July 5, 2020, Susan Harber, The Daily news Journal
Hillcrest is a notable historical home referred to as ‘Crest’ and ‘Crestland.’ The plantation home was built most likely in the early 1830s and stood tall for Murfreesboro resident Legrand Carney, a wealthy man. The home lay between present-day North Maple and North Church Streets and stood on a rise on vast acreage six blocks north of the Murfreesboro Square. The architecture and voluminous size of Crest redefined town space in the decade before the Civil War. Crest was described at the time as the ‘most imposing mansion ever constructed in the area.’
To know the history of this striking edifice, one must first be introduced to proprietor Legrand Hargis Carney. He was born on January 1, 1808 in Person County, North Carolina to William and Mary Hargis Carney. Legrand had one sister Pratalia, who tragically died in a fire at age two years old. His family arrived to Rutherford County before 1809. Legrand wed Catherine Wells Lytle, granddaughter of Captain William Lytle, in 1831. She was born in Rutherford County in 1814 and 17 years old on the day of her nuptials. Prior to the Civil War, Legrand was an owner of a successful dry goods business in Murfreesboro. He also invested heavily in Soule Female College. While Legrand ran his mercantile interests in town, his son William astutely managed the large farm. Legrand was active in political leadership and served as alderman in Murfreesboro in 1838, 1839 and 1844; and he was mayor for one year in 1837. He was also Town Treasurer in 1838 and 1844. Legrand and Catherine were members of the Methodist Episcopal Church and very visible in community. Their eleven children included William, John, Mary, Catherine, Legrand, Tabitha, Rosaline, Ephraim, Helen, Virginia and Kate.
Legrand’s son William Carney joined Company C, 45th Tennessee Infantry Regiment and served one year under his uncle Colonel Ephraim Lytle. After the war, William labored as a hard-working farmer in the 18th District. In the 1890s, William owned a butcher shop in Murfreesboro. His younger brother John Lytle, who attended Union University (Murfreesboro), fought in major battles, including Shiloh and Stones River. He was a Captain in the 11th Tennessee Cavalry Regiment. Following the War Between the States, John moved to Lake Weir, Florida and was a prosperous orange grower. A third brother Legrand Vanhook, a handsome man at age 17, served in Company I, 1st Maney’s Tennessee Infantry Regiment. He fought under his brother John Lytle in Company D, 11th Tennessee before moving to Lee County, Texas where he lived the rest of his life.
Legrand’s daughter Kate Sills Carney Poindexter attended Soule College and was talented on guitar and mandolin, and she was skilled as a painter. Her artistry shined with music and design; and her adept ability as a wordsmith was outstanding. Kate maintained a diary (1859-1862) during the Civil War and composed factual entries of day-by-day happenings in Murfreesboro under Union Occupation. Moreover, her analysis of small town life is revealing in her chronicles. Her intricate reflections of the war are preserved today in books online and in national bookstores. A copy of her diary can be found at Middle Tennessee State University Library today.
Kate’s descriptive words were a testament to the struggles of the South and her devotion to family. She scribed a firsthand account of the sheer devastation of Stones River Battle that was fought basically in her own backyard. She refers to her uncle Chaplain John Lytle, serving in the Cavalry. Kate was a strong and determined personality and earnestly schooled both her siblings and African American children. When she resided in the house, along with Yankee officers, she was never hesitant to forcibly respond when provoked by the enemy. She wed William Spencer Poindexter of Clarksville where they resided during her adult life. Her sisters Jennie Mitchell and Rosaline Moore remained in Rutherford County for their lifetime.
Legrand Carney’s spectacular home showcased two-level red brick walls and tall, white columns that supported upper and lower galleries. The upper gallery was enclosed by wrought iron grilles. The double, two-story white columned porticos in the Greek Revival style were stunning. The circular driveway was bordered by boxwood. There were twelve acres of lawn and forest trees and twenty acres in the garden and orchard. There was rear-servants’ quarters, ice house and a carriage house on the property.
On March 15, 1856, a grand wedding celebration with 500 guests was hosted at Crestland by Legrand and Catherine Carney for their son William Joseph Carney and bride Mariah Laura Butler. At the time, the event was heralded as the ‘most beautiful wedding celebration ever assembled in Murfreesboro’.
The drums of war were suddenly ever-present in Murfreesboro; and life soon changed in a complete manner forevermore. Due to Legrand’s support for the Confederacy and his unwillingness to take the oath of allegiance to the Federal government, his dry goods business was closed. Further, Legrand was thrown in prison yet eventually released. Legrand opened his home during the Battle of Stones River as a hospital for numerous wounded soldiers for the North and South. His wife Catherine and daughter Kate were among the nurses ever-present for the injured and actively saving lives. Both mother and daughter also fed the sick, as well as Union soldiers, who held possession of the home. Meanwhile, the Yankee officers commandeered the premises as a Union headquarters. Following the Civil War, General William Rosecrans inhabited Crest through the winter. For seven months, Union soldiers encamped on the Crest lawn.
Meanwhile, the crops were withering, cattle were unfed, and Union troops were confiscating their horses. Legrand Carney suffered monumental financial hardship after the war and was forced to sell his mansion in 1868.
Legrand perished on April 29, 1884 at age 76 and is buried in Evergreen with Catherine by his side.
William Yandel Elliott, a flourishing town merchant in Murfreesboro, purchased Hillcrest in 1868. In turn, his widow Margaret sold the home when William died in 1898. Attorney John Ezra Richardson lived in the home until 1909. Afterward, William Freeman purchased the estate and razed the historical mansion in 1910.
Crest was a magnificent home marred by the devastation of war and fortune. The Civil War was a chapter of time with no rest for the weary for North and South and holds deep historical narratives yet to be told in a new day.