Researched and Written by Barry Lamb, Froe Chip, January/February, 2021
Many of you aficionados of local history are familiar with the home known as the House of Mayors, located at 500 North Spring Street. It was known by that moniker due to the fact that four Murfreesboro mayors resided in that house at one time or another. This writer will now introduce to you the House of Aldermen, which five successive town aldermen owned over the span of one century.
Imagine the town of Murfreesboro during the 1820s with its dirt streets, recently cleared of stumps, and its town limits of only two or three blocks which emanated from the town square in all directions. The population of the town at that time was likely less than the 786 people reported in the 1830 Federal census and many of the 70 original town lots within its boundaries had homes of logs, with and without weather board.
It was in this setting that the impressive two story brick home was built for William Gilliam during that decade on a lot just southeast of the town limits on the southeast corner of Spring and Sevier Streets, later numerated as 202 East Sevier Street.
It was one of the first brick homes ever built in or near the town of Murfreesboro, the first being credited to the home of John M. Tilford which was built on Walnut Street around 1818. The house of Mr. Gilliam was likely built by Jeremiah Fletcher, who is noted as having been Murfreesboro’s first brick mason. William Gilliam was born in 1798 and was married to Martha Molloy in Murfreesboro on May 8, 1823.
He had purchased the lot on which his house stood in 1818 from Isaac Hilliard and it is possible that the home was constructed around the time of his marriage for his new bride and his two future sons, John Richard and James Gilliam. He was elected alderman in 1836 and also served as mayor of Murfreesboro for a scant two week term in 1838. His wife died in 1835 and he sold the home five years later to Moses G. Reeves.
Reeves had come to Murfreesboro with his brother, Levi, around 1820 to learn the cabinet and furniture making trade. It didn’t take him long to develop an interest in local government service as he became county registrar in 1824, serving in that capacity until 1840. He also served as town alderman from 1830-1831 and from 1847-1848. In addition to these offices, he served as the town’s recorder in 1825, 1827 and from 1833-1834 and in 1849. He also served as the town’s treasurer in 1830.
He and his wife, Catherine, raised their two sons, Daniel L. and Levi W. Reeves, in the grand old mansion until 1861 when the elder Reeves died. His widow continued to live in the home until 1869 when she sold it to her brother-in-law, Archibald T. Reeves.
Archibald T. Reeves, younger brother of Moses G. Reeves, had also served as county registrar from 1848-1856 and had also been involved in the note shaving business before the Civil War. He was married to Virginia W. Smith and had one daughter, Virginia Reeves Lytle. He was elected alderman of the 2nd ward in 1875 and served in that capacity until his death in October 1878. The home was later sold at a chancery court sale in May 1881 to George W. Ransom.
George W. Ransom, born on July 29, 1838, was a grandson of Richard and Keziah Portis Ransom, who were among the early settlers of the Salem community of Rutherford County. He was married to Martha Elizabeth Bostick of the Triune community of Williamson County in 1860 and was a Murfreesboro grocery merchant before the Civil War. He served in Company D, 11th Tennessee Cavalry Regiment, CSA, during the war and was with General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s command at the surrender in May 1865. Ransom resumed his former occupation in Murfreesboro following the war and later established a lumber business there in 1879. He was elected as alderman in 1880 and served in that capacity in 1881 and also from 1883-1884.
The house was sold to Frank Brothers Williams in 1894 and was owned briefly by several people until 1899 when it was purchased by Luther Rice Jacobs.
Luther R. Jacobs was born on August 22, 1853 in the Big Springs district of Rutherford County. His grandparents, Jeremiah and Nancy Mankin Jacobs, settled in the Beech Grove area before 1809. He was married to Virginia Robinson in 1873 and worked as a farmer at Big Springs until the 1890s when he moved his family to Murfreesboro. He and a partner, James H. Ring, opened a furniture and mortuary business on the north side of the public square in 1894 which became the forerunner of Woodfin’s Funeral Home during the 1910s. He was elected alderman of the 2nd district in 1902 and served at that post until 1903. He later served several terms as city councilman after the town was incorporated as a city in 1903.
Jacobs and his wife moved to Nashville during the 1910s but the home remained in the hands of the Jacobs family who used it as a boarding house until 1943 when it was sold to Ernest Jordan. The place was owned by a couple of other people between 1943 and 1945 when it was purchased by Julian Dexter McFarlin, father of the well known public servant, Ben Hall McFarlin. The elder McFarlin razed the old home to make way for his business, McFarlin Farm Implement Company, soon afterwards, thus diminishing further the once beautiful historic landscape of the city.
Greenhouse Ministries is the present owner of the land on which the house once stood.
*Note of interest-Before 1903, when Murfreesboro was incorporated as a city, the town was governed by a mayor and a board of six aldermen, who each represented one of the six wards of which the town was comprised.