They say old homes tell stories.
From cannonball scars in an antebellum floor to names etched in a wavy glass window, the details in historic houses connect us with the past in a tactile way that textbooks and roped-off museum exhibits just can’t provide. When we walk the rooms of these old places, we’re connected to a larger story. In the words of the late Williamson County historian Virginia Bowman, “It’s impossible to separate the old homes from the lives of those who built and occupied them.” It’s in that vein we share the story of Beechwood Hall and the people, both free and enslaved, who called it home.
Our tale begins with a wedding gift in 1849. When Henry George Washington Mayberry married his second wife, Sophronia Hunter, her parents gave them a farm that was part of the larger family property. This fertile land was located along what is now Bear Creek Road in Leiper’s Fork.
H.G.W. already had a son, Edward, from his first marriage, but it wasn’t long before he and Sophronia began to grow their family. They became parents to Adelia (sadly, she died as an infant), Leonora, and Henry Mayberry. Henry would go on to become president of the Nashville Interurban Railway. This first electric commuter train system connected the big city to Franklin and later, Gallatin. He was also instrumental in creating Franklin’s first spring system.
BUILDING A FAMILY HOME
H.G.W. and Sophronia began their married life in a large log house on their farm. They named it “Liberty Hall” in honor of the Mayberrys’ hometown of Liberty, Virginia. When this house burned in 1851, the couple decided it was time for an upgrade. For their new homesite, the Mayberrys selected a hill in the middle of a sixty-acre, shade-dappled beech grove on their property. They hired the Lillie brothers as their contractors. These men were master architects who designed a number of other fine homes in this county, including Old Town on the Old Natchez Trace and Grassland on Hillsboro Road.
Beechwood Hall was completed circa 1856, using the labor of enslaved persons and materials sourced from the surrounding land. Not only was the home solid with six-inch-thick floors and fourteen-inch walls, it was a showplace. The two-story, brick house boasted a grand entrance hall, high-ceilinged rooms, and handcrafted millwork.
The crowning feature, however, was the winding staircase that greeted visitors in the entryway. An ornately carved newel post anchored the black walnut steps that would be the centerpiece of many weddings, social events, and, much later, country music videos. The staircase was an engineering marvel with no visible support beneath it, and for years to come, architects visited the home to inspect the gravity-defying design.
REMEMBERING THE ENSLAVED PEOPLE
The Mayberry’s plantation eventually grew to become one of the largest in the county. In 1860, they owned more than 1,000 acres and at least forty-two enslaved people who lived in eight cabins on the property.
Though not many records exist to aid in telling the stories of those in bondage, we do know a bit about a man named Carey Mayberry, thanks to the excellent research of historian Tina Cahalan Jones.
Carey was enslaved by the Mayberrys, but after his emancipation, he married Louvenia Marshall (previously owned by Judge John Marshall in Franklin), in 1865. They started their family in a house near Beechwood Hall. Louvenia came into the marriage with a daughter, Emmaline, and the couple went on to have thirteen more children: Louisa, John, William, Columbus, Edith, Eddie, Thomas, Charlie, Frank, Annie, Genevieve, Carey, Jr., and Hattie May.
Despite such humble beginnings, many of their children and grandchildren grew up to be accomplished individuals. Their daughter Annie became a nurse. Grandson John Carnegie Mayberry served in the U.S. Army during World War I and later opened a dental practice in New Jersey. Great-granddaughter Marjorie Mayberry was an aviation cadet and member of the famous Women’s Army Corps.
But perhaps the most poignant achievement in the family belongs to Janet Patton, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Carey and Louvenia. In 1962, nearly 100 years after the Mayberrys were emancipated, Janet was one of two first graders who desegregated Franklin Elementary School. What a fitting way to continue her ancestors’ legacy of strength and fortitude.