Remembering Rutherford: Ransom Legacy runs deep in Rutherford County

Daily News Journal, Greg Tucker, May 24, 2015

The descendants of Benjamin and Sarah Ransom not only prompted geographic expansion of Rutherford County, they influenced the health, safety, business and industrial development, infrastructure and spirituality of the county and eventually reached into the heavens.

Son of a Revolutionary officer, Benjamin arrived from Virginia and established his home on a small tract “on headwaters of Overall Creek” in the Versailles community. Richard Ransom, a brother, had arrived in the same area two years earlier.

Benjamin and Sarah prospered while raising nine children. Two of the youngest, D. J. and Medicus, were sent to medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. D. J. came home to practice but eventually moved to Texas.

After several years of medical studies in Europe, Medicus began his practice in Versailles before relocating to Murfreesboro. (The Latin term “medicus” means “physician.”)

Like many mid-19th century practitioners, Medicus believed in the “healing powers” of certain natural waters and was convinced that city life exposed one to unhealthy “airs.”

As a result, he frequently prescribed extended periods of convalescence at locations in the hills east of Murfreesboro. Recognizing a business opportunity, Medicus purchased property near McMinnville, built cabins near a spring and began referring patients to his own mountain resort. Eventually he closed his medical practice, expanded his resort holdings and became a prosperous advocate for healthy lifestyles.

Another of the Ransom siblings or cousins, H. D. Ransom, served in the 1850s as the Rutherford County trustee (tax collector). In 1858 Richard N. Ransom organized the county’s first Cumberland Presbyterian congregation. After the war, Richard reestablished the war-devastated church while serving as a Murfreesboro city alderman.

One of the first postwar industries established in Rutherford County was the Ransom grist mill started by William A. Ransom Sr. with several partners in 1869. By the 1880s, William had become the sole owner with his son, James A. Ransom, as the miller.

Ransom‘s Mill was located on the present day Greenway off the Manson Pike Trailhead.  J.A. Ransom operated a gristmill, cotton gin and a lumber company.

Ransom‘s Mill was located on the present day Greenway off the Manson Pike Trailhead. J.A. Ransom operated a gristmill, cotton gin and a lumber company.

The mill was not the first business involvement for James. Following the Civil War, the Tennessee legislature chartered several new turnpikes, including the Eagleville-to-Salem turnpike, connecting with the pre-existing Murfreesboro-to-Salem turnpike.

Richard Ransom (third generation) and James A. Ransom served as president and treasurer, respectively, and were the named incorporators. This turnpike venture established strong economic ties between Eagleville, a Williamson County community, and Murfreesboro, and prompted Eagleville residents to petition the legislature for annexation into Rutherford County. As a result, this prosperous farm community and the headwaters of the Harpeth River became a part of Rutherford.

His duties as president and superintendent of the turnpike notwithstanding, Richard Ransom served three terms as Rutherford County sheriff during the 1870s. For many years, the 10th District was represented on the Rutherford County Quarterly Court by J. C. Ransom. In 1908, Squire Ransom initiated the first “material alteration” of the antebellum courthouse: a third-floor addition, steam heat and a new cupola.

J. C. Ransom, James A. Ransom and William A. Ransom, Jr. were charter members of the first local chapter of the Brotherhood and Protective Order of Elks, the leading men’s social club in the early decades of the 20th century.

While James invested in turnpikes and ran the family mill, his brother, William A. Ransom, Jr., established the Ransom & Co. cotton gin and the family lumber and sawmill business. In the late 1890s William Jr. purchased an extravagant home from the bankrupt estate of P. P. Mason.

Mason had prospered as an attorney in the years following the Civil War. He owned the Mason Court Building at the corner of East Main and South Spring Street in Murfreesboro where he and others had law offices. His financial success in the courts, however, was not matched by his various business ventures.

Mason started an “opera house” (a live performance venue) on the square in the late 1880s, but it soon closed when a larger and more elaborate facility opened on the corner of West College and Maple Streets.

In 1892 Mason was a major investor in the Murfreesboro Street Railway that folded after only one year of operation. His soap factory venture met a similar fate in 1895 after making only one batch (10,000 pounds) of soap. After purchasing land and right of way for a Murfreesboro-to-Woodbury railroad, Mason and his partners abandoned the project. Consequently, Mason filed for bankruptcy and his grand home at 220 E. College St. went on the block.

An extravagant stained glass window was located above the landing of the grand staircase of the Mason home. American-made of opalescent glass, the colorful window design was an abstract floral motif with a central medallion. (According to Ransom descendants, this “wreath and ribbon” design was first used on the funeral train of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865.)

After the death of William A. Ransom, Jr. in 1922, his widow, Clayton Anderson Ransom, daughter of Capt. Charles W. Anderson of Forrest’s Escort, remained in the house with her daughter Margarett Rhea Dann. The home remained in the family until the death of Mrs. Dann in 1958. It was then sold and demolished. At that time, Edward Seddon, grandson-in-law of William A. Ransom, Jr., saved the stained glass window and put it in storage.

In 1976 the Ransom window was given to the First Methodist Church in Murfreesboro where it hung above the choir loft. When the church moved to a new facility and the historic building at the corner of North Church and East College was purchased by the new MidSouth Bank, Murfreesboro native and astronaut Dr. Rhea Seddon, great-granddaughter of William A. Ransom Jr., requested that the stained glass window be returned to the Ransom descendants.

A veteran of three space shuttle flights, Dr. Seddon spent 19 years with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In 1978 she was selected as one of the first six women to enter the astronaut program. She served as a mission specialist on space shuttle flights in 1985 and 1991, and as life sciences payload commander aboard the Columbia space shuttle in 1993.

In 2013, after a period of storage and restoration, the Ransom window was once again given to the First Methodist Church by Dr. Seddon “in loving memory of my great grandparents, my grandparents and my parents.” Today it is displayed with backlighting in the church narthex (the church vestibule or lobby) on Thompson Lane.

The many surnames of Ransom descendants still in the area today include Kerr, Huddleston, White, Stegall, Seddon and Jones.

A special thank you to Robert G. Ransom, MD for research assistance.

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