Majestic mansion Grantlands burned in Civil War

Susan Harber, The Dail y News Journal, April 16, 2018

Hardy Murfree (1752-1809), namesake of Murfreesboro, was a colonel in the 2nd Regiment North Carolina in the Revolutionary War. His land grant later established Grantlands on the west fork of Stones River. SUBMITTED

Grantlands was a spectacular ancestral home that lay on a vast estate, only to be burned to the ground during the ravages of the Civil War. The bygone home is enshrined in rich history.

Grantlands property was established in 1807 on 1,200 acres in then-Williamson County through a land grant given to Col. Hardy Murfree for his service in the Revolutionary War. When Tennessee was established as a state in 1796, Murfree owned an astounding 22,000 acres.

Murfree bequeathed the name “Grantlands” so that his descendants would never forget how the government recognized his war efforts with these expansive granted lands. Lt. Col. Murfree (1752-1809) is the namesake for Murfreesboro, Tennessee. His father, William, is the direct namesake for Murfreesboro, North Carolina.

Hardy Murfree was born in Murfreesboro, North Carolina, and wed Sally Brickell in 1780, and she bore four children: Congressman William Hardy, Mary Moore, Matthias Brickell and Fanny Noailles. Murfree was a military leader and not shy in battle with the aggressive British forces. His three large battles in the Revolution included the Battle of Monmouth in 1778, Battle of Stony Point in 1779, and his militia’s success in holding the British at Skinner’s Bridge on an attack of Maney’s Neck, North Carolina, on the Meherrin River in 1781.

At 57 years old, Murfree perished in 1809 just two years after his land grant was established in presentday Rutherford County. His wife, Sally, died in 1802 at age 43. They would never witness the future construction or destruction of Grantlands. With Murfree’s passing, daughter Fannie (1783-1843) inherited the estate in present-day Rutherford County.

Fanny wed David Dickinson, and their children included Sarah, James, Benjamin, Hardy, Lavinia, Fanny Priscilla, Martha and David William. The Dickinsons built Grantlands as a working plantation in the early 1800s on the west fork of Stones River. The estate was vast with corn, grain and cotton. There were also plentiful orchards of pear, apple, cherry and peach trees.

This antebellum, two-story, Southern Colonial structure of red brick stood on a bluff near Stones River. The upper and lower porticoes were supported by tall columns and a flight of steps. The center of the house contained a hall 40 feet in length by 15 feet wide and 12 feet high.

The home showcased a semi-circular drive overlooking a large meadow. Brick offices were in the yard; and cabins for slaves were intact. The two large upperlevel book rooms served as massive libraries. The interior of the home accommodated historical furniture, including the first piano purchased in the state. The exterior English garden displayed lovely laurel hedge with exquisite roses bordering the wide, graveled driveway.

The rear of the house contained the kitchen, store room, laundry and weaving room. Behind the main home was a spring house, pigeon house, ice house, turkey pen and stables for race horses.

Upon David Dickinson’s death in 1848, his epitaph in the Dickinson cemetery read “Honest, Just, Kind and True.” He had lived a full life in a home he cherished, and he deeply loved his family. In his will, David divided the estate, giving the house and mill to daughter Fanny Priscilla Dickinson and her husband William Law Murfree Jr., who were first cousins sharing the same grandfather Col. Hardy Murfree.

William relocated his family in 1856 to a new home in Nashville just prior to the Civil War. Their daughter, Mary Susan Noailles Murfree (aka famed writer Charles Egbert Craddock) lived at Grantlands until she was 6 years old. She was the great-granddaughter of Col. Hardy Murfree. Both Mary and her sister Fannie never married and returned to Murfreesboro to live productive lives. Mary penned a novel “Where the Battle was Fought” in 1884, depicting her poignant and painful memories of the Civil War.

Grantlands continued on as a thriving plantation only to be awakened by the rumbles of the Yankees nearing closer with ill intent. Fortress Rosecrans was constructed in the spring of 1863 with the dismantled bricks and timbers of Grantlands, which was brutally demolished by Federal soldiers.

Fanny Noailles Dickinson Murfree scribed, “In 1865, there was not a house standing except two brick office rooms in the yard. There was no fence rail nor horse nor cow nor hog and not a tree or shrub, except one loan oak on 1,200 acres … this is what the war did for beautiful Grantlands.”

Union fortifications were on the property, and fields were covered with minie balls. Bayonets and a cannon ball were found on the grounds. A small stove used by soldiers and a battered army overcoat lay in the ruins. Deep holes were ever-present where bodies of soldiers had been removed to Stones River Cemetery.

William Law Murfree returned to the same property in 1871 and built a home, “New Grantlands.” Yet, the family could not maintain the undertaking on their farm over the next 20 years. The house was eventually divided and sold into smaller tracts following the death of William in 1892 and Fanny Priscilla in 1902. William III moved out of state and died in Colorado in 1902, while Fanny and Mary lived in a small cottage in Murfreesboro.

Several ancestral Murfree relatives are buried in Evergreen, and it is fascinating to visit their handsome graves and pay respect. Grantlands’ heyday of grandeur was comprised of 50 years, only to be reduced to rubble and faded memories.

The Civil War was an uncivil war that brought desolation to Rutherford County. Slavery was abominable; yet, one must wonder if careful negotiations and peaceful arbitration could have resolved the issue in a credible manner. Loss of home and man was the order of the day for five agonizing years in our county.

Note to readers: In the previous Harber’s History on Rutherford County’s early jails, which ran April 2, the information should have read: “From 1976-1978, the jail in Rutherford County held 72 inmates as full capacity. The average number of occupants was 35.”

Contact Susan Harber at susanharber@hotmail. com.

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