Lytle Land Donation a Problem for New Town

As published by the Daily News Journal, Sunday, September 18, 2011

CaptLytlePNGBy Greg Tucker, President Rutherford County Historical Society

Capt. William Lytle did not have good title to the 60 acres of raw land he deeded to the Town Commissioners in July 1812.  Indeed, about one third of the original acreage that became Murfreesborough was owned by Isaac Hilliard, son-in-law of Col. Hardy Murfree.  Most of the title issues were finally resolved by Hilliard in 1818, except for the so-called “Lytle Lot.”

Soon after the seven state-appointed Town Commissioners posted their performance bonds in January 1812, Thomas Rucker and William Lytle each offered 60 acres of real property as the site for the new Rutherford County seat of government. Two other sites were initially considered, but the competition quickly narrowed to the Rucker and Lytle properties. (The Rucker land is now part of the York VA Medical Center campus.)

The Lytle property was finally chosen in the spring of 1812 and the new town of Murfreesborough was surveyed and platted into 70 lots around a courthouse square in June 1812.  Lytle executed his deed to the Town Commissioners in July 1812 (the deed was not recorded until January 1813), and lots were sold at auction in August 1812.

When the Commissioners executed deeds for the town lots in late August, the first deed recorded gave lot number 53 to Lytle, as compensation for the original 60 acres.  (The “Lytle Lot” was on the southeast corner of the public square where several county offices are now located. Many Rutherford natives know this property as the Goldstein’s corner.)  In his deed to commissioners, Lytle acknowledged “the great benefit which will arise and accrue to him … by fixing and establishing the seat of Justice of the said County on the tract herein described.” (Deed Book H, page 385)

It is unclear from existing county records when the ownership mistake was first discovered.  At some point between GoldsteinsGIFJuly 1812 and October 1818, it was determined that the original town lots numbered 46 through 70 were owned by Isaac Hilliard and his wife, Mary Moore Murfree Hilliard.  (Town lots 46-70 included all of the south side of the public square and all of the lots fronting on Vine Street.)

The state of North Carolina granted Col. Archibald Lytle 7,200 acres along the waters of the Stones River West Fork as compensation for his service during the Revolutionary War.  William Lytle inherited an undivided one seventh of this tract and purchased the rest from six other Lytle descendants.  With full possession of the original grant, Lytle began purchasing adjoining and proximate properties from other grantees and owners.

ColHardyPNGCol. Hardy Murfree, a contemporary of Archibald Lytle, also received a substantial grant within the Stones River watershed.  While still in North Carolina, Hardee began purchasing from other grantees, sight unseen, properties on or near the Stones River or its tributaries.  (A number of these purchases were paid with British currency.  For example, in 1805 Murfree purchased from Dempsey Jenkins for 100 English pounds 320 acres lying between Lytle to the east and Thomas Armstrong to the west.)

By the time of his death in 1809, Murfree had purchased a substantial portion of the property surrounding Lytle, despite Lytle’s own efforts. In particular, Murfree owned adjacent property south and east of what later became the new town of Murfreesborough, and immediately north of Lytle’s holdings north of the original town lots.

By the time the Town Commissioners made their choice of available sites, the property south of what became Murfreesborough had passed to two of Murfree’s daughters — Lavinia Murfree Burton and Mary Moore Murfree Hilliard.  When the town site was surveyed and deeded in 1812, 25 of the original lots were actually on property owned by Mary and her husband Isaac, residents of Halifax County, N.C.  Accordingly, the Town Commissioners, relying on the deed executed by Lytle, did not give good title as to these 25 lots.

(It was not uncommon for 18th century military grants to overlap or to leave unclaimed gaps. Most of these survey errors were eventually resolved through negotiation or litigation.)

The record does not indicate what, if any, value was given to Hilliard by the Town Commissioners or by Lytle to correct this error and clear title to the respective lots.

County deed records do, however, show clearly that on October 11, 1818, the Hilliards executed a Quitclaim giving all of their rights to 23 of the 25 lots to “the Proprietors Owners and Occupiers of Certain Lots on parcels of ground in the Town of Murfreesborough.” (Deed Book L, page 101).

With respect to the two lots omitted from the Hilliard Quitclaim, Numbers 65 and 53 (the so-called “Lytle Lot”), the Hilliards were emphatic about the omission: ” … it is expressly stipulated by the said parties of the first part (Isaac and Mary Hilliard) that by this indenture they do and intend to convey all the title claim and interest which they have in all the lots before enumerated to those persons and their heirs … who have obtained title under deeds made by the original and first commissioners of said town of Murfreesborough, and it is expressly reserved by the said parties of the first part that they do not by this indenture convey any right, interest title or claim which they have in and to lots known and designated in the place of said town by numbers fifty-three and sixty-five…but hold and retain the same to themselves their heirs and assigns.”

In short, the Hilliards specifically retained ownership of the Lytle Lot and the lot immediately south of the Lytle Lot.  They kept away from Lytle the one lot that he wanted for himself.

Because certain county records were lost or destroyed during the Civil War, there is no existing record indicating how title to Lots 53 and 65 was eventually resolved.  It is likely that Hilliard demanded some payment or value in excess of what was received for the other lots.  (An 1835 deed transferring Lot 52 references the adjacent “Lytle Lot” suggesting that Lytle may have eventually settled his obligation to Hilliard. The 1878 DeBeers map shows Lot 53 owned by the Spence family.  The Goldsteins took title in 1913.)

The Lytle Hilliard rivalry during the first decade of Murfreesborough’s existence is evidenced by several circumstances.  Lytle subdivided 60 lots adjoining the northern city boundary and offered them for sale in August, 1818.  Hilliard subdivided 74 lots adjoining the southern city boundary and offered them for sale in October, 1818.  (The Hilliard subdivision plan and the street on the southern boundary of the plan spell the name “Hillard.” Deed signatures, however, show the “Hilliard” spelling.)

In 1817, the Tennessee General Assembly held its first session in Murfreesborough.  Anticipating that Murfreesborough could become the permanent capital city for Tennessee, Hilliard included in his subdivision plan a full city block that he offered to the state as a site for the State Capitol.  The offered site was the block now bounded on the east by South Academy and by State Street to the north.  (The “State Street” name apparently anticipated state use of this so-called “Capitol Square.”)

Not to be outdone, Lytle countered with an offer to donate for the same purpose a parcel just north of his subdivision between Maple and Church Streets.  “The two contending points standing rivals for the capitol several years,” according to John Spence.  Annals of Rutherford County (Vol. I, page 174).  “Fate willed neither place should be honored with a capitol building.”

With influential representatives from a number of East and Middle Tennessee counties vying for the permanent capital location, it would take another quarter century before the question was finally settled.  The Hilliard heirs sold their “Capitol Square” to John G. Primm in 1867.

Greg Tucker can be reached at

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