Once you get to know Leonora Green Clifford, it’s little wonder her home is a veritable museum of local history. Eleven generations of her family have lived in Williamson County, and many of her descendants helped build this community. Their names are etched on historic markers across this region and written on the pages of countless books. Truly, the roots of her family and this region are so intertwined it would be impossible to separate the two.
LIVING IN A MUSEUM
A visit to Tony and Leonora’s farmhouse in Franklin rivals a tour of Carnton, Rippavilla, or even the Carter House. At every turn, you’ll find a new piece of Williamson County history, including a company book from the War of 1812, Victorian mourning jewelry, blood-stained Confederate money, and the original guestbook from an antebellum mansion. To top it all off, Leonora knows the story behind every item and makes for the perfect docent, sharing tidbits of the past with her guests.
Her family’s legacy is so important, and this article is part of a series on this pioneer family. We hope this feature gives you a taste of their fascinating story and honors the impact they’ve had on this community. So, without further ado, let’s step into the Cliffords’ circa-1910 farmhouse and learn more about these Williamson County natives.
WELCOME TO THE CLIFFORDS’ AUTHENTIC FRANKLIN FARMHOUSE
The Cliffords’ home sits on Murfreesboro Road just outside of downtown Franklin. With its gracious porch, detailed trimwork, and soft yellow paint, the farmhouse drips with historic charm.
Though the home is set back from the road and has a demure quality about it, the place is hard to miss during any holiday. The Cliffords love to decorate their yard with festive inflatables, which has become a beloved tradition for the local kids.
Tony and Leonora met in the third grade at Franklin Elementary School and reconnected later in life. Tony retired in 2005 from the Franklin Police Department after a 25-year career in law enforcement, including four years as Director of Computer Operations. Leonora worked with her mother at Franklin’s weekly newspaper The Review-Appeal and in her father’s insurance/real estate office.
The Green-Clifford House Circa 1910
Considering the couple’s deep ties to this community, it’s only fitting that the Cliffords’ home is a piece of Williamson County history itself. Their farmhouse was built in 1910 by John Petway Murrey who lived there with his wife, Lucile, and two children, Margaret and William Steven. The family operated a dairy farm on the property.
As an interesting sidenote, John’s father, William, was partners with J.M. King in the livery business.
Their garage was the first of its kind in Franklin and sat on the east corner of the square where Ruby Sunshine is now located.
The Murrey farmhouse changed hands several times over the years until 1960 when Leonora’s father, John Merritt Green, Jr., purchased it. He paid $12,500 for the house and surrounding acreage. She lived there with her father; mother, Louise Bailey Nunnelly Green; and brother, John Merritt Green III.
A LINK TO THE LAND
Not surprisingly, her family already had a connection to the property where the farmhouse stands. In 1787, the lot was part of a 640-acre land grant purchased by Leonora’s fourth great-grandfather on her father’s side, Alexander Ewing. This is an aerial photo of her 800-acre family farm, Ewingcrest, which extends from Murfreesboro Road past the Harpeth River along Lewisburg Pike.
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 paternal side of Leonora’s family made their way to this area.
Alexander 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. 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 his resignation, Alexander received a land grant of more than 2,666 acres in what is now Tennessee and moved around 1786 to the Cumberland Settlement (the future site of Nashville). About two years later, he married Sarah Smith, and they began a family together.
Alexander began adding extensively to his real-estate holdings and purchased a 640-acre land grant from the heirs of John Donelson, one of the founders of the Cumberland Settlement. This 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 the Cliffords’ farmhouse stands today.
Many in Franklin remember Leonora’s late father, John Merritt Green, Jr., grandson of Walter Aiken Roberts, the “Developer of Main Street Franklin.” He was famous for organizing Boy Scout Troop #137 and encouraged more than 225 young men to obtain the rank of Eagle Scout. Triple Crown Bakery operates out of Mr. Green’s former real estate and insurance office at 118 4th Avenue North in Franklin. This 1961 wedding photo of Leonora’s parents hangs on the bakery’s wall of weddings. Read our backstory on John Merritt Green, Jr. here.
Leonora’s late mother, 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.
BEECHWOOD HALL – LEONORA’S WILLIAMSON COUNTY ROOTS
Leonora’s maternal side of the family has deep ties to Beechwood Hall. Her mother descended from Job Mayberry, an early settler of Williamson County. One of his sons (Leonora’s great-great-grandfather) Henry George Washington Mayberry married Adelia Swanson in 1843.
H.G.W. Mayberry’s first wife, Adelia, was the daughter of Edward Swanson. He was the first white man to make a known attempt at settlement in Williamson County.
Sadly, Adelia died thirteen months after her marriage to H.G.W. at the age of seventeen. She left behind an infant son, William Edward Mayberry. This painting of William as a young man later hung at Beechwood Hall.
After Adelia’s death, H.G.W. married the striking Sophronia Hunter (Leonora Green Clifford’s great-great-grandmother) in 1849.
Sophronia’s parents, Henry and Jane Wyatt Bennett Hunter, gave the newlyweds a tract of land as a marriage gift. The young couple began their married life in a large log cabin on the property called “Liberty Hall” in honor of the Mayberrys’ hometown of Liberty, Virginia. That cabin would later burn down.
H.G.W. Mayberry served as a captain in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. After the war, he returned to his farm.
He was one of the largest landowners in Williamson County. By 1871, he owned 1,608 acres, along with cotton gins and mills on the property.
The Beechwood property came from an original 5,000-acre land grant of Lieutenant Colonel Hardy Murfree for whom Murfreesboro, Tennessee is named. He served in the Continental Army and fought in many engagements, including Stony Point where he played a key role in defeating the British during the Revolutionary War. Coincidentally, Tony and Leonora Clifford live off “Murfreesboro Road” in Franklin.
Col. Murfree was born June 5, 1752 in Murfreesboro, North Carolina, a town named for his father. It was through land grants and purchases that he was able to acquire thousands of acres in Tennessee, including the land that is home to Beechwood Hall.
It wasn’t long before their family began to grow. In addition to William Edward (H.G.W.’s son from his first marriage), the Mayberrys had three children: Leonora, Adelia, and Henry. Adelia was named after Henry’s first wife, who was also Sophronia’s childhood friend. Like her namesake, Adelia died young.
The photo above was taken in 1867 of Leonora Mayberry, daughter of H.G.W. and Sophronia Mayberry. She was raised at Beechwood Hall.
Henry Hunter Mayberry – A Legacy Remembered
Henry Hunter Mayberry was the son of H.G.W. and Sophronia Mayberry and the brother of Leonora Mayberry. He grew up at Beechwood Hall and was educated at the Campbell School for Boys on West Main Street. He graduated from the University of Tennessee and later moved to Birmingham where he had a successful career in banking and the hardware business.
Henry retired in 1904 and moved back to Franklin where became president and chief fundraiser for the Nashville Interurban Railway, Franklin’s first major travel connection to Nashville. In fact, the groundbreaking ceremony with the investors took place in 1907 behind Riverview. His daughter, Leonora, scooped the first shovelful of dirt.
The Interurban’s route went from Franklin’s public square along Third Avenue, then north on Bridge Street to cross the Harpeth River. It went around Harlinsdale Farm and followed U.S. Highway 31/Franklin Pike to Nashville. There were twenty stations, but passengers could wave down the train at any point to be picked up or pull a cord to be let off. From transportation to healthy drinking water, Henry Mayberry was a pioneer in changing the lives of the people here in Franklin for the better.
Henry built the mansion Riverview in 1902, also known as Henry H. Mayberry House. It still stands in downtown Franklin next to the Harpeth River directly across from Battle Ground Academy’s lower school on Franklin Road.
Henry also donated a spring on land he owned near Still Hollow to the city of Franklin in exchange for the contract to lay the pipe for the city’s first spring system. This arrangement ended Franklin’s dependence on groundwater, which was often the source of disease outbreaks.
BEECHWOOD HALL IS CHRISTENED
Let’s rewind a bit back to Henry’s parents, H.G.W. and Sophronia Mayberry. When their log home Liberty Hall burned around 1851, they built a two-story, brick home for their young family on the property. Construction began around 1856 and was finished between 1861 and 1863. Named Beechwood Hall, the residence was perched high on a hill in the middle of a sixty-acre beech grove. As described by historian Virginia Bowman, the majestic trees’ “interlocking branches scarcely permitted the sunshine to fall on the ground over wide areas.” The home overlooked H.G.W.’s large plantation that included a cotton gin, grist mill, and the enslaved quarters.
Beechwood Hall is located at what is now 3538 Bear Creek Road in Franklin near the Leiper’s Fork area. It is 6,856 square-feet and features both Greek Revival and Italianate design. The home has four paired exterior brick chimneys. The residence also boasts one of the most striking views from the surrounding roads of any home in the county.
Beechwood Hall has the original double doors, elegant arched transom, and arched sidelights. It was one of the grandest homes in all of Williamson County.
Today, the home is considered the most important historic homes in Franklin and near the Leiper’s Fork. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. In the early 1900s, the original brick exterior was covered with stucco for a more modern look.
According to historian Virginia Bowman, Beechwood Hall was designed by the Lillie brothers and built using enslaved labor. (There has been a bit of muddy water concerning which brothers were involved in this project. Three Lillie siblings, Pryor, James Byron, and Jasper, were well-known contractors and architects in this area, but no single document lists all three of their names together in relation to Beechwood Hall. Therefore, we can say with certainty the Lillie brothers were the home’s contractors, but only assume all three were involved.) No known photos exist of Pryor or Jasper, but here’s a peek at James Byron and his wife, Minerva Bethenia Sweeney Lillie.
If you’re at all familiar with Franklin history, their surname may ring a bell. Another Lillie brother, Joshua, founded the Franklin Flouring Mill, also known as Lillie Mills. It was the first major industry in Franklin after the Civil War.
Though the mill burned to the ground in 1958, the grain elevators still stand on First Avenue South. You can read our backstory here about Lillie Mills and LilliHouse, the home Joshua built for his son and daughter-in-law.
You can see the Lillie Mills historic marker on First Avenue South. The Lillie brothers moved to Franklin from New York and built many homes in the area, along with founding Lillie Mills.
The Lillie Mills grain elevators still stand on First Avenue South in Franklin next to the marker. They are owned by the Ligon family. Below shows one of Franklin’s popular homes, LilliHouse, also owned by Ronald and Marty Ligon. It was built by Joshua Lillie and is located at 930 West Main Street.
The Lillie brothers are connected to a number of other fine homes in this area, including Grassland (also known as the William Leaton House). The structure began as a dogtrot cabin built by William Leaton circa 1802, and around 1850, Sidney P. Smith hired the Lillie brothers to expand the log home. The residence still stands today as part of River Rest Estates on Hillsboro Road.
Pryor Lillie oversaw the construction of Old Town, a circa-1842 mansion that sits along the Harpeth River on the Natchez Trace. Senator Bill and Tracy Frist are the current stewards of the home. Past stewards include Jimmy Buffett and Kim Carnes. Click here to read more about Old Town’s rich history.
AN ARCHITECTURAL MARVEL
When constructing Beechwood Hall, the Lillie brothers spared no effort–and the Mayberrys, no expense. A massive entrance hall flanked by high-ceilinged rooms welcomed guests into the home, but the pièce de résistance awaited visitors at the end of the hallway. A graceful staircase curled up to the second floor without any visible support beneath it. For years, architects came to the home to study this gravity-defying design.
It’s probably the most stunning feature of Beechwood Hall. This original cantilevered staircase rivals the floating staircase found at the Hermitage. It is believed this architectural marvel originated from English architect Inigo Jones during the 17th century whose designs included work for the British royal family.
The Mayberrys’ neighbors were skeptical of the staircase’s strength, so the family organized a demonstration to put an end to their qualms. They called in their heaviest workers to stand in pairs on the 25 steps, and the stairs didn’t budge an inch!
The breathtaking photo above was taken in 2020. You can see how the balustrades perfectly wrap around the entire second floor opening. The craftsmanship was extraordinary.
One hundred and sixty-six years later, the staircase still stands. The photo below shows Leonora on the steps during a recent visit to the property, which is currently empty. The new owner has removed the original banister and newel post. Click here to read more about the ongoing efforts to preserve Beechwood Hall.
Shown below is a photo of Leonora’s mother, Louise, in the same spot on the staircase in 1954. Leonora took this photo of her late mother to Beechwood Hall for one last visit since she was told the home could not be saved and would be torn down by the new owner.
Look at this photo of Leonora’s grandmother, Louise Figuers Bailey, posing on the same spot of the staircase.
Even though Louise later lived in Hickman County, she visited her parents at Beechwood Hall often. It was her homeplace.
Louise grew up at Beechwood Hall. Look at her in that cute hat, sitting on her horse. This is just one of her many wonderful memories on this beautiful property.
The exterior photo below of Beechwood Hall was taken by Leonora on October 28, 2022. She was given the tour with her Mayberry cousins because she was informed the home would be torn down by the new owner.
A NEW GENERATION TAKES OVER BEECHWOOD HALL
During the Civil War, H.G.W. Mayberry incurred a large amount of debt. To avoid losing the house, he transferred ownership to his son-in-law, Robert Albert Bailey, Sr. who was married to H.G.W.’s daughter, Leonora Mayberry Bailey. Leonora Clifford still has the original deed of transfer from the Mayberrys to the Baileys, who would go on to become her great-grandparents.
Robert A. Bailey. Sr. later became the president of Harpeth National Bank in Franklin. Below is a photo of him in his Knights Templar uniform.
This photo also shows Robert’s funeral memorial that Leonora still has. Notice some of the famous names listed as pallbearers. Newt Cannon was a descendent of Newton Cannon, former governor of Tennessee and foe of Andrew Jackson. Newt Cannon, Sr. was married to Virginia McEwen, whose father was mayor of Franklin during the Civil War. You can read our backstory on John B. McEwen family here.
The Baileys raised their five children – Henry Mayberry Bailey, William Thomas Bailey, Robert Albert Bailey, Jr., Leonora Bailey Dedman, and Louise Figuers Bailey Nunnelly (Leonora’s grandmother) at Beechwood Hall.
Leonora Mayberry Bailey is pictured here with their daughters, Leonora Mayberry Dedman and baby Louise Figuers Bailey Nunnelly (Leonora Clifford’s grandmother).
This adorable photo of the boys shows Henry Mayberry Bailey, William Thomas Bailey, Robert A. Bailey, Jr. When you drive past Beechwood Hall on Bear Creek Road, you will see the west side of the property is bordered by Bailey Road, named after the Bailey family. Here is a photo of Leonora Mayberry Bailey later in life.
The Bailey’s eldest daughter, Leonora Bailey Dedman, was quite the socialite and even received a personal invitation to the Roosevelt White House when she was eighteen years old.
On February 4, 1904, Miss Bailey was invited to the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt. Here is her invitation, which her namesake, Leonora Green Clifford, proudly displays in her home.
As an interesting sidenote, on October 22, 1907 President Roosevelt visited Nashville and received a warm welcome. He arrived at Union Station in his own railcar with a parade forming on Broadway behind his horse-drawn carriage.
President Roosevelt delivered his principal address at the Ryman Auditorium and later visited local colleges, along with making a stop at the Hermitage to pay his respects to former President Andrew Jackson’s tomb. After a tour of the home, President Roosevelt spoke to the crowd of 10,000 people on the grounds and promised to secure federal funds to be used toward the preservation of the Hermitage. President Theodore Roosevelt is often referred to as the “conservationist president.”
A Legacy of Strong Leonoras
Leonora Bailey Dedman never had any children. Leonora Green Clifford was named after her great aunt “Leonora,” but friends often call her “Leo.”
Leonora Bailey Dedman always dressed to impress. She was very beautiful and refined. She is buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery with many of her family members.
On July 23, 1932, Louise Figuers Bailey (Leonora Green Clifford’s grandmother) married William Nunnelly at Beechwood Hall. Here is the wedding invitation:
From the left, Leonora Mayberry Bailey poses with her children in 1914: Capt. Robert A. Bailey, Jr., Louise Bailey Nunnelly (Leonora Green Clifford’s grandmother), William T. Bailey, and Leonora Bailey Dedman.
The photo shown below is Robert A. Bailey, Sr. with his mother, Louisa Ann Figuers Bailey Crump on the porch of Beechwood Hall. She was blind during the last 30 years of her life. Her husband, Dr. Charles Cary Crump, passed away in 1882. Beechwood Hall was almost lost after the Civil War, but her son R.A. Bailey, helped save the home by purchasing it from his in-laws, the Mayberry family. Louisa experienced much tragedy in her lifetime. She was widowed twice and lost three children. One son died in the Battle of Missionary Ridge as a member of the Williamson Grays during the Civil War. Another son and daughter passed away as infants. Leonora Clifford still has the Poyner rocking chair shown here behind Louisa.
After Robert and Leonora Bailey died, Beechwood Hall went up on the auction block. Dr. Howard E. Brown bought the house in 1949 but died shortly after acquiring it. In 1951, the property was sold to Hank Williams, Sr. and his wife, Audrey. However, they never actually lived in the home. Sadly, Hank passed away two years later. This home may have represented Hank’s “Mansion on a Hill” he wrote about in 1947.
Beechwood Hall – An Endangered Tennessee Treasure
Beechwood changed hands several more times over the decades and suffered increasing neglect as the years marched on. Eventually, the once-elegant mansion was used as a barn with hay littering the grand staircase, a farm truck dripping oil on the hardwood floors of the entry hall, and machinery cluttering the rooms. Extensive vandalism also occurred during this period.
Thankfully, before the home was forever lost, Harry and Betty Morel purchased the property. After a painstaking and expensive renovation from 1967 to 1969, they saved Beechwood Hall from a fate that befalls far too many historic homes.
Harry served as a Williamson County Commissioner for eight years and was a member of the Andrew Jackson and Lt. Andrew Crockett chapters of the Sons of the American Revolution. He was a contributor to the Hermitage Association and the Belmont Mansion. Betty was a charter member of the Traveller’s Rest DAR.
Tim McGraw and Faith Hill later purchased the house and surrounding acreage. Leonora’s mother, Louise Green, shared the family history with them in hopes they would preserve the home and not tear it down. In 2021, they sold it for $15 million to the investor group BKDM who, in turn, sold it to the current owner.
Leonora Green Clifford made this statement, “As a direct Mayberry descendant, I had followed the story of Beechwood Hall over the years and through various owners. It was distressing to hear of the neglect, but the price of the property sadly put it out of reach to do anything meaningful as an individual. I was made aware recently of a new owner who was to restore the house. However, in the last three weeks, I heard it was deemed unrestorable and would be demolished.
“So, I asked if he could possibly arrange a visit for me and my two Mayberry cousins who also live here in Franklin. We made the arrangements for one last visit on October 24, 2022, before the demolition. I took my mother’s picture taken on the staircase, along with the original guestbook and my grandmother’s wedding ring from her 1932 wedding at Beechwood Hall, which I wore around my neck for the visit. I took family pictures, including those I have of H.G.W. Mayberry and Sophronia, as my way of them saying goodbye to their homeplace. I was grateful to be allowed a final visit.
“On November 1, 2022, I was at the announcement of the purchase of historic Creekside by Rod Heller’s new group, Franklin Preservation Partners. I mentioned to Mary Pearce what was going on with Beechwood being torn down. She was the director of the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County for 31 years. Mary immediately jumped into action, and using her contacts and Lovely Franklin’s Instagram post, helped tell the Beechwood Hall’s impending demolition. It put a spotlight on this travesty. I hope the momentum continues, and the house is saved.”
Leonora’s Priceless Heirlooms
We will end our trek through Leonora’s family history by returning to her farmhouse for a quick tour of the incredible Williamson County artifacts she has preserved.
This company book was kept by Leonora’s relative, Lewis Dillahunty, who served during the War of 1812. He recorded orders received from his superior officers, as well as those he gave to men under his command. The book also lists men in his company who died or became ill.
This lock of hair belonged to Albert Bailey, Louisa Ann Figuers Bailey Crump’s first husband. Leonora was tickled to find this keepsake.
This vintage lace blouse belonged to Louisa Ann Figuers Bailey Crump. It’s hard to tell in the photograph, but it is quite a petite article of clothing!
Every room in Leonora’s home pays homage to Beechwood Hall. This gorgeous antique bed once sat inside the home.
A Cooper portrait of Leonora Bailey Dedman is now above Leonora’s fireplace. She was the younger sister of Leonora’s grandmother, Louise. It once hung at Beechwood Hall.
This incredible piece of embroidery belonged to Henry Mayberry Bailey, who built Riverview. He was the brother of Leonora’s grandmother, Louise Figuers Bailey Nunnelly. The fabric’s hand-stitched names are his fraternity brothers from Kappa Sigma at Union University in 1895.
One of our favorite keepsakes are these Dick Poyner chairs used at Beechwood Hall. Two of them are extremely rare: the highchair and the rocking chair with a place for a thimble in the arm rest. Dick Poyner was a former enslaved person who purchased his freedom in the 1850s. He became an honored citizen in the Leiper’s Fork community. Hundreds of chairs were made at his Leiper’s Fork factory. Click here to read more about Dick Poyner.
We hope you enjoyed this article in our series about Beechwood Hall. We are so grateful to Tony and Leonora for graciously opening their home and sharing this important family story with us.
Many thanks to Trenton Lee Photography for his continued help with beautiful photos for our backstories. We appreciate Rick Warwick for allowing us access to his collection of historic pictures of Franklin.
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