There are a handful of antebellum mansions sprinkled throughout Nashville, and many of them are open to the public for daily tours – the Hermitage, Travellers Rest, Belmont, Carnton, Belle Meade. Occasionally, driving around town, you’ll run across a grand old home that’s not on a tour stop list. And if you’re a history nerd like me, you will be desperate to discover what’s hidden behind within their walls.
Two Rivers Mansion is owned by the city of Nashville, incorporated into the Department of Parks and Recreation. It’s only open to the public through event space rental or special events and tours hosted by the Friends of Two Rivers Mansion, the non-profit that manages the property. We frequent the weekly Farmers Market that takes over its grounds each summer, but when the mansion opened up this year for its annual Christmas Tours, I hopped on the opportunity to finally explore the inside.
The property lies at the confluence of the Cumberland and Stones Rivers and was purchased as a 476 acre farm by William Harding, brother to the John Harding that started Belle Meade Plantation. At the time, a Federal-style brick house built in 1802 was the main residence which still stands on the property today. Harding and his wife Elizabeth had just one daughter, Willie, who was born just after Harding’s death in 1832. She later married her cousin, David McGavock, and they built the magnificent Two Rivers Mansion, finished just before the start of the Civil War.
During our tour, I learned the 1880s were the peak of activity on the estate. It was known at the time as the Two Rivers Stock Farm and had a successful dairy operation and Morgan horse breeding ground. The family nearly lost the property with the depression of the 1890s (some gambling debts may have also been to blame), but it stayed in the family (and was mostly occupied as a primary residence) until the death of Mary Louise Bransford McGavock, the widow of William Harding’s great-grandson Spence, in 1965.
The house was designed in the Italianate style, but hardly any of the furnishings you’ll find inside are original to the space. When Mary Louise passed away in the 60s, she willed the estate to Vanderbilt Hospital and Medical School, and the entire contents of the house were put up for auction. In the decades since, some pieces have made their way back home, but most of the design has simply been re-created in the style of what would have been popular in the late 1800s. The Friends non-profit does extensive work towards its mission of preserving, protecting, restoring, and promoting the mansion. Each year they offer a series of seasonal tours as well as other special events; don’t miss the opportunity to explore the interior of this cool, historic space!