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(River View)/ Fortland at Fortland Farms

Updated: Apr 4

Photo from Tennessee State Library and Archives

River View was built in 1855 near the present Riverside Dr. and Eastland Ave. for Hiram Vaughn (1827-1905).

His father David Vaughn had amassed a considerable tract of land in Middle Tennessee. His “Homestead Tract” held 1,030 acres and ran from the Cumberland River to two hundred yards into present Shelby Park from Riverside Dr. to Eastland Ave. then to present Cornelia Fort and back to Cumberland River.

After buying land from other family members and accumulating more in general, Hiram built his own home River View near his family’s home. Hiram and brother Michael built a free turnpike known as Vaughn Pike from the family property to Gallatin Pike near Bransford and Stratton roads in 1850. This route turned into Eastland Ave. He had two wives: Catherine A. Hobbs (married 1848 or 1851, died 1853) and Martha Ann Johnson (1831-1900) married in1858. Hiram and Martha Ann’s daughter, Sarah, wed Washington B. and Anne L. Cooper’s son, James L. Cooper, and they moved to a farm in East Nashville on Riverside Dr. near the Riverview.

After Hiram’s death, in 1909, Dr. Rufus Elijah Fort (1872-1940) married Louise Clark (1886-1970), and they bought the place and renamed it Fortland. Dr. Fort was a surgeon and co-founder, vp and medical director of Nashville Life and Accident Insurance Co. He also raised cattle and became nationally known as a breeder of Jersey cattle. From 1897-1903, he was chief surgeon at Nashville General Hospital; from 1902-1920, was chief surgeon of the Tennessee Central Railway; and helped found Protestant Hospital in 1919 and later served as chairman of the executive committee.

One daughter, Cornelia Fort, was famous in aviation. She became the first female pilot in Nashville and served during World War II in the Women’s Auxiliary Flying Service (WAFs). While training another pilot on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, she was one of the first Americans to witness the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Taking back control of the plane, she got back to her base and avoided injury when the Japanese strafed her plane. Two other civilian training flights did not return to the base. In 1943, she became the first WAF to die in the line of duty in a routine mission between California and Texas [In 1977, U.S. Congress .

Their daughter, Louise Clark Fort Merritt (1941-1973) married Judge Gilbert Merritt, Jr. (1936-2022) in 1964, and they purchased the McEwen House in 1971 - which Louise enjoyed for two years until her death. Judge Merritt was a U.S. Attorney for Middle Tennessee from 1966-69. During his tenure, he appointed the first female, Martha Craig Daughtrey, and the firt Black person, Carlton Petway, to serve as assistant U.S. Attorneys for the Middle Tennessee district. He was a Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit from 1977-2001 and served as Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit 1989-1996. Merritt's family included Merritt, Donelson and Cantrell families associated with Cleveland Hall, Stone Hall, and others.

Another daughter, Agnes Stokes Fort More, married Livingfield More and lived in Williamson Co. at River Grange Farm

After the house burned down in 1942, the Fortland subdivision was started. In 1945, Cornelia Fort Airport was built near the Fortland farm area and named in her honor. The family is also remembered by Fortland Dr. in the area. See also Washington B. Cooper House, Cleveland Hall, Stone Hall, Locust Valley/ River Grange Farm, Breezemont at Stokes Farm, Three Terraces


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