Welcome to Marty Ligon’s LilliHouse: A Peek into One of Franklin’s Most Beloved Homes 

 LilliHouse, 930 West Main Street

It’s April 10, 1895, only four days before Easter. James B. Lillie, Jr. and his wife, Carrie, are enjoying the first dinner in their new home on West End (today known as West Main Street). They’ve invited one of Carrie’s relatives, Mabel Campbell, and a friend, John Nichol, to join them.

Writing on the Wall

The decorative touches of the dining room’s interior, such as wallpaper and paint, have not been completed. Nor have any fine portraits or artwork been hung. The only thing breaking up the blank walls is the fireplace with its ornate, carved mantel.

But no bother—this inaugural meal is worth commemorating, and someone has the bright idea to write a note on the bare plaster next to the fireplace: First dinner, Wednesday, April 10, 1895, followed by all of their names. The inscription is probably done on a whim—one can almost see them rifling around for a pen—but it’s a fitting tribute to the future of this home. Little did they know, their humble dinner party of four was only the beginning of a rich legacy of hospitality at LilliHouse.

A House Transformed

Marty Ligon poses next to her stunning table of white, silver, and red.

Fast forward to late January of 2022, and Martha “Marty” Ligon, LilliHouse’s current owner, is preparing for a Valentine-themed dinner party. A glittering, Waterford-crystal chandelier hangs over a table set for fourteen. Rose petals are scattered over a white cloth, napkins are folded to look like envelopes, and a tiny bowl of Hershey’s Kisses awaits guests at each place setting. The centerpiece is an array of pillar candles and silver vases, which will later be filled with fresh roses.

The chandelier was brought to LilliHouse from Riverside, the antebellum home where Marty’s second husband lived before they married. Before that, the fixture hung in the United States Embassy in Bombay. 

Crystal goblets add to the sparkle of Marty’s tablescape.

This particular party is for her neighbors, but when hosting family dinners, Marty tucks a five-dollar bill into each grandchild’s folded napkin as a special treat.

In the second dining room (yes, there are two), a smaller table is decorated with red hearts, white candles, and stacks of dessert plates. More than a century of life has been lived in this home, and the décor, while elegant, exudes a certain warmth. LilliHouse is one of those eclectic houses where every item seems to have an incredible story behind it. 

The second dining room in LilliHouse. Portraits from left: Marty’s mother, father, daughter, and son.

This dining room is no exception. An antique china cabinet is full of beautiful serveware, a matching buffet displays a Valentine’s Day vignette, and massive portraits of Marty’s family line the walls: her father; her mother, a former Miss Iowa; and two of her children.

Peeling Back a Layer of the Past

Among all the gilded frames in the second dining room is a small, wooden one. It surrounds a portion of exposed plaster scrawled with writing. If you can decipher the looping penmanship that’s so distinctive of the 19th century, you’ll discover it’s an inauspicious plaque of sorts, marking the first dinner in LilliHouse.  

LilliHouse’s “First Dinner”

“First dinner, Wednesday April 10-1895, present Ja. Lillie Jr., My ” (presumably his wife, Carrie), Mabel Campbell, John Y. Nichol.” This was most likely a midday meal: In the old South, “dinner” was served in the afternoon and “supper” in the evening.

Marty made the discovery after her father bought her the house in 1969. For the two years prior, she’d been renting the home with her first husband, Dr. Fulton Greer, Jr., and their two children, Meg and Trace. Now that she owned the house, she was free to make some changes. One of the first items of business: new décor. “When the guys went to steam the wallpaper off,” Marty says, “that was written on the wall. I can see them setting up a card table, just having dinner in here before it’s finished.”

The Belle of Franklin

The Belle of Franklin” Marty Ligon 

Just to the right of the framed inscription is the dining-room fireplace, and above it hangs a portrait of Marty, painted in the seventies. The original dress was patterned, but Marty had the artist change it to a classic white for the painting. Her blonde hair is perfectly coiffed, and a cornflower-blue sash around her waist matches the color of her eyes. It’s no wonder friends dubbed her “The Belle of Franklin.” She’s a striking woman, both in the portrait and all these years later.

“That’s what I wore to the ball,” Marty says, pointing to the dress in the portrait. She’s referring to the very first Heritage Ball held at Carnton Plantation in 1973. The event, now the longest running black-tie affair in Williamson County, grew out of a dinner party hosted by Mark and Ruth Anne Garrett at Magnolia Hall in 1972. (Interestingly, Magnolia Hall is the same home where Carrie Lillie, the hostess of LilliHouse’s inaugural dinner, grew up. Her father was William S. Campbell, the first president of the Bank of Franklin. The institution later became a national bank.) 

At the Garretts’ soiree, couples were charged $50, and the money went to the Heritage Foundation, of which Mark was president.

Mark and Ruth Anne Garrett, hosts of the first Heritage Foundation benefit dinner. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

Magnolia Hall was the location of the Heritage Foundation’s first benefit, which was held in 1972. Franklin banker William S. Campbell built this house before the Civil War. It was later restored by the Garretts and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Magnolia Hall – photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.  

The following year, the Heritage Foundation decided their benefit should be a ball to save Carnton. The historic home had played an important role during and after the Battle of Franklin, but by the early seventies, the mansion had fallen into disrepair as a tenant house. Motorcycle parts junked up the attic; animals found their way inside due to missing exterior doors; and bales of hay were stacked on the second floor.

Marty Ligon Throws a Ball to Save Carnton

Magnolia Hall | Franklin TN
Carnton – photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

Carnton was the location of the first, official Heritage Ball in 1973. Former Nashville mayor Randal McGavock built the home circa 1826, and his son, John McGavock, inherited it in 1843. John lived there with his wife, Carrie, and their five children. Carnton served as a field hospital for wounded Confederate soldiers after the Battle of Franklin. Read more about Carnton and the Widow of the South here.

Marty was asked to organize the affair, which would be the first gala at Carnton since before the Civil War. The only wrinkle in this plan—it was June, and the event was slated for September. “And I agreed to do it. I had no idea,” she says with a laugh. “It’s very difficult to put on a ball in three months.”

Portrait of Carrie McGavock, one of the family treasures Marty tracked down. This piece remains in Carnton today. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

She had no props, no money, nothing. Wildflowers were picked and dried for table arrangements, and Marty took it upon herself to update Carnton’s interior—though the ball would be held under a tent on the grounds, guests would be allowed to walk through the home’s downstairs. “I went to work. I put the tenant farmers in the Holiday Inn. I painted the walls on the first floor, put down Orientals, hung chandeliers.” She had leaks fixed and much of the wiring redone after it was discovered to be a fire hazard.

Marty Ligon hosted the first official Heritage Ball in 1973 at Carnton.

She even hunted down heirlooms that belonged to the McGavocks. “I went into people’s homes and found the furniture. Ann Herbert Floyd, who was born and raised here, was my right arm. She knew everybody. I had met these people but didn’t know them. Ann put me on track to find silver, china, dining-room tables. I brought it all back in, and we set it up in Carnton.”

Clearly, her efforts paid off. Today, Carnton is restored to its former glory and managed by the Battle of Franklin Trust as a museum. Most of the McGavock memorabilia that Marty collected remain in the home.

Carnton as it appears today. Photo courtesy of Trenton Lee Photography.

Saving Another Franklin Treasure

Marty isn’t the only perseveration-minded person in this household. Her second husband, Ronald Ligon, was instrumental in saving Harlinsdale Farm, a property in Franklin where Tennessee Walking Horses had been bred. The farm is famous for being the home of Midnight Sun, a stallion who won two World Grand Championships. Read about Franklin’s First Lady Linda Moore’s connection to Harlinsdale Farm.

Midnight Sun, the famed Tennessee Walking Horse bred at Harlinsdale Farm. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

In 2004, the Harlin family made the difficult decision to sell the original 200 acres of land. Developers eyed the property for a potential subdivision, but it was later discovered to be in a flood plain. As Marty tells it, her husband overheard brothers Tom and Bill Harlin discussing the possible sale, and Mr. Ligon thought the city should purchase it for use as a park. “He wrote letter after letter to all the city fathers to please give this consideration. Tom Miller, the mayor at the time, supported him and believed the city should own this.”

In 2007, Harlinsdale Farm opened as a park with the goal of preserving the land’s past while providing an outdoor space for the public to enjoy. Coincidentally, the historic Hayes House that stands on the property was built by the same man as LilliHouse. (More on him later.) The park continues to host horse shows, as well as the annual Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival.

Leaving a Mark in Education

Just down the road from Harlinsdale Farm, going towards town, sits the historic Cox House, now the home of Battle Ground Academy’s lower school. Believe it or not, the Ligons and LilliHouse have a connection to this Franklin landmark as well.

The Cox House, looking a bit lost amid the construction debris from the widening of Franklin Road. The home now serves as the lower campus of Battle Ground Academy.

In the late sixties, Marty and her first husband, Dr. Greer, opened LilliHouse to a group of local men looking to establish a new school in Franklin. Mr. Ligon, along with Dr. Joe Willoughby, headed up those meetings, and it was in the front dining room where Harpeth Academy (not to be confused with the Harpeth Academy that operated from 1811 to 1863) was founded. The institution opened its doors in 1969 at the Cox House, built by Col. N.N. Cox. BGA acquired the school and its property in 1998. Read more about the Cox House and Harpeth Academy here.

A Tough Choice: LilliHouse or Riverside?

When Marty and Mr. Ligon wed, she owned LilliHouse, and he had Riverside, a grand home located in what is now the neighborhood of Forrest Crossing. The original house that stood on this site was built circa 1836 by Randal McGavock, who also constructed Carnton. This home was a wedding gift for one of his sons, James Randal McGavock, and daughter-in-law, Louisa C. McGavock. 

Riverside in 2022, now located in the Forrest Crossing neighborhood in Franklin, TN.

In 1905, a fire caused extensive damage to the home, but the original bricks were used to rebuild Riverside as we know it today. The log cabin where James and Louisa lived during the big house’s construction was restored by the Ligons and still stands on the property.

Several cedars on the Riverside property were planted by Andrew Jackson as a gift to James and Louisa McGavock. Andrew was a close friend of Randal McGavock’s.

An artist’s rendition of Riverside and the log cabin. This painting hangs in LilliHouse today.

There’s no debating that Riverside is a breathtakingly beautiful home, but Marty had no desire to leave LilliHouse. “[Moving] is so much work,” she says with a shake of her head. Instead, Mr. Ligon and his three sons joined Marty and her two children at LilliHouse.

The Consummate Host

Marty is known far and wide for her Southern hospitality. She hosts dinner parties monthly, making good use of LilliHouse’s two dining rooms. And if the guest list is especially long, Marty sets up tables in her living room and hallway. “When I first started entertaining,” she says, “I didn’t realize that the more people you have, the more fun you have.”

As much as she enjoys a houseful of guests, Marty relishes the preparations as well. She always sends out written invitations, specifying the dress code and whether or not it will be a sit-down meal. 

An invitation for Marty’s Valentine-themed dinner party.

The menu is planned, food is prepped, and seating arrangements are considered far in advance, but without a doubt, her favorite aspect of party planning is the decorations and tablescapes. She creates a different setup for each and every dinner. It’s a creative outlet for her, and suffice it to say, she’s got quite a knack for it. 

When asked how she finds the energy to host so many get-togethers, Marty smiles. “The more you do it, the easier it is. But I do simple.” For her upcoming Valentine’s dinner, she plans to serve tenderloin, green beans, mashed potatoes, and a heart-shaped concealed salad. For dessert, fudge pies already wait in the freezer.

According to Marty, the perfect party doesn’t require gourmet food, a bevy of waiters, or a spotless home. “It’s just about getting everybody together,” she says. Spoken like a true hostess.

Let Us Show You Around

In college, Marty majored in home economics, but she’s done quite a bit in interior design as well. That training was put to good use when she moved into LilliHouse. All of her furniture was stored in Nashville until the family got settled in Franklin.

An angel statue greets guests from the turret room to the left of the front door. This also makes the perfect spot for Marty’s Christmas tree.

But before Marty could move everything into their new home, the storage company went bankrupt, and much of their stuff was stolen, including the kitchen appliances, two televisions, lamps, and many irreplaceable heirlooms. Despite this loss, she was able to turn LilliHouse into quite the showplace as evidenced by the photos below.

The living room is just the right amount of cozy with a great view of West Main Street. Note the millwork on the original fireplace.

The view from the living room into the front dining room is quite spectacular. The small painting on the right side has a great backstory we’ll let Marty share with you if you’re lucky to meet her.

Marty has dubbed this space the “Ligon Room” in reference to the portraits of Mr. Ligon’s three sons that hang on the walls.

LilliHouse is full of conversation pieces, such as these antique books and cameras.

Who can resist a staircase in a historic home? The attention to detail never ceases to amaze. Marty selected all the wallpapers for this Victorian-era home.

A pillow embroidered with “Harlinsdale Farm, est. 1933” is a nod to Mr. Ligon’s contribution to saving the historic property.

Here is another original fireplace. This one is in the second dining room beneath her portrait from the first official Heritage Ball.

A Halloween Happening

Marty’s design skills are not limited to the interior of her home. She is famous for her outdoor, holiday displays, which have become must-sees for locals and tourists alike. On this wintry day, her porch is decked out in giant hearts, and a pair of golden angel wings adorns the front door.

All the major holidays get the royal treatment, but Halloween is the main event at LilliHouse. “It was just sort of a happening,” she says. “I started with just one pumpkin man, and that family grew to about sixteen. But I finally learned they rot and make such a mess. I’d have to change the heads several times.” Not only that, the straw-stuffed bodies were a nightmare for Marty’s allergies. 

Marty’s spooky drive-in from Halloween 2021.

She eventually swapped out the pumpkin people for plastic skeletons, which she arranges in different scenes each year. Last Halloween, she created a fifties-style drive-in, complete with music, poodle skirts, and a pickup truck parked on the front lawn. She also sets up a haunted garage that is open to the public throughout October.

Years ago, Marty’s famous “Haunted Garage” used to be displayed in her home. She let trick-or-treaters walk through a haunted LilliHouse, but when chewing gum was spit on the carpets, the Halloween set-up was shifted to the garage.

From All-Star Hostess to the Baron of Baseballs!

While everyone knows Marty for her entertaining and decorating skills, perhaps lesser known is her family’s connection to baseball.

In 1912, her grandfather, George Sharp Lannom, Jr., founded a tannery for horse collars and harnesses in Tullahoma, Tennessee. When animal-powered farming declined, he developed a sporting-goods line named “Worth,” using his tannery to produce footballs. After several years, he shifted production to focus on leather-covered baseballs and softballs.

After George’s death, the company was divided between his son, G.S. Lannom III, and his son-in-law, Chuck Parish, who was Marty’s father. While G.S. managed the glove works in Iowa, Chuck, who came to be called “The Baron of Baseballs,” built the Tennessee-based operations into the world’s largest manufacturer of baseballs. He also expanded the Worth line to include wood and aluminum bats.

Before Chuck died in 1975, the brand dominated the U.S. aluminum bat market and had produced the first official Little League and NCAA Collegiate aluminum bats. Today, Worth is a division of Rawlings and Jarden Team Sports.

The Origin Story of LilliHouse: Love, Ingenuity, and a Heap of Flour

The moniker “LilliHouse” was Marty’s brainchild—it cleverly combines the surnames of two past owners of the residence: Lillie and House. So, let’s start with the former and travel back to the very beginning of this special home’s story.

Note the nameplate on the wrought-iron fence.

Circa 1894, Joshua Bates Lillie built this Queen-Anne-style house as a belated wedding present for his daughter-in-law Caroline or “Carrie.” (In 1889, she’d married his eldest son, James, who worked with him as a miller.) What a fitting gift, as the home itself resembles a wedding cake with its turreted bay window and gingerbread trim. And like a cake, this home was built from flour–Joshua paid for the whimsical charmer with the fortune he’d amassed as founder of the Franklin Flouring Mill, also known as the Lillie Mills.

Established in 1868, the mill was the first major industry in the town after the devastation of the Civil War. By the 1890s, it was a leading flour manufacturer in the South, and the “Franklin Lady” brand was a national top-seller for some time.

 Franklin Lady Flour was the Lillie Mill Company’s most popular brand for years.

Joshua’s Early Years

Joshua Lillie was born near Watertown, New York on September 6, 1828. When he was six, his family relocated to Canada where he received a public-school education. He apprenticed as a house carpenter and joiner and continued in this trade after he moved to Tennessee in 1855.

The Green-Moore House in Franklin, TN

Six years later, Joshua married Sallie M. Smith of Williamson County, and they eventually had five children—Emma, James (who lived in LilliHouse), Pryor, Turner, and Bates. Emma later wed banker Edward Green who built the Green-Moore House, another Victorian stunner that still stands to the left of LilliHouse.

I also love all the houses on West Main. My novel, Finding Franklin, is based on the Green-Moore House next door to LilliHouse. Although I did take a few artistic liberties in my descriptions, the wrap-around porch and turret room are my favorite parts of this house, plus it has a scandalous past. Purchase my book here.

Cutting Logs and Grinding Wheat

Joshua entered the saw-mill business in 1864, partnering with planter and businessman John McGavock of Carnton fame for several years. In 1868, Joshua bought a flour mill at the end of East Main Street (in those days, the road didn’t extend past the Harpeth River) and established the Lillie Mill Company.

D.G. Beers map of Franklin from 1878. Notice J.B. Lillie’s mill where East Main Street meets East Margin Street.

The mill was “very imperfect” by historic accounts, so Joshua set to work making improvements. In 1884, he and several other men incorporated the Franklin Elevator and Warehouse Company with plans to construct a large grain elevator and adjoining warehouses.

That same year, he adopted the roller process, a technique that first garnered international attention at the 1867 Paris International Exposition for the finer flour it produced. Up to that point, the industry had used mill stones to crush the entire wheat kernel into an indiscriminate flour that had a lower shelf life and attracted bugs. This new process employed uniform steel rollers to grind the grain into what was called “middlings.” It was then sifted and reground. The roller process continues to dominate the flour milling industry today.

Breaking Ground in Hincheyville

In 1861, Joshua purchased a plot of land from Randal M. Ewing for $515. It was located in Hincheyville, Franklin’s first neighborhood. Joshua built a frame home at the corner of 10th Avenue and West Main Street where the Green-Moore House would later be constructed. However,  it’s unclear whether he ever actually lived here. He owned numerous properties throughout Franklin, so it’s quite possible he resided elsewhere.

D.G. Beers map of West Main Street in 1878. By this time, J.B. Lillie had built a frame house on the corner of West Main and what is now 10th Avenue.

Wherever Joshua’s home was, his first wife, Sallie, died there in July 1875 at the age of 38. The next year, he married her sister, Lucy A. Smith. Sadly, she passed away in April 1887, following a three-day illness from lung congestion. Two years after that, Joshua wed his third and final wife, Mary F. Farmer, who outlived him.

Devastation at the Mill

Less than one month before he tied the knot with Mary, Joshua’s mill caught fire. In the early morning of January 31, 1889, flames sprang up in the separating room on the top floor. The cause of the fire was unclear—some reports speculated the blaze originated from the flue that heated the space, while others blamed friction since the mill was running at the time.

This 1928 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows the location of the second mill, just down the street from the original site.

Whatever the source, in less than an hour after the discovery of the fire, the wooden mill was a solid mass of flames. The building was a complete loss, as were 5,000 barrels of flour and 10,000 bushels of wheat. The fire spread across the street and also destroyed what was called “the Dempsey House,” another piece of real estate owned by Joshua. (John Nichol, one of the guests who signed LilliHouse’s dining-room wall, lived in the Dempsey House at the time of the fire.) Total damages were estimated at $50,000.

Luckily, both structures were insured, and Joshua began to rebuild his mill, hoping to have it ready for the wheat harvest that fall. His goal was realized when the new structure was completed in November. It was located on 1st Avenue (formerly East Margin), just down the road from the original site. This new spot was ideal for such an operation due to its proximity to the Harpeth River and the Nashville-Decatur Railroad.

A Rising Fortune in Flour

Despite the fire, business was booming for Joshua in the early 20th century. An average of 300 railcars annually shipped his flour to markets across the South, and the mill had grown to be one of Franklin’s main employers.

The Lillie Mill, circa 1924, taken after the Lillies had sold it. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

With the mill money pouring in, Joshua funded the construction of a house for his daughter-in-law, Carrie. The lot he owned in Hincheyville would be the site of the new home, so the old, frame residence had to go. Instead of tearing it down, he had it jacked up, put on logs, and rolled to the back of the property. This structure can still be seen at 935 Fair Street.

The frame house that was moved to Fair Street. A sign on the porch bears the name of the home: Fairmore Gables.

Around 1894, LilliHouse was built to the right of the original homesite at what is now listed as 930 West Main Street.

This is the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of West Main Street in 1903. The red dot marks LilliHouse, the green one is the Green-Moore House, and the blue is the original frame house with some additions.

The architect, whose name has been lost to time, clearly had a creative flair. LilliHouse is unlike any other in Franklin. With its circular porch, decorative bargeboard, and fish-scale ornamentation, the home looks like it was plucked straight from the pages of a fairy tale.

The architecture is Queen-Anne-influenced, a distinctive style that came into vogue during the 1880s and lasted until about 1900. LilliHouse features several elements that are characteristic of this design: an asymmetrical façade; a dominant, front-facing gable; and a prominent porch.

Carrie and James Lillie enjoyed the home for many years. The couple had no children, but based on the local newspapers’ social sections, they had no shortage of guests at LilliHouse.

The End of an Era

Six years after the construction of LilliHouse, James’s father and stepmother, Joshua and Mary Lillie, were living with her brother, William H. Farmer, in the Hayes House on Harlinsdale Farm. 

The Hayes House at Harlinsdale

Friends of Franklin Parks and the city of Franklin are working to restore the historic Hayes House at Harlinsdale Farm, which was built circa 1890 by Joshua Lillie.

Joshua’s health started to decline, and during his illness, his two sons managed the mill. Joshua died on September 14, 1908, eight days after he turned 80. His obituary described him as “a man of unquestioned integrity and sterling character.”

Joshua’s funeral notice, courtesy of Rick Warwick.

Corn Enter the Picture (the Man, not the Crop!)

On September 20, 1909, the mill property was split into lots and sold at auction. James Lillie, Jr. started a new career in insurance, but Pryor stayed in the family business. He, Charles H. Corn, and W.F. Eakin purchased the mill, along with an estimated seven acres for $17,400. (In the 1920s, Charles Corn would buy a Queen-Anne-style house on 3rd Avenue South where the restaurant Biscuit Love is currently located. Read more about Biscuit Love and the historic Corn House here.

The Corn House, past and present. It’s now home to the restaurant Biscuit Love. Black-and-white photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

Over the next several years, the mill continued to crank out Franklin Lady Flour, as well as the brands Silver Leaf, White Silk, and Tulip.

Flour sack from the Lillie Mill Company. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

By 1926, Charles’s sons, Ernest and Wilbur Corn, had erected ten large, concrete grain elevators at a cost of $60,000. The storage capacity was more than 250,000 bushels of grain, making the elevators the second largest such facility in the state. During this time, the mill remained a major producer—in 1933, it manufactured more than 63,000 barrels of flour, 25,000 bushels of wheat, and had a payroll of more than $34,000.

Note the grain elevators to the right of the Lillie Mill (marked as number nine) from Williamson County’s Historian Rick Warwick’s book, North and East of Franklin’s Public Square: A Pictorial Tour. Rick’s books are available at Landmark Booksellers.

In 1943, Charles died from a stroke, and two years later, his sons sold the mill and its elevators to Dudley Casey, who also owned the tobacco barn down the street on 1st Avenue South. Eventually, the property changed hands to the Nebraska Consolidated Mills Company. It must have seemed like a smart investment at the time, but no one predicted what would happen in just a few years.

DeJa’Vu at the Mill

On the morning of January 8, 1958, history repeated itself when everything Joshua Lillie had built almost a century earlier went up in flames. Most modern-day accounts blame the fire on a series of small explosions in the chemical laboratory, but Lewis Mosley, who was working in the mill that day, told a different story.

Fire devoured the mill on January 8, 1958. Photos courtesy of Rick Warwick.

In a Williamson Herald article from 2016, Lewis attributed the blaze to a clogged belt elevator. He said it kept rolling and building up heat, eventually bursting into flames. The explosions occurred when several cylinders of gas on the second floor burst apart. (The mill had been using gas to bleach the flour white.)

Smoke from the mill fire can be seen from a rooftop overlooking Franklin’s square. The plume is rising behind the present-day site of restaurant Ruby Sunshine.

The January 8, 1958, fire at Lillie Mills. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

The flames shot 150 feet into the air and could be seen all the way from Brentwood. Firefighters arrived on the scene within minutes but were forced to ask for help from neighboring stations. This delay allowed the fire to get ahead of them, and the five-story, brick building burned to the ground in a matter of hours.

Lillie Mills’ fire onlookers. Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick.

Long-time Franklinites recall the mill’s underground storage area smoldering for months afterwards. Only the concrete elevators survived the fire and can still be seen on 1st Avenue South as the last vestige of Franklin’s once-thriving flour industry.

The original Lillie Mills grain elevators on 1st Avenue South are still standing.

After the blaze, the owners announced they weren’t rebuilding, despite their insurance policy that covered the $800,000 loss. Instead, the grain elevators were used by another company: Lillie Mill Elevators. This business bought and sold grain but didn’t mill it. The operation continued for three decades. The elevators are now the property of Ronald and Marty Ligon.

A New Couple Moves into LilliHouse

After James Lillie, Jr. died in 1915, his widow, Carrie, sold their family home to Issac “Ike” Stephen House and his wife, Caroline “Carrie” Carpenter House. 

Issac “Ike” House, the second owner of LilliHouse. Photo from Who’s Who in Williamson County, Volume II, by Jane Bowman Owen.

Though a newcomer to LilliHouse, Ike was no stranger to the neighborhood. Two of his brothers had also owned homes on the street before their deaths: William House, a lawyer and Sarah Cannon’s (aka Minnie Pearl) maternal grandfather, had lived at 1051 West Main (read more about their house “Oaklawn” here), and Dr. Samuel J. House had built a charming cottage at 812 West Main.

Ike’s brothers, William House (on left) and Dr. Samuel J. House (on right).

A Prominent Franklin Family

Ike’s parents were Samuel Smith House and Sarah “Sallie” Jane Park House. Both of their families were among the first settlers in Williamson County.

Ike’s parents, Samuel Smith House (1822-1876) and Sarah Jane Park House (1822-1892)

In his early days, Ike’s father, Samuel worked as a Franklin merchant and later became a prominent lawyer in town, co-founding the firm Ewing & House. He served as an alderman, the mayor of Franklin in 1858, a member of the Tennessee General Assembly in 1861, and a representative in the Constitutional Convention of 1870. As if that wasn’t enough, he also helped establish the Tennessee Female College, serving as secretary and treasurer for many years.

House Family’s Connection to a Franklin Riot

Samuel’s law office was located in the town square, and right outside his workplace, he witnessed the Franklin riot of 1867, a deadly confrontation that occurred after a speech riled up two opposing political parties.

In his affidavit, Samuel claimed he tried to prevent a clash between a biracial group of Conservatives who had gathered at his brother—and Ike’s uncle—Colonel John House’s store, and members of the Colored League who were marching, heavily armed, toward the town’s center. “Fearing when I saw the procession that there would be trouble,” Samuel wrote, “I met the procession about the corner of the square and called to them to stop if they pleased.” 

His efforts were in vain.

Later described as the Carnival of Blood, violence broke out when one of the Conservatives shot into the procession. The Leaguers fired back, killing white Conversative Michael Cody in front of Col. House’s store. Six white and several black Conservatives were wounded in the fray that followed. Twenty-seven Leaguers were injured, most of whom were shot in the back. You can read more about this tragic encounter at the historic marker installed by the Fuller Story Project in front of the Williamson County Courthouse.

An Accomplished Family Lineage

Ike’s brother, Mansfield House, State Treasurer of Tennessee from 1889-1893. Drawing from Treasury.TN.gov.

Samuel left big shoes to fill in terms of professional success, but his ten children were up for the challenge. His oldest son, Dr. Samuel J. House, as mentioned earlier, was a well-regarded doctor in Franklin. For nearly six years, he held the office of jail physician, and in January 1885, he was elected health officer of Williamson County. Another son, William, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a lawyer, forming a partnership with Atha Thomas, who was once treasurer of the state and a member of the House of Representatives. Yet another son, Mansfield Ford House, was elected State Treasurer of Tennessee in 1889.

A Main-Street Maven                               

Ike House was born into this prestigious family on September 11, 1862 and, like his father, spent his early years in a Franklin store.

When Ike was 17, his widowed mother moved herself and her children to town from a home on Lewisburg Pike. Ike was hired as a clerk in George W. Smithson’s dry-goods store where Mellow Mushroom is now located on Main Street. The shop catered to both men and women, and Ike sold fabrics, hoop skirts, bustles, and black broadcloth suits, the outfit in which every man was buried at the time. In Jane Owen’s Who’s Who in Williamson County, Ike recalled fitting ladies with high-top shoes that often required a half-hour to lace, only to have the women decide they didn’t fit.

For his services, Ike received $20 per month: $12.50 paid for room and board, and he dressed himself with the remainder, saving a portion for “horse and buggy hire, for from his earliest years, he liked to go with the girls.”

Fires were a common part of life in those days, and when the Smithson store burned down, Ike’s boss relocated to East Main Street. George later returned to Main Street and set up shop in part of the building where Tin Cottage and The Grilled Cheeserie are now located. Ike stayed through many changes, even becoming a partner in the business for a time. 

Later, he and Walter Aiken Roberts, known as “The Developer of Main Street Franklin,” joined forces in what was known for years as the W.A. Roberts Store (predecessor of the Roberts Store), housed in the same building on Main Street where Smithson’s shop once had been.

This is an early photo of the Walter A. Roberts Store, later known as the Roberts Store or Roberts Dry Goods. This building is where Tin Cottage and the Grilled Cheeserie are located today.

In addition to his dry-goods career, Ike served as an alderman for most of the 1930s, wrote insurance for a year, and invested extensively in real estate. He owned considerable property on Main Street at one time or another, including the two buildings that are now Anthropologie (formerly Tohrner’s, another dry-goods store) and Johnnie Q (formerly Rose’s 5-10-25 Cent Store).

At the age of 59, Ike finally married his early manhood sweetheart, Caroline Wofford Carpenter, who taught at the Tennessee Female College in Franklin. They never had any children, but the extra rooms in LilliHouse were filled by Caroline’s mother, Joanne, and Ike’s younger sister, Sallie.

Photo credit: Rick Warwick

As a funny sidenote, Ike had chewed tobacco since age eight and liked to credit his excellent teeth to this habit. It would have been a tough point to argue with him over since he didn’t get a tooth extraction until age 74 and claimed he never once had a filling.

Ike died on December 23, 1943 at age 81 during a stay at Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville. He was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery on Christmas Eve.

In 1960, Ike’s widow, Caroline, put LilliHouse up for sale. J. Larry Read bought it for his daughter, Peggy Ingold, which brings us full circle to Marty, whose father later purchased it from J.L. Read in 1969.

If These Walls Could Talk

The old adage “If these walls could talk” is often used in reference to historic homes, but in the LilliHouse, the walls speak volumes. From the framed note written on the exposed plaster to the two Franklin Mills flour sacks and a 1916 Lillie Mills letter hanging in the kitchen, Marty has used her decorating skills to pay homage to LilliHouse’s past. Two original flour sacks hang in Marty’s kitchen. Another Franklin hot spot where you can find a Lillie Mills flour sack is on the wall at Triple Crown Bakery.

This letter to an Alabama grocery store from the Lillie Mill Company provides a fascinating glimpse at the inner workings of a Franklin industry.

Framed artwork of LilliHouse from Marty’s collection

Not only has she honored the home’s history, but she’s also added another beautiful chapter to the story. Franklin Lady flour may have built LilliHouse, but a different lady turned it into an inviting home.

The LilliHouse | Marty Ligon | Franklin TN

Thanks to Marty, LilliHouse will long be remembered as a place of celebration, warm welcomes, and unparalleled décor. 

The Ligons are an integral part of the community and one of the many reasons Franklin is such a beloved place. We thank them for their commitment to preservation from the LilliHouse and Riverside to Carnton and Harlinsdale Farm.

Many thanks to Trenton Lee Photography for the stunning pictures of LilliHouse, Rick Warwick for the historic photos, and the Williamson County Archives for their invaluable help in tracking LilliHouse’s chain of ownership.

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  1. What a beautiful read this is. Thank you Buffie for your hard work and what you are doing for Franklin. I hope all this works its way into a book!

    Keep it up!

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