Remembering Rutherford: Ruckers Knob home older than Rutherford County

Greg Tucker, The Murfreesboro Post, June 26, 2017

The origin and history of Rutherford County and its people are deeply rooted in the Rucker surname.

The Rucker migration into Tennessee began in or about the same year as Tennessee statehood. Benjamin Rucker, a wealthy Virginia landowner and Revolutionary War veteran, had four sons–Thomas, James, Gideon and Bennett. His wealth included about 3,000 acres in or near Amherst County, Virginia; 40 to 50 slaves; and about 3,000 British pounds in cash. With their father’s substantial backing, the brothers began investing in Tennessee land which, at the time, was in the southern reaches of Davidson and Sumner counties.

The Georgian-style plantation home at Ruckers Knob was built in 1802-04 by Gideon Rucker. This picture (circa 1980) was made by Robert L. Mason. His widow, Ruth Hare Mason, the last Rucker descendant to live in the house, died in 2003.

 

It is not known who or what first attracted the Ruckers to the region of the Stone River East Fork, but it may have been George Deaderick, a land speculator, Nashville banker and promoter. In November 1798 Gideon purchased from Deaderick 640 acres which Deaderick had acquired through several transactions from Revolutionary Private Nehemiah Smith. In the same month, Gideon, 21, also purchased from Deaderick approximately 500 acres which the speculator had acquired from the grant to Revolutionary Captain John Welch.

In the same year, brothers Thomas and James bought a 5,000-acre tract that had been granted to Col. Isaac Shelby, a Revolutionary War hero at the Battle of King’s Mountain and later governor of Kentucky. This property included both sides of the East Fork between today’s Lebanon and Halls Hill Pikes. Gideon’s property lay between what became the Milton and Porterfield communities in Rutherford County (originally deeded in Davidson and Sumner counties, part of which was later included in Cannon County). Through subsequent acquisition, Gideon eventually owned several thousand acres in eastern Rutherford.

James, Thomas and Gideon soon migrated from their Virginia homes to what was to become Rutherford County bringing families, enslaved people and personal property. (The four Rucker brothers married four sisters, daughters of William and Johanna Reade of Amherst County, Va.).

Soon after his arrival in Tennessee, Gideon built a two-story log home just south of a prominent peak which came to be known as Ruckers Knob (the western end of the ridge that runs east across Cannon County to Short Mountain). In or about 1802 Gideon began construction of a Georgian-style brick home.

The Georgian-style architecture was popular in England and Wales and came to Tennessee in the 1700s by way of Virginia. Since most early settlers in the area were from North Carolina, the Georgian-style was relatively uncommon in Middle Tennessee. In Gideon’s home, the 16-inch walls are built of brick made on the property and plastered on the interior. Consistent with the Georgian style, the structure includes two rooms over two rooms with a fireplace in each room. Each downstairs room had a front entrance and a stairway. A covered passageway connected the original log structure to the brick section.

Gideon also built a smokehouse and a two-room log outbuilding, with “dovecote” and a huge two-sided fireplace that served as both kitchen and dining area. (A “dovecote,” according to Webster’s, is “a compartmented, elevated house for domestic pigeons.” As of June 2016, all of these original structures remain except for one-half of the kitchen/dining structure.)

In 1803, Thomas Rucker was one of several landowners in the Stones River region to petition successfully for creation of a new Tennessee county. When Rutherford County was established by legislative act, Thomas was appointed to the original county commission. James Rucker was appointed as the county’s first cotton inspector.

In 1817 Gideon sold the prosperous plantation at Ruckers Knob to his younger brother Bennett. Relocating to property just east of Readyville on the busy Stage Road which linked West and East Tennessee, Gideon farmed over 2,000 acres and founded the Culpepper community in what was then the eastern region of Rutherford County.

When Bennett died in 1862, Ruckers Knob passed to his stepdaughter and her husband Henry Goodloe. The property stayed in the Goodloe family until James T. Jetton, a Goodloe relative by marriage, paid off a mortgage in default, and sold the property to a Readyville family in or about 1911. Houston Hare, great grandson of Henry Goodloe, purchased Ruckers Knob in 1917, returning the property to Rucker descendants.

When Hare died in 1920, his widow Margaret Smith Hare and daughter Ruth moved to Murfreesboro and rented the property to local farmers. In 1969 Ruth Hare Mason and husband Robert Mason, a native of Short Mountain, Tenn., and retired U. S. Naval Academy professor, took title and in 1973 moved to the farm from Annapolis, Maryland. The retired professor became the Cannon County historian and in his book on the county’s history wrote about his “dovecote:”

“Raising pigeons was probably a practice the Ruckers brought with them from Virginia. Raising pigeons was popular with the colonists because they had not been allowed to do so in England where the privilege was restricted to the gentry class and noblemen who served pigeons at their tables.” See Mason, “Cannon County” (1982), page 15.

In 2005 Greg Tucker and Carl Montgomery purchased the Ruckers Knob home and the remaining plantation property (approximately 315 acres) “to preserve and enjoy.” Believed to include the oldest remaining home structure in the Stones River watershed (Rutherford and Cannon counties), the farm at Ruckers Knob was entered on the National Register of Historic Places in January 2007. For estate planning and education funding purposes, this historic property will be sold at auction on July 4, 2017.

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