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Buena Vista/ St. Cecilia Motherhouse: The Sisters Are Still There

Updated: May 7

Looking from their new home, the Becks had a “buena vista,” a good view in Spanish. They could look north over the fertile bottomlands stretching to the Cumberland River or east toward the highlands near Ft. Nashborough.

John Everett Beck, Jr. (1783-1818) and Lavinia Robertson Beck Craighead (1790-1866) built Buena Vista in 1811. They purchased some of the former David McGavock property. It was located on 300 acres at the end of 8th Ave. North on a rise where the St. Cecilia Motherhouse currently is.

The 2 story frame home was built in the area where Freeland’s Station had been earlier. John was a well-known attorney. Lavinia was the youngest daughter of James and Charlotte Robertson of Traveler’s Rest/ Richland. Nearby Old Denton’s Lick was renamed Buena Vista Springs. Lavinia created beautiful flower gardens near the home. John was a founder of the Nashville Female Academy in 1816. After John died, she married John Brown Craighead, Jr. - related to Rev. Thomas Craighead and Evergreen and Glen Echo in 1823 - and moved to the western side of Nashville off the Richland Turnpike at his home.

In 1831, Lavinia sold the property to John Patton Erwin (1795-1857) and Frances “Frannie” Lanier Williams Erwin. They wed in 1815. Erwin was the son of Andrew and Jane Patton Erwin. Andrew had been a representative in the North Carolina House of Commons and the first postmaster of Asheville. He had owned many properties in Tennessee including Old Stone Fort near Manchester.

John's brother, James Erwin, wed Ann Brown Clay, daughter of Henry Clay of Kentucky. His sister, Jane, married Thomas Yeatman, a banker and merchant in Nashville. their cousin, Jane Erwin Dickinson had wed Charles Dickinson, who was unfriendly with Andrew Jackson. Frannie's brother was John Williams who had married Melinda White, daughter of James White, founder of Knoxville and sister-in-law of John Overton. Her brother, Thomas Lanier Williams, was an attorney, served as a justice on the Tennessee Supreme Court, and was Chancellor of Tennessee. [Thomas' namesake, Thomas Lanier Williams III, became a playwright and known as Tennessee Williams!] John had been an Alderman then in 1821 a mayor of Nashville for 2 terms. During the early 1820s, Erwin got into financial difficulties and became bankrupt. Frannie's father, Joe, sent her brother, Thomas Lanier Williams to Nashville to "fix matters." Frannie's assets were separated from her husband's assets and willed to her children. Household items were purchased by friends and returned to Fannie. In 1825, he became editor of the Nashville Whig. By 1826, he resigned the editorship and accepted appointment as Postmaster in Nashville by Pres. John Quincy Adams for 4 years.

The Erwin's daughters, Rebecca Jane, married Major Andrew Goff and lived at Glencliff; Amelia Patton wed Theodore Yeatman. He was a banker and owned and was captain of the "Tennessee" steamboat. Later, they also owned a hotel west of Nashivlle in Kingston Springs; and Mary Louise wed Charles E. Hillman who built a Nashville iron and hardware fortune.

About 30 years after purchasing the place and after John's death, Fannie sold Buena Vista and some portion of the land to the Dominican Order for the establishment of a Daughters of Charity Motherhouse and St. Cecilia Academy - current address 801 Dominican Dr..

A groups of Dominican Order nuns had been called and recruited to Nashville to start a girls school in 1860. St.Cecilia Academy opened and graduated its first students in 1862 and remained open despite great financial hardship during the Civil War. In 1904, the Daughters of Charity continued to accumulate more adjacent land to expand their campus.

About 1923, the sisters purchased Overbrook on Harding Rd. and its land from the Joe Warner family. Soon thereafter, St. Cecilia Academy was moved to that western suburban land and later Overbrook and St. Aquinas Junior College opened. The St. Cecilia Motherhouse remains on the land and the street in front of the motherhouse remains called Dominican Dr.. The neighborhood remains known as Buena Vista. See John Brown Craighead Home, Evergreen, Glen Echo, Overbrook


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