John Merrit Green, Jr. was one of Franklin’s greatest heroes. He was a seventh-generation Williamson County resident, and his family heritage continues to change the course of Franklin history. John was a business leader in real estate and insurance, but his greatest legacy was influencing the lives of more than 1,000 young men through the Boy Scout Troop 137 he helped organize at his family farm, Ewingcrest.
Step back in time to where this incredible story all begins, Captain Alexander Ewing.
Alexander Ewing’s Land Grant
Alexander Ewing was born on May 10, 1752 in Cecil County, Maryland. Around the age of 20, he moved with his family to Virginia where he later served as a lieutenant and captain in the Revolutionary War. He was also appointed as aide-de-camp to General Nathanael Greene. In 1782, Alexander resigned from the military after suffering a leg wound during the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Andrew Jackson even joked that when Alexander was shot in the leg, the soldier who shot him must have been lying down, because Alexander was so short in stature!
Before his injury, however, he did manage to earn the nickname “Devil Alex,” so he must have been quite a force to reckon with. After the war, Alexander received a land grant of more than 2,666 acres in what is now Tennessee. He moved around 1786 to the Cumberland Settlement (the future site of Nashville).
Alexander married Sally Smith from Williamson County, Tennessee. In 1787, he purchased more land with a 640-acre land grant. How does this relate to John M. Green, Jr.? Alexander Ewing was his third great-grandfather.
Although he never lived on the site, John Green’s family still own eighty acres of this original land grant, also known as Ewingcrest. This majestic farm is nestled between Murfreesboro Road at Ralston Lane all the way to Lewisburg Pike at Carnton. Next time you visit Pinkerton Pink, take a moment to look at the historic marker near the canoe launch. It bears the name of Alexander Ewing and tells how the family made their way to this area.
Ewingville is Born
This 640-acre land grant came from the heirs of John Donelson, one of the founders of the Cumberland Settlement. The original property was located in what later became part of Williamson County. It bordered the east bank of the Harpeth River and extended to both sides of Murfreesboro Road (formerly Chrisman’s Mill Turnpike), running all the way to the vicinity of Mack Hatcher Parkway. A part of this acreage is where Ewingcrest Farm stands today.
After the Civil War, speculators bought and subdivided this land into what would come to be known as “Ewingville.” It was a middle-class community of farmers, tradesmen, and professionals. In 1875, a newspaper described the neighborhood as being “to Franklin what West End is to London; what Brooklyn is to New York; what Edgefield is to Nashville.”
Woodlon Hall – The Alexander Ewing House
Despite the Ewingville name, as mentioned, Alexander never actually lived on this land. He and his family remained at the Cumberland Settlement near White’s Creek. Around 1821, Alexander built a fine plantation home, but sadly, he died the following year. The residence, known both as Woodlon Hall and the Alexander Ewing House, still stands today at 5101 Buena Vista Pike in Nashville as well as the family burial cemetery.
Alexander and and his wife Sally had an active social life in Davidson County. They were contemporaries of Andrew Jackson and Rachel Donelson Jackson. Aside from the house, Alexander’s name lives on in Nashville in other ways. Check a map of the White’s Creek area, and you’ll find Ewing Creek, Ewing Avenue, Ewing Creek Drive, Ewing Lane, Ewing Valley Road, Ewingdale Road, and Ewingwood.
Ewingcrest, The Green Family Homestead
Though Alexander never lived on the land that became Ewingville, his son John Love Ewing did build a home there. The residence, named Ewingcrest, began as a trapper cabin and was added onto over the years. It sits down the street from the present-day intersection of Murfreesboro Road and Mack Hatcher.
Another remarkable fact about this home was that Matthew Fontaine Maury lived there when his father first came to town. It would still have been a log cabin at the time.
Nicknamed the “Pathfinder of the Seas,” Matthew is considered the father of modern oceanography. He was the first cousin of Abram Maury, Franklin’s founding father. You can read our story on Abram Maury here. Matthew eventually became a professor at the Virginia Military Institute. He was also involved in the founding of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He died in 1873 after a short illness and is buried between former Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. In 1918, the Navy commissioned the destroyer U.S.S. Maury in his honor.
The Remarkable Roberts and Ewing Families Unite
Ewingcrest was the birthplace of Sallie Martin Ewing Roberts, a great-granddaughter of Alexander Ewing. She married Walter Aiken Roberts. Mr. Roberts was born June 4, 1865 in Pulaski (Giles County) Tennessee, just two months after the Civil War ended. His father had served as a doctor during the war, Dr. Joseph Coleman Roberts.
For a time, Ewingcrest was sold out of family, but Mr. Roberts later bought it back. He was known as the “Developer of Main Street Franklin” and was a successful entrepreneur who invested heavily in Franklin’s commercial district. Read our backstory on W.A. Roberts here.
He also founded the Walter A. Roberts Store, a popular dry goods shop that was located on Main Street between the public square and Fourth Avenue. Tin Cottage now operates there.
Another fun fact for history buffs pertains to Sallie’s sister, Susie Lee Ewing. She was married to Winder McGavock. His parents, John and Carrie McGavock, owned Carnton. Read our story on Susie and the backstory on the McGavock-Martin home here. In the photo below, Hubbard S. Ewing is seated on the right side with daughter Sallie Ewing Roberts and her husband Walter A. Roberts with their second daughter Ewing Roberts Green.
When Mr. Roberts died, he left a farm for each of his three daughters. His eldest, Susie Lee Roberts Briggs, was deeded RobertsHaven, located on Murfreesboro Road near Ralston Lane. His youngest daughter, Sara McGavock Roberts Berry, received Rural Plains, which is now the Berry Farms development. You can learn more about the Berry family’s story here. Ewing Coleman Roberts Green, his middle child and John Green’s mother, inherited Ewingcrest.
The family photo above will help you put faces to all these names. On the back row starting from the left stands John M. Green, Sr., Ewing Roberts Green, Susie Lee “Tu” Roberts Briggs, Tyler Berry, III, Sarah “Sa” E. Briggs Naylor, and Walter R. Green. On the front row starting from the left is Sara McGavock Roberts Berry, Walter Aiken Roberts, Sara Avalyn Berry Swain, and Elizabeth Hanner Roberts (Mr. Robert’s second wife).
The Ewingcrest Farm Today
By the time John Green and his family moved into their farmhouse on Murfreesboro Road, Ewing was widowed and living alone down the street at Ewingcrest. In the mid-1970s, the stairs in Ewing’s home became too difficult for her to manage.
Therefore, John and Louise came up with a creative plan. They swapped residences with Ewing since the single-level farmhouse at 600 Murfreesboro Road would be easier for her to navigate.
It is now the home of their daughter Leonora Green Clifford and her husband Tony Clifford. Many of you know it as the famous “inflatable house.”
Today, Leonora’s brother, John Merritt Green, III, lives at Ewingcrest, making it six generations that have resided in the home and caretakers of the farm for a span of more than 200 years.
The Legacy of John Merritt Green, Jr.
John Merritt Green, Jr. grew up on the 4th Avenue South. Franklin was a special place in the 1930s and 1940s. This was “Old Franklin” in the very best of terms for our beloved city.
John’s cousin Avalyn Berry Swain recounts life growing up during that era, “Franklin was family and friends, and everyone knew all. Those were wonderful days, when children had no fears or concerns for unsafe conditions.”
Avalyn continued, “Gran Gran’s firm was called “Roberts & Green.” You can still see the “Roberts” name in stone at the top of his building on Main Street (now the Savory Spice Shop) and the words “Real Estate” in the front tile as you enter the boutique, Imago Dei.
“Main Street Franklin and downtown were always busy and exciting. I would walk, roller skate, or ride my bicycle around town. Some nights my family would eat at Chapman’s Pie Wagon on the Public Square. On other occasions I would stop in my Grandfather Roberts’ real estate office (Roberts & Green Building at 326 Main Street, currently Imago Dei) and ask for a nickel to go to Gray Drug Store for chocolate milk with ice cream.”
“Or I would venture over to the Ben Franklin store to see what toy or make up there was. Downtown was a child’s haven, Gray Drug store, Ben Franklin’s dime store, my grandfather’s office or his dry goods building, my dad’s office, my cousin Johnny Green’s office or stores where Mother and I knew everyone.” Read Avalyn Berry Swain’s book about Growing Up in Franklin, Tennessee.
World War II and Becoming a Servant Leader
John graduated from Battle Ground Academy and volunteered for the Navy at age 17. He served in the Philippines and served during World War II. He was aboard a ship heading to the South Pacific when the war ended.
John returned to Tennessee and graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1945 where he was a member of Sigma Chi fraternity and named a “Significant Sig” by his fraternity.
Then John joined the family insurance business. He expanded into real estate and combined it with his insurance business. It was then located across from the Franklin Theatre at 408 Main Street (currently Red Pony).
His dad, John M. Green, Sr., started the insurance firm in 1920, and John Jr. added the real estate portion in the early 1960s. John was one of the five founders of the Williamson County Board of Realtors (now WCAR) and was twice president of the organization. He is also credited with hiring the first female realtor in Franklin!
Tragedy Struck in the Form of a Little Lady
But John might not have lived to see all his success thanks to woman by the name of Agnes Bennett. In 1956, Agnes lost control of her car after pulling out of Alexander Motors across the street. She narrowly missed hitting both John and his father.
Agnes Bennett was one of the richest ladies in Franklin and owned many farms around town. She lived on 3rd Avenue North, owning the last three houses before Bridge Street on the right side from the Public Square including the Bennett House.
In 1964, John relocated his office to a home on Fourth Avenue North. This Franklin building is no longer used to sell insurance, but something much more delicious.
Insurance Claims to Triple Crown Fame
John’s daughter, Leonora Green Clifford, who still owns the building hand-selected Triple Crown Bakery to lease the space after her father passed away. Leonora specifically chose the bakery for her father’s building because she wanted a business that would be vibrant for the entire downtown community. Her goal was to appeal to locals and help bring tourists to Main Street which would benefit all the surrounding merchants.
Her dream and owner Alena Vaughn’s came true because Triple Crown Bakery is one of the most popular destinations in town having garnered local success and nationwide attention by appearing on the Food Network. You can read our story on Triple Crown Bakery here.
The building is filled with so much charm and yummy cakes, cookies, and pastries you are sure to leave with a smile on your face. This 1964 wedding photo of John and Louise hangs on the bakery’s wall of “famous weddings” along with Elvis and Priscilla, Desi and Lucy, and Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip among others.
John and Louise were members of the Fourth Avenue Church of Christ which was directly across from his office and still resides today. He taught Wednesday night and Sunday night Bible classes for over 30 years and was later a member of Heritage Church of Christ in Franklin.
Louise Nunnelly Green, was a native of Hickman County, Tennessee. She was the only child of Louise Bailey and William Henry Nunnelly. She was a descendant of several pioneer families and was the great-granddaughter of Henry G.W. and Sophronia Mayberry who built Beechwood Hall.
Louise Nunnelly Green graduated from the Holton Arms School in Washington, D.C. and Vanderbilt University and earned a Master of Arts in Teaching from George Peabody College. In 1968, she began working for The Review-Appeal in 1985, joined her husband’s company, John M. Green, Realtors. In 1968, she was a founder of the Carnton Club and the Williamson County Newcomers Club. Louise was also one of the first ten women in Tennessee to earn Wood Badge Beads from the Boy Scouts of America.
A Professional Volunteer
In 1950, the Franklin Police Department asked John Green, Jr. to start a local Boy Scout troop. John organized Troop 137, marking the start of his 69-year-long volunteer career that continued until his death in 2019. He was involved in scouting ever since returning from WWII in 1944.
It all started with four rowdy boys that no other troop would take in. John even converted an old tobacco barn behind Ewingcrest into the troop headquarters, and the boys continue to meet there weekly. John has been credited with helping more than 225 young men become Eagle Scouts.
John dedicated his life and property, known to local Scouts as “The Barn”, and annually had 120 or more boys involved in the program. In 2010, the 100th Anniversary of Boy Scouts of America, he was nominated and accepted into the National Boy Scouts of America’s Hall of Leadership.
Troop 137 was featured in this 2018 issue of Scouting Magazine. The article mentioned, “Mr. Green thought the boys needed more space to do Scouting things. So the Scouts and leaders started meeting in the old barn.”
John M. Green was also one of the founders of the American Legion Post 22. He was named Franklin Citizen of the Year, The Ann T. Rutherford Exemplary Community Service Volunteer Award, The Williamson County Chamber of Commerce Legend Award among many other awards and accolades.
We owe such a debt of gratitude to John Merritt Green, Jr. He remains not only a Franklin hero, but a Tennessee and American hero. His children John Green, III and Leonora Green Clifford continue their parent’s legacy of preserving and protecting our lovely Franklin. We have no doubt John and Louise would also be so proud of the next generation, their granddaughters, Sarah and Katherine, and their precious great granddaughter, Mary Louise.
We love this family and are so grateful to call them friends. Read our backstory this family’s ties to Beechwood Hall here.
Sharing Franklin’s best backstories with you!