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Glen Leven Farm: A Thompson Family home

Updated: Feb 29

Glen Leven Farm stands at 4000 Franklin Pike.


Photo by Mark Mosrie


The property was settled in 1790 by Thomas (Tommy) Thompson and Nancy Thompson who were some of the original Nashville settlers. They started their farm with a 640 acre Revolutionary War grant and built a blockhouse on what is now the crest of Thompson Lane near present 715 Thompson Lane. Tommy died in 1837. About 67 years after the blockhouse, the home was built in 1857 on nearly 650 acres by their son, John Thompson (1793-1876).


It is a 2 story Federal style home. John increased the plantation to about 950 acres and built the Federal style home called Glen Leven. In 1823, John married his first wife, Mary Elizabeth Washington. She died in 1826. In 1830, John married Betsy Turley Buchanan, and she tragically died in 1831 during childbirth. In 1832, John married his third wife Martha Dunn Rawlings. She died in 1848. John married his fourth wife, Mary Hamilton House (1823-1901) in 1851. John successfully increased the fortunes of Glen Leven. In the late 1820s, he promoted and was an investor in the first major turnpike in Middle Tennessee, the Franklin Turnpike which was established in 1829. He was an initial member of the board of commissioners for the Nashville and Alabama Railroad. Both of these transportation hubs passed by near his plantation. John also owned real estate in downtown Nashville. Glen Leven was in the midst of some Civil War battles and served as a field hospital.


After John’s death in 1876 , his eldest son, John M. Thompson (1852-1919), received the greater share of land (450+ acres) on the western tract with the Glen Leven home and resided there with his wife, Mary “Conn” McConnell Overton (1858-1924). They wed in 1878. She was the daughter of Judge John Overton of Travellers Rest - the next door neighbor. His mother, Mary Hamilton, remained at Glen Leven. (Their son, Joseph “Joe” H., built Brightwood on his portion of the estate.) He was a farmer, cattle and horse breeder, and involved with government as a state senator including Speaker of the State Senate (1897-99) and was Commissioner of Agriculture from 1907-1911. From 1887-1897, the Hermitage Stud racetrack was establsihed and operated. After a daughter died of diptheria, the Thompson family moved up Franklin Rd. to Travelers Rest for health reason from 1888-1890. Thompson was an investor in teh Cumberland Fair adn Racing Association and later built a racetrack and stables at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds (site soon held the Centennial Exposition then transformed to current Centennial Park).


After John M.’s death in 1919, his 5 adult children received portions, and three of the children lived at Glen Leven until 1968. Their daughter Mary Hamilton Thompson Orr (1879-1969), her husband Samuel Hunter Orr (1868-1920) and their family inherited and resided at Glen Leven. Orr was a banker. She traded houses with her sister Conn Thompson Harris for financial reasons. Conn and her husband Dr. A. W. Harris lived there for 20 years. The farm stretched east to approximately the current Powell Ave. as it adjoined the Thompson's Brightwood acreage.


From 1969-1971, the property with 5 acres was owned by a non-family member: Shelby Singleton who was a Nashville record producer. Singleton had just produced the Jeannie C. Riley hit "Harper Valley PTA"; however, he never moved in.


In 1970-71, Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) bought 25 acres on the east border of the property for a section of I-65 construction. Then in 1983, TDOT wanted another 9 acres to build an interstate exchange to connect I-65 with Armory Drive. That was finalized in 1987.


In 1971, Susan McConnell West (1939-2006) bought the property and its 5 acres. Susan was the great-great-great-granddaughter of Thomas Thompson and had inherited land from her mother’s estate that adjoined Glen Leven. She owned a cattle farm in College Grove already. She willed the home and 65 acres to the Land Trust of TN in 2006 after her death. The Land Trust of Tennessee is now headquartered at the farm. Aside from 2 years in the 1970s, the land has remained in the family since its inception.


The stories of Glen Leven’s name originate from two relatives. The first version from Martha Thompson is that a traveler remarked on the beautiful view and said it resembled one from the island castle of Loch Leven in Scotland whose plantation was also named Glen Leven. The second version from Mary Thompson Orr, John’s granddaughter, is that the origin comes from Martha’s fondness of reading Scottish literature and novels and had picked the name from one of those sources. The home is also recognized with Glen Leven Dr. nearby. NRHP 2008 See also Bellwood, Travellers Rest, Brightwood


Sources:

Nashville Pikes Vol 1, pp. 138-148

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