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Riverview (Montgomery Co.)/ Benfolly: A Literary Sanctuary

Photo from Eleanor Williams

The home holding so much area history stands west of downtown Clarksville on Cumberland Heights Rd. and was originally on five acres.

Built in 1823 by Charles Green Rayburn, a riverboat captain (?-1868). Sold to (Joseph) Englebert Gaisser (1820-1887) and Margaret Simon Gaisser (1831-1916) about 1865. Riverview remained in the Gaisser family for about 60 years.

In 1930, Riverview was purchased by Ben Tate for his brother, Allen Tate (1899-1979) and wife Caroline Gordon (1895-1981) since Tate couldn’t afford the cost. It was called locally “Benfolly.” They wed in 1925, split & remarried in 1946, then split again in 1959. While an undergraduate student, Allen was a member of The Fugitives, a very influential literary group based at Vanderbilt University, and Caroline was also involved in the literature world with multiple books published.

For the eight years, the Tate/Gordon family resided there, Benfolly was a very active literature haven. Many of their writer friends, especially The Fugitives, regularly stayed and created there. Andrew Lytle recalled that it was nationally known as a special place for writers. They resided there until 1938 when they moved because of financial difficulty. Tate taught in 1934 at Southwestern in Memphis. He then was head of Princeton University’s Creative Writing program in 1939. He was vital in helping Andrew Lytle raise The Sewanee Review to great prominence.

For just over a decade, Riverview was in the Northington family's hands. In 1946, Arch and Lillian “Lillie” H. Frost Northington bought the property and restored it. He also renovated a second home on the front for his stepson Jack Frost and his wife Evelyn.

Felix Woodard (1903-?) owned the home from 1957 to 1971. He continued to call the place Riverview. Woodard was Dean of Faculty at Austin Peay State University (APSU) for many years and hosted many events at Riverview. Woodard retired in 1968, and APSU remodeled the school’s library and renamed it in his honor in 1971. In an article, Charlotte Jolly recalls visiting Riverview regularly with Woodard's social gatherings.

The next year, in 1972, Hayden and Charlotte Jolly purchased the home. Charlotte remarked in a story that they had a view of the Cumberland River and the narrow Cunningham Bridge. Because of renewed interest in Allen Tate & Caroline Gordon, the Jolly family reverted back to the Benfolly name. Because they needed a one story home, they sold Benfolly to the Bonningtons.

In 1992, Dr. and Mrs Stuart Bonnington purchased. Dr. Bonnington is a professor of psychology at APSU. About 1993 Hayden B. Jolly, Jr. (1932-2002) and Elizabeth Jolly purchased the house to return it to Jolly ownership. The Jolly family lived at a couple residences on Forbes Ave. NRHP 1979


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