The Thompson Family
Thomas Thompson (1759-1837) established Glen Leven Farm in 1790, six years before Tennessee became the 16th state of the United States. With the exception of two years, members of the Thompson family owned Glen Leven Farm from 1790 to 2006. When you cross Franklin Pike on Thompson Lane today, you are at the original northern edge of the property on a road named for the family.
The Establishment of Glen Leven Farm
A North Carolinian by birth, Thomas Thompson (1759-1837) arrived with the first group of settlers in what would become Nashville during the winter of 1779-1780 and signed the Cumberland Compact. Thompson registered the farm with a 640-acre Revolutionary War land grant in 1790 and built a blockhouse near present-day 715 Thompson Lane, currently the site of the Pepsi Bottling Company.
Home and Outbuildings
The centerpiece of Glen Leven Farm is the historic house, which was designed by Nashville architect A.E. Franklin and constructed in 1857. The house, which still stands today, was built for Mary Hamilton House Thompson (1823-1901), the fourth wife of John Thompson (1793-1876) — it is the third house that has stood on this site. Brick and mortar analysis confirm that the bricks used to build the home were handmade on site. The house was likely built by people enslaved at Glen Leven Farm, and some of the stonework may have been done by an Italian stone mason.
The house is Federal in style, featuring a two-story Greek Revival-style portico with four fluted wooden columns topped with cast-iron Corinthian capitals. The farm also retains several domestic and agricultural outbuildings, including a carriage house, a cistern, a springhouse, a smokehouse, a farm office, two barns, and a subterranean greenhouse.
African American Community in the 19th Century
What we know of the African American community at Glen Leven Farm in the 19th century is derived mostly from personal letters, newspapers, census data, and John Thompson’s account books. John Thompson kept meticulous records of those who were born into slavery at Glen Leven Farm, recording over 140 enslaved persons who were born on the property between 1816 and 1862. Little is known about their lives, but these people would likely have maintained the house, prepared and served meals, washed the family’s laundry, and planted, cultivated, and harvested crops. During the Civil War, most of the people enslaved at Glen Leven left the farm. It is believed at least ten men who were enslaved at Glen Leven were impressed into service during the construction of Fort Negley before the Battle of Nashville in 1864. Additionally, three men who helped build Fort Negley (Henry, Paul, and Simon Thompson) were listed as members of the 12th regiment of the United States Colored Troops. By 1870, only one African American family remained at Glen Leven, and it appears that they left in the 1870s.
John Thompson (1793-1876)
Thomas’s son, John Thompson (1793-1876), expanded Glen Leven Farm to approximately 950 acres. By the 1840s, 74 enslaved people lived and worked on the farm. In addition to expanding the operations of the farm, John invested in the Franklin Turnpike in Nashville and in the railroad. He also owned commercial properties in downtown Nashville.
Glen Leven in the Civil War
Glen Leven was located between the lines of occupation and, as a result, was subject to raiding and looting. In December 1864, the home became the headquarters for Lt. General Stephen D. Lee of the Confederacy. When the Battle of Nashville began on December 15, Glen Leven stood behind the Confederate line, located roughly where Thompson Lane is today. That day, the troops were pushed back south of the house. Some of the retreating Confederate soldiers stopped to drink water from the Thompson family’s cistern and trampled Mary Thompson’s decorative flower garden in the process. After the battle, the home became a field hospital, treating both Union and Confederate soldiers. At least 400 soldiers were treated at Glen Leven Farm before being transferred to larger hospitals. Ninety-one soldiers, including 32 USCT, died in the house and on the grounds and were buried on the property. These men were later reinterred in the National Cemetery in Nashville.
Today, Glen Leven Farm remains the largest intact piece of the Battle of Nashville battlefield.
John M. Thomson (1852-1919)
At John Thompson’s death, the property was divided between his two sons. The elder son, John M. Thompson (1852-1919), inherited the western portion of the property and the house, which look much as they did during his lifetime. He married the girl next door, Mary McConnell Overton (1858-1924), of nearby Travellers Rest, and he was a farmer, state senator, commissioner of agriculture, and breeder of shorthorn cattle and horses.
Throughout the 19th century, the family cultivated crops typical of the region: wheat, tobacco, and a variety of vegetables and fruit, including potatoes, tomatoes, kale, apples, and strawberries. Cattle, hogs, sheep, chickens, and horses were also raised at Glen Leven.
Susan West & The Land Trust for Tennessee
At John M. Thompson’s death, the farm was divided between his five adult children; three of them lived successively at Glen Leven until 1968. From 1969-1971, the house tract passed briefly out of the family and was owned by Nashville record producer Shelby Singleton (1931-2009).
In 1971, Susan West (1939-2006), the great-great-great-granddaughter of Thomas Thompson, bought back the house and five acres surrounding it, which adjoined land inherited by her mother. Susan came to Glen Leven already owning a small cattle farm in College Grove, Tennessee, and possessing a clear passion for farming life. Susan donated Glen Leven Farm to The Land Trust for Tennessee through her will, because she wanted the land to be protected forever. The Land Trust for Tennessee took ownership in 2006.
Glen Leven was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008, being notable for its settlement patterns and agricultural history in Davidson County, and it earned its designation as an arboretum in 2012 by The Nashville Tree Foundation. The Land Trust for Tennessee undertook a stabilization campaign of the house and farm outbuildings in 2012 and 2013. In 2014, Glen Leven Farm participated as a living history site during the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Nashville.
Glen Leven Farm Today
Today, The Land Trust for Tennessee’s Middle Tennessee office is located at the historic home and farm and the team cares for the farm as a place that showcases many aspects of its work and commitment to land conservation. The Land Trust for Tennessee provides tours by appointment, as well as community open days, field trip programs, and events to share the unique story of this place and its role throughout the history of Nashville.
Glen Leven in the Civil War
Learn more about Glen Leven in the Civil War by viewing our exhibit on display, “Between The Battle Lines,” sponsored by the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area and the Civil War Trust. See the display
Glen Leven Farm Historic Structure Report and Archaeological Reconnaissance Survey
Following a series of discussions and workshops in 2008 and 2009 with groups including The National Trust for Historic Preservation, Middle Tennessee State University’s Center for Historic Preservation published an Historic Structure Report and Archaeological Reconnaissance Survey, including a history of the family and land. The report was made possible through the hard work of many, including leadership from MTSU Center for Historic Preservation Director and State Historian, Dr. Carroll Van West.
For More Information:
For more information about The Land Trust for Tennessee’s Glen Leven Farm and additional resources and references, please contact us.