Researched and written by Barry Lamb
July/August 2022 Froe Chips
The fine two-story brick house that once stood at the northwest corner of College and Spring Streets, enumerated 123 East College Street, was for many decades known as the old Wendel family home due to the longevity of its ownership by that family.
Before Dr. Robert Searcy Wendel purchased the house in 1855, it had been owned by several notable people who were pertinent to the early history of Murfreesboro. A veritable who’s who list one might say.
Built on original town lot #9 that was purchased in 1812 by Blackman Coleman from the commissioners of the young town of Murfreesboro, it appears, although the deed instruments are not unequivocal in their clarity, that the house may have been constructed between 1812 and 1819 based on a deed transaction from Coleman to William R. Hearn in 1819 which stated that Hearn resided on that lot at the time of purchase.
Blackman Coleman was Rutherford County’s second county court clerk, serving in that office from 1810-1824.
The next owner of note was Charles Niles, who purchased the property during the early 1820s. Niles migrated to Murfreesboro with his parents, Silas and Esther Hazard Niles, during the 1810s. Mr. Niles served as town alderman at various times between 1819 and 1835 and also served as the town’s mayor in 1833. He was a saddler by trade and was a partner of another Murfreesboro mayor, Wilson Thomas, for a time at his business on the corner of College and Maple Streets.
Mr. Niles sold the home to Captain William Lytle in 1824. Lytle is well known to most local history enthusiasts and the story of him and his plantation home were described in the September-October 2021 edition of Froe Chips by this writer. Lytle and his daughter, Julia Nichol, apparently used the College Street house at rental property during that family’s ownership of that house. Julia had inherited the place from her father following her father’s death in 1829. She sold the property to Robert S. Morris in 1842.
Robert Smith Morris was born in Henry County, Virginia in 1803 and migrated with his parents, George Woodson and Mary Jarratt Smith Morris, to Rutherford County before 1810. He served as Rutherford County’s fourth county court clerk, serving in that capacity between 1836 and 1848. He was married to Catherine Keyser of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1838 and the couple had four children before moving to Weakley County, Tennessee around 1849.
Mr. Morris sold the home to Philip Doddridge McCulloch in 1847. McCulloch was a grandson of Captain William Lytle and a nephew of Julia Nichol, former owners of the home. Unlike the grandfather and the aunt, McCulloch may have used the College Street house as his residence before selling the home to John W. Burton around 1852.
John Williams Burton was born in 1825 at Uxor Hill, the plantation home now known as the Bellwood mansion, to Frank Nash Williams Burton and Lavinia Murfree Burton. He was a Murfreesboro attorney and served as mayor of the town from 1860-1861. Following the commencement of the Civil War, he joined the cavalry company of Captain John Lytle and served in that capacity during the war. He resumed his law practice following the war and along with another former Murfreesboro mayor, John Easter Dromgoole, represented Rutherford County at the Tennessee Constitutional Convention of 1870. Mr. Burton sold the home to Robert S. Wendel in 1855.
Dr. Robert Searcy Wendel, son of David and Sarah Hale Neilson Wendel, spent his formative years at his parent’s home, located just south of his College Street home. He received his medical degree from the University of Louisville in 1843 and soon afterwards began a practice in Mississippi. He returned to Murfreesboro in 1850 and began a practice there. He was married to a local belle, Emma Claiborne James, in 1852 and the couple became the parents of ten children.
While Dr. Wendel was away from home during the war serving as a surgeon in the Confederate army, his home was commandeered by future U. S. president, James A. Garfield, as his headquarters following the Battle of Stones River. Garfield served as chief-of-staff for General William Rosecrans during the Union army’s occupation of Murfreesboro for the first six months of 1863. It was in this house that the military strategy for the upcoming Tullahoma campaign against Bragg’s confederates was penned.
While Garfield was in Murfreesboro, he often worshipped at the East Main Street Church of Christ and presented the congregation a communion set which remained in the possession of the church for many years.
Dr. Wendel returned home following the war and resumed his medical practice there. He also served one term as town alderman in 1874.
Following the death of Dr. Wendel and his wife, the home continued to be occupied by their three unmarried daughters, Emma, Currin, and Virginia for many years.
For more than a century, this fine residence brought beauty and charm to the northwest corner of College and Spring Streets until the perception of progress by some demolished the place in November 1944. A yellow bricked medical facility was built in its place, a building recently occupied by personnel of the Linebaugh Library.