Millionaire couple helped save Judy Garland’s dad

Mike West, The Murfreesboro Post, September 20, 2009

Millionaire couple helped save Judy Garland’s dad – The Murfreesboro Post

Judy Garland was once known as Frances Gumm from Rutherford County

Judy Garland was once known as Frances Gumm from Rutherford County

In the turn of the 20th century days, a millionaire husband and wife dominated the social scene in Murfreesboro.

Tempe Swoope and George M. Darrow were their names.  Neither were Rutherford County natives. Tempe was from Memphis.  Her husband George had grown up in Nebraska.

Tempe’s mother, Elizabeth T. Swoope of Memphis, had acquired Oaklands and 200 acres at public auction in 1884.  The house, considered one of Murfreesboro’s finest, was sold to cover the debts of Lewis Maney, who had died two years earlier.

Elizabeth’s will of 1890 left the historic home to Tempe, who with George leading the way, began the modernization of Oaklands.  The dynamic couple made a number of changes, including adding electricity and modern plumbing.  They added the elaborate front porch that gives the historic house a distinctive look.

Renaming the house Oak Manor, the Darrows proceeded to entertain in style, serving guests elaborate seven-course meals capped by dazzling deserts like ice cream sculpted and colored to look like watermelon.

Darrow also purchased one of Murfreesboro’s first automobiles around 1900, much to the terror of local livestock.  Horses were mortally afraid of the car and Darrow was forced to stop completely when he met a horse-drawn vehicle.

But that dilemma didn’t slow Darrow down.  In fact, the couple decided to build a new modern, fashionable home at 450 East Main Street.

The Neoclassical Darrow home was constructed in 1910 by Nashville architects Fletcher and Bell.  It remains one of East Main’s most outstanding dwellings with a huge two-story portico with fluted columns.

The Darrows did bring certain elements to their new home from Oaklands including a massive chandelier they had installed in the front parlor.

George, who was raised in the Episcopalian church, also played a key role in establishing St. Paul’s.  In 1828, a small, wooden building was erected on Spring Street.  By 1927, the church was moved to East Main Street and expanded.

Along the way, the aggressive Darrow discovered an exceptional vocalist, young Frank Gumm, the son of William and Clemmie Gumm.  The Gumm family, following the death of Clemmie in 1895, was in dire economic straits.

For whatever reason, Darrow was soon named godfather to young Gumm and arranged a choral scholarship for him at the Episcopal boys school at Sewanee, later called the University of the South.

Gumm stayed at Sewanee six years, before increasing family woes forced his return to Murfreesboro in 1904.  His father died in 1906 and Frank worked as a stenographer and court reporter during the day and at night worked at a theater owned by his uncle, Walter D. Fox.

By 1909, Gumm, and his brother and sister, left Murfreesboro for Tullahoma, where their uncle was placed in charge of a home for widows and orphans of the Knights of Pythias.

The following year, Gumm, haunted by rumors of his bisexuality, left Tennessee for good.  He traveled from theater to theater, performing.

Ultimately, he ended up in Superior, MN. where he met a pianist named Ethel Milne.  They married and had three girls.  The third, with a slight change in spelling, was named after her father.  Frances Gumm by age 13 had a new name and a growing fame as Judy Garland

Yes, that Judy Garland, star of stage, screen and TV.

Her father, Frank, died on Nov.17, 1935 — when his daughter was 13 years old and just beginning to gain fame on her own.

As for the Darrows, Tempe died in 1927.  Her husband moved to Memphis to live with their daughter.

Their home on East Main Street was leased for a number of years until Alton Wood bought it in 1958.

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