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Far Hills/ Tennessee Governor's Residence - Third One

Updated: Apr 4

Far Hills was built in 1931 on South Curtiswood Lane (originally part Glen Leven Rd.) off Franklin Pike. William Ridley Wills (1897-1957) and Jessie Ely Wills (1872-1965) erected this 3-story Georgian-style mansion on 10 acres. The Wills had built a home on Louise Ave. in 1914 (Louise Ave. was constructed in 1912). Decades later, the building became home to Jimmy Kelly's Steakhouse. The Joel Cheek family lived next door.

Photo from TN State Lib Arch. 1949

He was one of the founders of National Life and Accident Insurance Co. (NL&A) He was also a member of the Board of Trust of Vanderbilt University and vice president of Monroe Harding Children’s Home. Under his watch, in 1925, NL&A created the radio station WSM and thereafter a country music variety show that became known as the Grand Ole Opry. NL&A used the popularity of the radio and radio shows to promote its insurance policies and assist the salesforce. The call sign for WSM came from the NL&A slogan “We Shield Millions.” In 1936, he suffered a recurrence of what today would be called depression and was admitted to the Stevens Sanitarium on Murfreesboro Rd. He remained there until his death in 1949.

Photo from TN State Lib Arch - 1955

Their son, Jesse Ely Wills (1900-1977), was a member of the Fugitive poetry group at Vanderbilt University in the 1920s and showed tremendous promise as a poet. He followed his father’s path and served executive positions at National Life: 1953, vice president, 1963, president and chief executive officer, 1965, board chairman, and was a director from 1926-1977. Jesse returned to writing in 1953 and published several works: Early and Late, 1959; Conversation Piece, 1965, Nashville and Other Poems, 1973; and Selected Poems, 1975.

Jesse married Ellen McClung Buckner (1906-2000) in 1930, and they moved into Mead Haven at near Percy Warner Park at 1201 Belle Meade Blvd. He was a member of the Vanderbilt Board of Trust from 1958 until his death as well as serving as a member of the Board’s Executive Committee until 1970. Ellen was a descendant of the McClung family that laid out the city of Knoxville and has been very successful and prominent since. He inherited Far Hills, but did not reside there.

In 1947, the State of Tennessee wished to find a new Governor’s Residence and move from the former Cheek mansion on West End. The special committee considered the Far Hills property along with Rogers Caldwell’s Brentwood House and the Kirkman’s Oak Hill for the governor’s Executive Mansion. Nothing happened at that time. In 1949, enough interest was garnered in the Tennessee State Legislature to consider the move. The property was purchased by the State of Tennessee and became the Executive Residence of Tennessee’s Governor in 1949. Far Hills was named by the Wills’ son, Jesse, for the view of the Overton Hills to the west.

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