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Ashwood Hall: Keeping it in the family

Updated: Mar 6

Ashwood Hall was built in Columbia between 1833-1837 for Bishop Leonidas Polk (1806-1864) and Frances “Fanny” Ann Devereux Polk.

Photo from Tennessee State Library & Archives

They married in 1830. The land was given to him by his father, Colonel William Polk. The plantation was located about halfway between Columbia and Mt. Pleasant near the intersection of Trotwood Ave. and Polk Lane. He graduated from West Point but decided to go into the ministry and entered Theological Seminary in Virginia. Polk was ordained in 1830. He was given duties as rector of St. Peter’s Parish in Columbia, TN. In 1833, he moved his family to Columbia to live on Ashwood Plantation, land given to him by his father. They stayed at his brother’s Hamilton Place while Ashwood Hall was built.

Shortly after the enormous mansion, also known as the Marble Mansion, was built, he moved to Louisiana in 1838 as Missionary Bishop of the Southwest. Two years later, in 1841, he was appointed Bishop of Louisiana which encompassed Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana. During this time, he also tried to operate and manage a sugarcane plantation called Leighton Plantation in Louisiana but was forced to sell because of heavy debt. One of his goals was to establish an Episcopal center of learning for the priesthood and for Southern gentlemen in the South, and through his efforts, he helped found the University of the South which began construction in 1860.

In 1847, he sold Ashwood to Rebecca VanLeer Polk (1827-1904), heiress to an iron fortune (Cumberland Furnace), who had married his brother Andrew Jackson Polk (1824-1867) the year prior. Rebecca’s sister was Eleanora VanLeer Kirkman of Oak Hill. Andrew was a planter in Maury County. Afterward, the family went to live in Europe and mostly France. In 1877, the Polk daughter met and married General Baron Athanase -Charles de Charette, de La Contrie and became known as Marie Antoinette Wayne vanLeer de Charette, Baroness de Charette and lived in Paris and on an estate in Nantes. The entire family continued receiving their income from several Tennessee plantations.

In 1874, the property was destroyed by fire. The family and the mansion are remembered by Polk Lane and the community known as Ashwood. From 1841-1956, there was a post office called Ashwood serving the area.See Hamilton Place, Oak Hill, Rattle and Snap

[When the Civil War broke out, Leonidas Polk renounced his duties in the Episcopal Church and through his friendship with Jefferson Davis (who was his former roommate at West Point), became an officer in the Confederacy. He became known as the “Fighting Bishop” during his service in the Civil War. He was killed in action in Georgia.]


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