The McGavock-Martin House: A Tale of Tragedy and Triumph

The McGavock-Martin House, courtesy of Trenton Lee Photography

For those familiar with Franklin history, the name “McGavock” likely brings to mind Carnton, the family’s famous plantation home that served as a field hospital during the Battle of Franklin. But there’s another house in town built by a McGavock with an incredible tale of its own. Join us as we explore the history of the McGavock-Martin House and meet the families who have called it home.

Located at 238 Third Avenue South, the McGavock-Martin House doesn’t skimp on the charm. It’s an American Foursquare (also known as “Prairie Box”) and features many hallmarks of this classic architectural style, including a square design, center dormer, hipped roof, and large front porch with wide stairs.

The design became popular in the post-Victorian era when simplicity was favored over the ornate. It was particularly favored by people who lived in town rather than the country as the home’s boxy shape allowed them to maximize the smaller lots. 

The design of the American Foursquare certainly would have suited the needs of Susie Lee Ewing McGavock who built the home at 238 Third Avenue South, where space was somewhat limited. It was constructed circa 1911 after Susie sold Carnton, the estate inherited by her late husband, Van Winder McGavock, from his parents.

Winder’s grandfather, Randal McGavock, had built Carnton in the mid-1820s, and the family had lived there ever since. At one time, the sprawling estate had included as much as 1,420 acres, which was farmed and used to raise thoroughbred horses.

Carnton by Rob Clutsam Photography | Lovely Franklin
Carnton was the home of John and Carrie McGavock | Photo Rob Clutsam Photography

The property was also visited by many political leaders, including Andrew Jackson, Felix Grundy, and John Eaton.

After Randal’s death, his son Colonel John McGavock inherited the plantation. John’s wife, Carrie McGavock, was immortalized in Robert Hicks’s bestselling novel The Widow of the South. You can read more about that here, as well as Carnton’s Civil War history. 

MARRIAGE UNITES TWO PROMINENT FRANKLIN FAMILIES

The handsome and wealthy Winder McGavock was likely one of the most eligible bachelors in Franklin. At the age of 25, he tied the knot with 19-year-old Susie Lee Ewing, the daughter of Hubbard and Sallie Ewing.

Like the McGavocks, the Ewings were a prominent Tennessee family. Susie’s paternal great-grandfather was Alexander Ewing, a Revolutionary War soldier who received a sizable land grant in Tennessee for his service.

Alexander Ewing Historical Marker | Lovely Franklin
Alexander Ewing Historical Marker, courtesy of Trenton Lee Photography

Alexander began adding to his real-estate holdings, eventually purchasing a 640-acre land grant in Williamson County. It was located in the vicinity of what is now Murfreesboro Road. Carnton and the Harpeth River bordered this property to the south, and it seems the Ewings and McGavocks got along swimmingly as neighbors. The two families were united in both business and marriage. 

Read more about Alexander Ewing and his descendants who still live in Williamson County, as well as their connection to Beechwood Hall.

Susie’s father, Hubbard, inherited the Ewing homestead from his dad. He and his wife, Sallie, raised their three children there: Alexander (1861), Susie (1863), and Sara “Sallie” (1866).

Susie Lee Ewing McGavock, courtesy of Rick Warwick | Lovely Franklin
Susie Lee Ewing McGavock, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Susie grew up in close contact with the McGavock family, so her marriage to their son, Winder, was a natural fit. The wedding was held on February 5, 1883 at the Ewing homeplace.

A year later, the couple’s first child, Hattie, was born. Four more babies soon followed: Sarah or “Sallie” (1885), John (1887), Martha (1890), and Winder, Jr. (1894). Below are some lovely pictures of the McGavock daughters and Winder, Jr. Unfortunately, no childhood photos of John were uncovered.

Below are some lovely pictures of the McGavock daughters and Winder, Jr. Unfortunately, no childhood photos of John were uncovered.

Sarah, Martha, and Hattie McGavock, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Winder and Susie lived at Carnton for a while after their marriage, but eventually moved their family to town after Winder opened a hardware store called “Winder McGavock and Co.” on Main Street.

Nov. 30, 1899 ad from the Williamson County News | Lovely Franklin
Nov. 30, 1899 ad from the Williamson County News
Another ad for Winder McGavock and Co.

A STRING OF LOSSES

Carton Trenton Lee Photography | Lovely Franklin

After the deaths of Winder’s parents (John in 1893 and Carrie in 1905), he inherited Carnton. Winder passed away two years later on June 3, 1907. According to his obituary, he died at Carnton after being in poor health for several years.

Following Winder’s untimely death, his estate went to Susie. Eighteen days later, she listed Carnton for rent. 

Carnton listed for rent in June 21, 1907 edition of the Nashville Banner | Lovely Franklin
Carnton listed for rent in June 21, 1907 edition of the Nashville Banner

Susie had just lost her mother the previous year, so her husband’s death was yet another heartbreaking blow. Sadly, this was only the beginning of a string of losses for Susie.

The next tragedy occurred on January 3, 1909 when her youngest daughter, Martha, died at the age of eighteen. A brief article in The Presbyterian of the South stated she “fell asleep in Jesus” and “her life was beautiful and her death triumphant.”

CARNTON IS SOLD

October 6, 1910 announcement in the Nashville Banner | Lovely Franklin
October 6, 1910 announcement in the Nashville Banner

On October 6, 1910, an article appeared in the Nashville Banner, announcing the sale of Carnton to W.D. Shelton for $23,000. 

W.D. Shelton courtesy of Rick Warwick

With the money from the sale, Susie built this beautiful American Foursquare on Third Avenue South.

By this time, her eldest, Hattie, was married and living in Spring Hill, so Susie settled into her new home with three of her surviving children, Sarah, Winder, Jr., and John. John’s wife, Mary Gillespie McGavock, and their infant son, William, also moved into the house. 

Unfortunately, life in this beautiful house wasn’t a happily-ever-after story. More loss was to come within these walls. On December 11, 1911, Susie’s second-born daughter, Sarah, died in the home at the age of 26.

Sarah McGavock, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Her obituary described her death as being quite sudden: “Miss McGavock had been in poor health for some years, but her condition had not been especially alarming recently. Early this morning, her brother, Winder, heard her breathing heavily and entering her room found her desperately ill. The end came soon afterwards. Death was ascribed to apoplexy.”

Twelve days later, Susie’s father, Hubbard Ewing, died in her home on Third Avenue. He was 81 years old and had suffered from poor health for several years. His obituary called him “one of the most prominent men of Williamson County.”

SURROUNDED BY SIBLINGS

During these difficult years, Susie surely leaned on her siblings, both of whom were her neighbors. Her younger sister, Sallie Roberts, lived next door in the home that was owned by Mayor Ken Moore and Franklin’s first lady, Linda Moore. It was recently sold to Janie Bell.

Sallie Martin Ewing Roberts | Lovely Franklin TN
Sallie Ewing Roberts, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Sallie was married to Walter Aiken Roberts, often referred to as the “Developer of Main Street.” Walter later went into business with Susie’s son, Winder, Jr., forming the real-estate firm “Roberts-McGavock.”  You can still see the “Real Estate” tile entrance in its present day location at Imago Dei at 326 Main Street in Franklin.

Roberts & McGavock Real Estate & Insurance with Winder McGavock, unknown lady, and Seval Jordan Green (1927)

The Robertses had three daughters: Susie, Ewing, and Sara. In fact, when Sara married Tyler Berry on January 4, 1931, the quiet ceremony was held in her aunt Susie’s home. 

Growing Up in Franklin Tennessee - Sara Avalyn Berry Swain

Click here to read more about the Moores, Robertses, and their lovely home at 230 Third Avenue South. Additionally, Sallie Roberts’s granddaughter Sara Avalyn Berry Swain wrote a detailed account of their family history, which has been republished on Lovely Franklin. You can read Growing Up in Franklin, Tennessee here.

Dr. Alexander Ewing, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Across the street from Susie and Sallie lived their older brother, Dr. Alexander Ewing. 

He resided at 243 Third Avenue South with his wife, Gertrude, and their two children, Alexander, Jr. and Fannie.

The Ewings built their home around the same time as Susie’s, using material from a house that had previously stood on their lot. Dr. Ewing owned and operated a drug store on Main Street.

The Ewing home that still stands at 243 Third Avenue, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Fannie Park Ewing Small Gebhart was know as the “grand dame” of Franklin’s Third Avenue South. She was born in the house at 243 Third Avenue South and lived to the age of 93. She was the daughter of Alexander Ewing and Gertrude Wallis Ewing.

Ewing’s drug store with Dr. Alex Ewing in the center, courtesy of Rick Warwick | Lovely Franklin
Ewing’s drug store with Dr. Alex Ewing in the center, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Dr. A.H. Ewing Drug Co. was one of several located on Main Street in Franklin including Moran Drug, later Gray Drug, Pinkerton Drug, and Corner Drug.

THE END OF A GENERATION

Susie (on far left) with her brother, Alex, and sister, Sallie, courtesy of Rick Warwick | Lovely Franklin
Susie (on far left) with her brother, Alex, and sister, Sallie, courtesy of Rick Warwick

When Susie McGavock died on October 25, 1931, John and Winder, Jr. continued to live in the family home at 238 Third Avenue South, along with John’s wife, Mary, and children, William and Martha. Then came a series of deaths that marked the end of a generation: In 1948, Winder, Jr. died at the age of 53 due to complications from a heart attack. Three years later on May 17, 1951, John’s wife, Mary, passed away after a long illness. On November 25, 1955, John died of a heart attack in his home. His passing occurred on the eve of his retirement from a 49-year career as a drug salesman. He was 68 years old. His older sister, Hattie, also succumbed to a heart attack in 1955.

From left: Hanes Ayres, Jr., E. Hanes Ayres, Sr., Hattie McGavock Ayres, Susie Lee Ayres, Susie Lee McGavock, William McGavock, Winder McGavock, Martha McGavock, John McGavock, Mary Gillespie McGavock (circa 1924)

After their parents’ deaths, John and Mary’s children sold the McGavock house to Lloyd Thompson. He was the owner of Thompson Cabs, which was located in downtown Franklin. 

Thompson Cabs in 1966, located on Third Avenue South near the square, courtesy of Rick Warwick | Lovely Franklin
Thompson Cabs in 1966, located on Third Avenue South near the square, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Lloyd later sold the house to Leonard “Bill” Hearne Armistead, Jr. and his wife, Sara “Alyne” Queener Armistead. The couple lived here with their two boys, Leonard “Bill” III and Robert.

Bill was the editor of Franklin’s weekly newspaper The Review-Appeal, which his grandfather George Harrison Armistead, Sr. had bought in 1896. The paper would remain under the family’s ownership until 1983 when Bill’s uncle James Hanner Armistead sold it to the Morris Newspaper Corporation. 

Bill’s uncle James Hanner Armistead in his newspaper office, courtesy of Rick Warwick | Lovely Franklin
Bill’s uncle James Hanner Armistead in his newspaper office, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Bill’s wife, Alyne, grew up in Columbia, Tennessee at Shadowlawn, her family’s homeplace. Her father was a well-known lawyer in the area.

The Armisteads’ marriage ended in divorce, and the former McGavock home eventually became too much for Alyne to manage alone. She built a smaller house on the corner lot next door where she moved with her two sons. The home still stands at 250 Third Avenue South.

Alyne’s home at 250 Third Avenue South, courtesy of Rick Warwick | Lovely Franklin
Alyne’s home at 250 Third Avenue South, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Alyne went on to marry Jack Carroll Massey on May 1, 1971. Jack was a successful entrepreneur who owned, among other businesses, Kentucky Fried Chicken. He’s also connected to the restaurant J. Alexander’s, which was started by a group of investors with ties to him. In fact, the “J” in the restaurant’s name stands for “Jack.”

From left: Jack Massey, Col. Harland Sanders, and John Y. Brown (KFC president) in 1967 | Lovely Franklin
From left: Jack Massey, Col. Harland Sanders, and John Y. Brown (KFC president) in 1967

Not only that, he co-founded Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), and in his wife’s honor, he established the Alyne Queener Massey Law Library at Vanderbilt University. 

ANOTHER BRANCH OF FRANKLIN ROYALTY MOVES IN

The stunning Margaret Ewin Martin portrait in the family dining room.

In 1965, Alyne sold the old McGavock homeplace to Margaret Ewin Martin, Franklin royalty in her own right. Margaret still lives in the house today. It’s hard to believe she paid $12,000 for the home with today’s real estate prices in Franklin.

The incredible photo below shows Margaret with her dear friend Mary Pearce when they co-chaired the Heritage Ball. They have remained great friends and are both Franklin treasures for all they have done to make the city a better place to live. From the Main Street redevelopment and streetscaping to saving its historic landmarks, these strong women continue to remain very active in shaping Franklin’s future.

Margaret has deep roots in this area. Her third great-grandmother was Margaret Ann Perkins, the daughter of Nicholas Bigbee Perkins and Mary Perkins who lived at Meeting of the Waters on Del Rio Pike. This home was built by Mary’s father, Thomas H. Perkins, in 1810. The Perkinses were a wealthy, founding family of Williamson County.

Meeting of the Waters, courtesy of Rick Warwick | Lovely Franklin
Meeting of the Waters, courtesy of Rick Warwick

In 1844, Margaret Ann Perkins married Franklin merchant Robert H. Bradley, and they lived in a house at Five Points where Starbucks stands today.

Robert H. Bradley at home circa 1916 where Starbucks stands today, courtesy of Rick Warwick | Lovely Franklin
Robert H. Bradley at home circa 1916 where Starbucks stands today, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Margaret Ann and Robert’s daughter, Ann Eliza, wed William E. Winstead. William’s father was John M. Winstead, Jr. who built Pleasant Hill, a circa-1854 mansion that is now part of The Governors Club, a private country club in Brentwood.

Pleasant Hill, courtesy of The Governors Club | Lovely Franklin
Pleasant Hill, courtesy of The Governors Club

William and Ann Eliza Winstead’s home wasn’t too shabby either. They lived in a grand home on a hill overlooking downtown Franklin. The home was sold to them in 1877 by Ann Eliza’s uncle, William O’Neal Perkins, who built it circa 1868.

The house later became O’More School of Design (also known as the Abbey Leix Mansion), and today, it is part of Franklin Grove Estate and Gardens. The Heritage Foundation has renamed Franklin Grove and the historic Perkins-Winstead Mansion into the Robert N. Moore Museum of Art as they make plans to repurpose the home for the public.

Perkins/Winstead home, now part of Franklin Grove Estate and Gardens, courtesy of Rick Warwick | Lovely Franklin
Perkins/Winstead home, now part of Franklin Grove Estate and Gardens, courtesy of Rick Warwick

William and Ann Eliza had two daughters, Margaret Ann and Katherine Neil Winstead. Margaret Ann married into another prominent Williamson County family: the Ewins. She wed Benjamin Russ DeGraffenreid Ewin.

This mirror used to reside over a fireplace mantel at Winstead Mansion

They lived in a beautiful home on the corner of Fourth Avenue South and South Margin Street. The house was torn down in the 1960s to make way for Winstead Court, a condo complex.

Horace Riggs and Ann Katherine Harwell (the parents of Margaret’s mother), courtesy of Rick Warwick

In the photo of the Ewins’ home below, you can actually see Margaret Ann’s childhood house (now part of Franklin Grove) in the background.

The Ewins in front of their home circa 1918, courtesy of Rick Warwick | Lovely Franklin
The Ewins in front of their home circa 1918, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Margaret Martin’s father, William Winstead Ewin, Sr., was the son of Benjamin and Margaret Ann Ewin.

A snowy scene at the Ewins’ home, courtesy of Rick Warwick | Lovely Franklin
A snowy scene at the Ewins’ home, courtesy of Rick Warwick

He married Frances “Mildred” Harwell Ewin, and they built a log cabin that still stands on Lewisburg Avenue. This is the home where Margaret Martin grew up.

A PUBLIC SERVANT TO HER HOMETOWN

Margaret Martin went on to have two children, James “Bo” Hughes Butler, Jr. and Margaret Ewin Butler Curtis whom she raised in the McGavock-Martin home. She also enjoyed a successful career in education, working 31 years as a teacher at Johnson Elementary School.

The Martin’s beautiful front parlor

After 14 years of teaching, she took a two-and-a-half-year break to run a title-insurance business and serve on the school board. Following her brief hiatus, she returned to Johnson Elementary and retired in 2006.

The Martin’s stunning dining room featuring pieces from the Winstead family

In the early 1980s, Margaret served as chairman (and the first female member) of the city’s planning commission. During that time, she met Bob Martin who was the planning director. They married in 1986.

Margaret Ewin Martin | Lovely Franklin
Margaret Ewin Martin

Margaret’s public service career continued when she was elected as a Franklin alderman for two terms (four years total) in the 1980s. She again served as an alderman from 2009 to 2021.

A LEGACY WORTH TOASTING

Bob and Margaret Martin | Lovely Franklin
Bob and Margaret Martin

These days, Margaret holds court on her screened-in porch, which she and Bob added to the McGavock-Martin home in the late 1990s. One can only imagine the stories swapped in this inviting space over glasses of Margaret’s famous sweet tea.

The Martin’s cozy back porch

Tales of Franklin’s past joys and tragedies, present-day happenings, hopes for the future—all mingle within the walls of this historic American Foursquare. 

Lovely Franklin’s Buffie Baril and Margaret Martin

And it’s not hard to imagine Susie McGavock perched on one of Margaret’s porch chairs, raising a glass to the endless stream of company and laughter that continues to fill her old residence. Here’s to this home’s incredible legacy and the families who made it so. May the future of the McGavock-Martin House be just as illustrious as its past! 

We want to extend a special thanks to Trenton Lee Photography for his stunning pictures of our beautiful town, as well as Williamson County Historian Rick Warwick for generously allowing us access to his collection of historic photos.

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