June 10, 2021 Barry Lamb
The Osborn-Dromgoole-Harrison-Murfree house, formerly located at 420 North Spring Street, on the corner of Spring and Bell Streets, was likely built for Caleb Osborn and his wife, Elizabeth Rankin Osborn, around 1853. The land on which the house was constructed was once owned by Marmon Spence, a former Murfreesboro mayor, merchant, and land speculator who possessed many of the merchant houses on the south side of the town square and also held deeds to several of the original town lots laid off in 1818 in the area of Spring and Academy Streets.
Caleb Osborn and his brothers, Harvey and Asa Osborn, migrated to Rutherford County from Granville County, North Carolina during the 1830s and all three brothers became engaged in the carriage making trade in Murfreesboro during the 1840s. Following a brief occupancy in the residence, Caleb sold the home to John Easter Dromgoole in 1855.
John Easter Dromgoole was a native of Brunswick County, Virginia, having been born there in 1805 to Thomas Coke and Mary Hall Dromgoole. He first came to Rutherford County in 1826, staying briefly, perhaps scouting the county as a suitable place to relocate, before returning to Brunswick County. He married Lucy Blanch, daughter of Colonel Ezekiel Alfred Blanch and Mildred Cook Blanch, of Brunswick County in 1828. He was a brother-in-law of this writer’s direct ancestor, Stephen Jordan, whose wife was Margaret Blanch.
Dromgoole moved to Rutherford County permanently in 1831, settling in the Barfield community. His wife died in 1836 and his wife’s sister, Rebecca Mildred Blanch, became his bride in 1839.
Following two decades as a successful planter at Barfield, he moved his family to Murfreesboro where he became a bookkeeper and attorney. He served as town alderman and treasurer from 1860-1861 and as mayor of the town during the early months of 1862. When the Union army entered the town to take possession of the place in March 1862, Dromgoole reportedly absconded his duty as mayor in surrendering the town to the Union high command and went fishing.
As an appropriate segue from the previous paragraph, it was within the confines of this dwelling that one of Murfreesboro’s greatest literary minds was conceived and developed. Will Allen Dromgoole, youngest daughter of John Easter and Rebecca Blanch Dromgoole, was born here in 1860. She is said to have been a “tomboy” who enjoyed fishing outings with her father. She graduated from Clarksville Female Academy and was later educated at the New England School of Expression in Boston, Massachusetts.
At a time when most of Murfreesboro’s populace received little education and were provincial in their though processes, Dromgoole was among the town’s intellectual elite and possessed a world view that extended far beyond the boundaries of Rutherford County. One of the most prolific writers to emerge from the town of Murfreesboro, she composed more than 7,500 poems and over 5,000 essays in addition to several novels. She later moved to Nashville and became a journalist for several Nashville newspapers and espoused the cause of the suffragette movement in her writings.
One of Will Allen’s siblings is worthy of being mentioned in connection to this house as she also spent much of her childhood here. This person was Marie Louise Dromgoole, who in 1870 became the wife of Richard Beard, a local attorney and newspaper owner and editor. They were the maternal grandparents of the locally celebrated Murfreesboro personality, Jean Marie Faircloth MacArthur, who gained her celebrity through her marriage to World War II and Korean War General Douglas MacArthur.
After living in the home for nearly forty years, John Easter Dromgoole moved to Dresden, Tennessee to live with his daughter, Susan Frances Dromgoole Mooney, and the home was sold in 1894 to his great nephew, Thomas Henry Harrison.
Thomas Henry Harrison was born near the Crescent community of the old Barfield (11th) district in 1865 to William Coley Harrison Jr. and Martha Davis Harrison. His paternal grandparents were William Coley Harrison Sr. and Rebecca Dromgoole Harrison, early settlers of the Barfield district. He became involved in the mercantile business at Crescent with his father during the 1880s and following his marriage to Martha Lou Crockett in 1889, moved to the Salem community and was engaged there as a farmer for several years before his move to Murfreesboro in 1894. He later became partners with Murfreesboro mayor Albert D. McKnight and his brother, former sheriff James Taylor McKnight, in the mortuary establishment, “McKnight and Harrison”, in 1929 in a building located on the southwest corner of Spring and College Streets. He served as a city councilman from 1904-1906 and again from 1920-1921.
Harrison and his family lived in the house until 1899 when he sold it to Henry Clay “Hal” Murfree. Mr. Murfree was a grandson of Colonel Hardy Murfree, for whom the town of Murfreesboro was named. He was a member of the renowned “Rutherford Rifles”, a company of the 1st (Maney’s) Tennessee Infantry Regiment, CSA, during the Civil War. He was married to Mary Lytle, daughter of Colonel Ephraim Foster Lytle and Judith Searcy Lytle, in 1865. She was a great granddaughter of Captain William Lytle, who donated the sixty acres of land on which the town of Murfreesboro was built.
Hal Murfree and his wife moved to the Barfield community following the war where he was engaged in agricultural pursuits. A devoted public servant, he represented the 11th district as a magistrate in the Rutherford County Court from 1888-1893. He and his family moved to Murfreesboro during the latter year and he represented the 13th district as one of their four magistrates from 1894-1900. He also served as town alderman from 1894-1898 and as county ranger from 1907-1909. Murfree died in 1916 and his daughter, Alice Murfree Bragg, inherited the homeplace in 1919.
Soon after obtaining the house, Alice and her husband, Joseph Thompson Bragg, disassembled the old place and used the logs to build a new one and a half story home to the southeast of the old place. That house sits there today as a faint reminder of the old Dromgoole legacy of yesteryear.