Mansion History – Three Generations of McGavocks
Two Rivers Mansion , one of the last of the elaborate antebellum country homes built in the Nashville area and one of the earliest and best preserved of the ornate Italianate houses in Middle Tennessee, was once part of an 1100 acre plantation located on fertile, rolling land between the Stones and Cumberland rivers. The junction of the two rivers suggested the name given to the property by its first owner, William Harding whose family built the Belle Meade plantation in west Nashville.
The mansion, built by David McGavock in 1859 on the eve of the Civil War for his beautiful bride,William (Willie) Elizabeth Harding but not finished until the 1870’s, was inhabited by the McGavock family for three generations until 1965, when the last heir died and the property was purchased by the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County. Today the fourteen acre tract, which includes the mansion and one of Nashville’s oldest brick houses built in 1802, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Closeness to Nashville, frontage on the rivers, and the abundance of springs, wild game and rich soil made the Two Rivers property valuable from the first time it was settled in the 1790’s. Among the original owners of portions of the land was Andrew Jackson who resided close by on Hunters Hills before he purchased the Hermitage. The first home built on the property in 1802, a two-story brick house in the Federal style by David Buchanan, still stands to the rear of the larger 1859 mansion.
William Harding purchased the 476 acres farm in 1819 from Willie Barrow at the confluence of the Cumberland and Stones River. Harding acquired additional land totaling 1100 acres before settling down and marrying local Elizabeth Clopton in 1830; he died in 1832 shortly before their only child was born. Daughter William Elizabeth Harding named in honor of her parents, would inherit the plantation upon her marriage to her cousin David H. McGavock in 1850. The young couple and their one son, Frank, lived in the 1802 house while they planned and built the mansion in their backyard which was finished in 1859. One can see the names “David, Willie and Frank” stamped in three of the bricks on the back porch. The bricks and the millwork were crafted on the plantation by slave labor.
In the 1880’s the thriving estate was known as the Two Rivers Stock Farm with livestock, garden, orchard, a dairy operation, fox hunting and also the center for Morgan horse breeding. One document states that there were over fifty buildings on the property at one time such as barns, horse stalls, tenant houses and sheds. Many of these buildings were destroyed by a tornado in 1933. Frank McGavock took possession of the farm for a short time period in the late 1890’s, which was near bankruptcy after the financial Panic of 1893 and subsequent severe depression. To keep from losing the property, Frank’s only son Spence, inherited the estate and leased out the farm in the early 1900s while he worked as a shoe salesman.
Spence McGavock married Mary Louise Bransford of Melrose in 1928. The couple remodeled the mansion, adding plumbing, electricity and heat. They lived at Two Rivers only four years, though, returning to her family home at Melrose , after her mother’s death in 1933. Three years later in 1936 Spence McGavock died, and for the next eighteen years his widow remained at Melrose while caretakers continued the Two Rivers farming operations.
Mary Louise Bransford McGavock returned to Two Rivers in 1954, where she said she had always been happiest and remained until the time of her death in November 1965, the last of the McGavock family. Her will named several family members, friends and employees as beneficiaries. She also instructed that the remainder of her estate be sold to be used for the operation or expansion of the Division of Hermatology at Vanderbilt Hospital and Medical School. This research fund, named the William S. Bransford Fund in honor of her father, is still providing assistance.
Upon acquiring the 447 acre property in 1966, the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County set aside the fourteen acre historic site, developed two schools, a golf course, park greenway, water park (Wave Country), skate park, frisbie golf course, picnic, etc.; many recreational activities for families to enjoy. Restored to the stately architectural splendor of the mansions’ early days, Two Rivers mansion reflects the taste, textures and colors of the post-war era and today remains a centerpiece for gatherings of all kinds of social occasions as well – weddings, parties, anniversaries, birthdays and special events for future generations to enjoy.