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Brentwood Hall/ Ellington Agricultural Center - Part of Rogers Caldwell's Legend

Photo from Tenn. State Lib.Arcgives

Rogers Clark Caldwell (1890-1968) was an important, influential and controversial figure in Tennessee and Southern history. He and Margaret Trousdale Caldwell (1894-1961) married in 1913. He was the son of James and May Caldwell of Longview just north of their new home. Margaret was the great-granddaughter of Gen. Gideon and Mary Martin Pillow of Clifton Place.

As Caldwell’s business career ascended, the couple built Brentwood Hall at 440 Hogan Rd. off Franklin Pike and completed it in 1927. It sat on 207 acres of woodland. Brentwood Hall was modeled after The Hermitage. Caldwell was a major financier of the South through Caldwell & Co. through the Bank of Tennessee in the 1920s and 30s. He had started at his father’s bank and then in 1917 opened his own firm. In the late 1920s, Caldwell had a fortune of about $650M and was referred to as the “J.P. Morgan of the South.” Caldwell’s motto for Caldwell & Co. was “We Bank on the South,” and he actively desired to restore the South’s economic reputation in the post-Civil War era. After the Crash of 1929, Caldwell & Co. began a slow descent into financial trouble and eventually triggered a collapse of about 100 banks across the South in part because Caldwell & Co. had heavily financed the banks with bonds which began to default.

Photo from Tenn. State Lib. Archives

By 1930, it held 6 insurance companies, 75 banks, 3 metropolitan newspapers, other businesses such as hotels, department stores, mills, mines, real estate, an oil company, a laundry company and the Nashville Vols baseball team. With Luke Lea, Caldwell bought the Memphis Commercial-Appeal and the Knoxville Journal in the late 1920s. He also formed Southern Publishing to include the newspapers. In the fall of 1930, Tennessee’s state superintendent of banks took over the Bank of Tennessee and removed Caldwell’s control over it. Just three years after building the mansion, the State of Tennessee tried to seize Caldwell’s estate, but it took years because of Caldwell’s complicated financing. Because Caldwell had used the Bank of Tennessee’s money to build his mansion and had located it on a portion of his family’s land, it took years to work through the courts and the Caldwell family continued residing at Brentwood House for 30 years until 1957.

In 1957, the Caldwell family was forced to vacate Brentwood Hall, and they moved to the Walker-Ridley House in Franklin where they resided until both Margaret and Rogers died. In 1958, Buford Ellington was elected governor and he set up his transitional offices in Brentwood Hall. Then he began moving Tennessee Department of Agriculture offices from downtown to the property because more space was needed. By 1950, the new Agriculture Commissioner had moved onto the property. And the next year, 1961, the property was named in honor of Governor Buford T. Ellington as the Ellington Agricultural Center. See Clifton Place, Longview


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