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Clifton Place: First of the Pillow Mansions

Updated: Jun 26

6197 Trotwood Ave. Columbia, TN

Circa 1839. 2-story Greek Revival mansion


Clifton Place was built for Gen. Gideon Johnson Pillow (1806-1877) and Mary Elizabeth Martin Pillow (1812-1869) on Mt. Pleasant Pike near Columbia.


In 1872, Pillow married again to Mary Eliza Dickson Trigg Pillow - 1846-1913.) The Greek Revival mansion sat on 725 acres. It was the first of three mansions built for three Pillow brothers (Pillow-Bethell House/ Bethell Place, Pillow Place/ Pillow-Haliday Place) and one of the largest in Maury Co. Soon after starting his law practice, he helped coedit the Digest and Revision of the Statute Laws of Tennessee and began a very lucrative practice. In 1831, Gideon was appointed district attorney general and was very involved in national politics as a friend of James Polk. By 1860, the Pillows were one of the largest landholders in the South and possibly the wealthiest Tennesseans at the time. Clifton Place was one of the largest plantation homes. The farm operation was also one of the most progressive and utilized the latest farm economics and diversification techniques. The Pillows also purchased large land holdings in Mississippi and Arkansas. Gideon was very influential in assisting his friend James K. Polk to win election for president.


After Mary Pillow’s death, because of financial troubles, the property was sold to daughter, Sallie Polk Pillow Williams (1847-1913), and her husband, (Henry) Melville "Mell" Williams (1846-1927), in 1872. They wed in 1871. "Mell" was the well-off nephew of Memphis, TN industrialist, Enoch Ensley and Mary Leavenworth Beecher Ensley.


Seven years later, another relative, Col. James Webb Smith (J.W.S.) Ridley (1824-1897), purchased the property in 1977. He was married to Anne “Annie” Pillow Ridley (1836-1893. Col. Ridley opened Maury County Bank & Trust Company in 1891 as president. Two years later, in 1893, it became Maury National Bank.


By 1883, Clifton Place was thriving again with stock raising and farming, and the Ridley family was wealthy. Ridley also helped found and was president of Maury Bank & Trust Co. in 1891.


The Ridley family held the property until 1972 when John Raymond Neal (1940-2018) and Catherine Clay Neal purchased it. The Neal family was close friends with Jack C. Massey of Brook House. After Massey and John Y. Brown purchased Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), Neal became Corporate Senior Director of Finance from 1967-1970. In 1970, he formed JRN, Inc., moved to Columbia and purchased Clifton Place. He invested in State Bank of Tennessee. JRN owns and operates KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Long John Silvers restaurants in 11 states. In 1984, Neal founded Neal Auction Co. in New Orleans. He was a noted authority on American decorative arts from the 19th century as well as a Board member and treasurer of the Victorian Society of America in Philadelphia.


The name comes from the Clifton Turnpike built in 1840 by the Pillow and Polk families and investors. The intent was to facilitate the shipping of cotton from their farms to the Tennessee River at Clifton, TN. From that point, the cotton would be less expensively sent downriver for sale in New Orleans. NRHP 1970 See Pillow-Bethell House/ Bethell Place, Pillow Place/ Pillow-Haliday Place


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