and it is believed that what is now Hamilton Drive served as the entrance lane that led from the old Nashville Pike to the manor house.
The home was constructed in 1809 and was the nucleus of the 1,000 plus acres of land inherited by Fanny Noailles (pronounced (No I) Murfree Dickinson and her husband, David Dickinson, from the estate of Fanny’s father, Colonel Hardy Murfree, who had served as lieutenant colonel of the 2nd North Carolina Regiment during the American Revolution and had been granted thousands of acres of land in Rutherford and Williamson Counties from the State of North Carolina for his military service there.
Looking at a street map today, the land was bounded basically on the west and northwest by the Stone’s River, and included the Stones River Golf Course and land up to and opposite of what was then Samuel McFadden’s holdings. To the north, the land encompassed the Riverview subdivision up to Avon Road, just south of what was then Colonel Addison Mitchell’s plantation. It then proceeded east to Jones Boulevard and Myers Drive and then southeast along Sulphur Springs Road to Kingwood Drive, thence south through Kenneth Avenue and Allen Avenue to Lokey Lane. The south boundary line began at the corner of Allen Avenue and Lokey Lane and proceeded thence southwest to Stone’s River and Dickinson’s Mill.
David Dickinson, who had migrated to Rutherford County from North Carolina during the first decade of the 1800s, was a contractor, millwright, attorney and planter. He contracted the building of the first jail in Murfreesboro and also built the dam adjacent to his land on Stone’s River near present day Medical Center Parkway. He was the senior partner with his son-in-law, William Law Murfree, in the law firm of Dickinson and Murfree and was likely the overseer of the construction of his manor house which was largely built by the labor of his slaves.
One of his granddaughters, Fanny Noailles Dickinson Murfree, during her later years, vividly recalled her halcyon memories of the plantation home and its grounds where she spent her formative years. “The manor house was approached by a wide graveled driveway bordered by rose bushes and led to the front portico which was reached by a flight of steps. The entrance hall was 40 feet in length and 15 feet in width and 12 feet in height. Two rooms, 20 feet square and 12 feet in height, were on each side of the hallway. At the end of the hall were folding doors which led to a nursery room and the bedroom of the governess, Miss Venie. In line with these two rooms were the kitchen, store room, laundry room and weaving room. Upstairs were bedrooms and two rooms devoted to the conservation of many books which were destroyed during the war.
The front yard was practically a rose garden and in the back yard were scattered various buildings; the houses of the house servants, two brick office rooms, a deep cellar-like milk room, ice house, pigeon house and turkey pen. At a distance in the woods were the low-roofed stables where the race horses were bestowed and taken to New Orleans for the races. Along the garden fence were pear and apple and cherry trees, and of course peach trees. So beautiful was this house, the slope of the lawn, the flowers, the orchards, that it was called the ‘New Paradise.’
Dickinson and his wife, Fanny Noailles Murfree Dickinson, were responsible for the birth of four children who were raised in the home and lived to adulthood. These children were: David William Dickerson, Sarah Louisa Dickinson Bell, Fanny Priscilla Dickinson Murfree and Martha Ella Dickinson Galloway.
The eldest son, David W. Dickinson, was born in 1808. He was a Murfreesboro attorney and served in the United States House of Representatives from 1833-1835 and from 1843-1845. He died at Grantlands in 1845.
The eldest daughter, Sarah Louisa Dickinson, born circa 1801, was married to one of Tennessee’s most distinguished politicians of the 19th Century, John Bell, but did not live to see her husband’s political aspirations come to fruition. Mr. Bell served in the United States House of Representatives from 1827-1841 and in the United States Senate from 1847-1859. He had also served as Secretary of War under President William Henry Harrison and was a candidate for the presidency of the United States in 1860, running against Abraham Lincoln.
Their third child, Fanny Priscilla Dickinson, married her first cousin, William Law Murfree. Fanny and her husband inherited Grantlands following the death of her father in 1848. William Law Murfree was a Murfreesboro attorney and writer of short stories and legal treatises. Fanny was an accomplished pianist and second matron of the plantation. They were the parents of three children: William Law Murfree Jr., Fanny Noailles Dickinson Murfree and Mary Noailles Murfree, who all spent their formative years at Grantlands.
William Law Murfree moved his family to Nashville in 1856 to practice law at that place, but his absence from Grantlands did not hinder its operation as a plantation. It continued to thrive under the direction of an overseer until the invasion of the northern army in 1862 and the proclamation of Union president Abraham Lincoln to liberate Grantlands’ slaves, carried out under the authority of the Union army occupying Murfreesboro. The Union army dismantled the beautiful house to construct nearby Fortress Rosecrans following the Battle of Stones River in 1863.
In 1871, Murfree moved his family back to Murfreesboro and built another home, commonly known as the second Grantlands. It was located near the southern boundary of his estate in the area of what is presently Grantland and Murfree Avenues. The house remained extant until its demolition in the 1950s. It was in this home that the writing skills of his daughters, Mary and Fanny, began to flourish.
Mary Noailles Murfree, who wrote under the pseudonym of Charles Egbert Craddock, was a contemporary of Will Allen Dromgoole, who appeared in this writer’s article in the last edition of Froe Chips. Murfree possessed a near exhaustive acquaintance of Webster’s dictionary and used that cerebral ability to weave and articulate her narrative prose. Among her best novels was “Where the Battle Was Fought”, which portrayed her ancestral home as a backdrop to the novel. Much of her writings focused on the lives of the people of Appalachia.
Fanny Noailles Dickinson Murfree was also a writer of novels and short stories. Her novel, Felicia, was her signature accomplishment. She was also an accomplished pianist and vocalist and classical music enthusiast. Her selfless support and assistance of her sister’s writings was her primary devotion.
Mary and Fanny attended the Nashville Female Academy while living with their parents in Nashville and later received education at the Chegary Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The sisters remained unmarried. Perhaps their intellectual capabilities were intimidating for a majority of prospective suitors or possibly their constant companionship and intimacy and devotion to writing eliminated the desirability of marriage in their minds. They lived together in several rental homes in Murfreesboro following the death of their mother in 1902. Mary died in 1922 and Fanny died at her home at 225 North University Street twelve days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.