The Story of Grantlands


Supposed picture of Grantlands, although it may be a historic photograph of the Murfree house in Murfreesboro, NC, of which Grantlands was modeled after.

     In 1783, North Carolina started granting lands to Revolutionary War veterans for their services in that war. Many veterans would sell their “granted lands,” preferring not to move into the frontier of the new nation. Colonel Hardy Murfree of Murfreesboro, North Carolina, received over 6,000 acres of land in what would soon become the state of Tennessee. However, by the time that Tennessee was established in 1796, Col. Murfree owned over 22,000 acres in the new state.

    January 12, 1813, the Tennessee Supreme Court probated the estate of the late Col. Murfree by dividing his enormous land holdings amongst the Murfree heirs. Col. Murfree’s daughter, Fanny Noailles Murfree, and her husband, David Dickinson, inherited over 1,000 acres of land on the west fork of the Stones River, near the newly founded town of Murfreesboro. It is here that David Dickinson and Fanny Noailles Murfree Dickinson would establish Grantlands plantation, named in reference to the “granted lands.”

     Grantlands was a vast Southern estate and farm, including crops such as corn, grain, and cotton, along with orchards of pear, apple, cherry, and peach trees. With a little over 100 enslaved African-Americans working the land, the Murfree plantation was one of the largest in Middle Tennessee.

     Fanny Noailles Dickinson Murfree, a granddaughter of David Dickinson, once wrote that “a wide graveled driveway bordered with rose bushes, for Grantlands was notable for its roses, led to the front portico, which was reached by a flight of steps.” She continued, “The hall was 40 feet in length by 15 feet wide and 12 feet high” and “two rooms 20 by 20 feet and 12 feet in height were on each side of the hall.” In the rear of the house were rooms for the kitchen, a store room, a laundry, and a weaving room. The upstairs of the plantation house contained bedrooms and two library rooms full of books. Behind the main house stood the slave dwellings, a “milk” house or spring house, a pigeon house, an ice house, a turkey pen, and multiple stables for the race horses.

Grantlands Plat Map 1850

Plat Map of the Grantlands plantation ca. 1850 showing the division of the property following the death of David Dickinson.

Upon his death in 1848, David Dickinson divided Grantlands in half, willing the plantation house, outbuildings, and a mill to his daughter, Fanny Priscilla Dickinson, and her husband, William Law Murfree. In actuality, Fanny Dickinson and William Murfree were first cousins, both sharing Col. Hardy Murfree as their grandfather. So it is certainly fitting that Fanny and William would continue the legacy of their grandfather’s granted lands. 

In 1856, William Law Murfree moved his family from Grantlands into a new house that he had built in Nashville, TN. Although Grantlands remained in full operation, it would not escape the devastation of the Civil War. Due to its location, Grantlands  witnessed the occupation of Murfreesboro by Union forces in early 1862, followed by the Battle of Stones River from December 31, 1862 – Jan 2, 1863, as well as the construction of Fortress Rosecrans by the Union Army starting in the spring of 1863. The “Yankees” dismantled the grand old house at Grantlands and presumably used its bricks and timbers in the construction of their fortress.

 Fanny Noailles Murfree wrote:

“In the year 1865, there was not a house standing except the two brick office rooms in the yard. There was not a fence rail . . . not a horse or cow or hog, not a tree or shrub except one loan oak on 1,200 acres. Great fortifications rose up grimly, the forlorn fields might have sprouted minie balls if such a miracle were possible, bayonets lay side by side with the Indian relics of former battles – here and there a forgotten bomb – here and there a spend cannon ball – here and there a tiny stove used by the soldiers, battered, broken, forgotten – a torn scrap of an army overcoat – and many deep holes from which the bodies of soldiers had been removed to the [Stones River] national cemetery. . . This is what the Civil War did for beautiful Grantlands.”

Historic map showing Grantlands

Historic map showing Grantlands.

In 1871, William Law Murfree sold his house in Nashville, and decided to move his family back to the Grantlands property in Murfreesboro. They built a new home, which they called “New Grantlands.” However, the Murfree family struggled to maintain their farming operations and keep the plantation intact for the next two decades. Ultimately, Grantlands was divided into smaller tracts and sold over the years, especially following the deaths of William Law Murfree in 1892, and Fanny Priscilla Dickinson Murfree in 1902. Of their three children, William Law, Jr., moved out of state, and the two sisters, Fanny Noailles Dickinson Murfree and Mary Noailles Murfree, never married. The two sisters lived rather simple lives in a small cottage within the Murfreesboro city limits well into the 1900s.

New Grantlands

Sketch of "New Grantlands" drawn by Fanny Noailles Murfree.