Historic Structures

Building History Fairview Mansion - Isaac Franklin Plantation, Gallatin Tennessee

Isaac Franklin, the builder, was the son of James Franklin, a man neither rich nor poor. He was born on Station Camp Creek, May 26th, 1789, being the son of one of middle Tennesseefs early pioneers, he was endowed with the spirit of conquest and development and at an early age began his long march toward mundane accomplishments which eventually made possible his great philanthropies.

He went to work for his brothers, James and John, in 1807, trading Tennessee goods in New Orleans.

By 1819 he was selling slaves in Natchez, Mississippi, and in 1824, he became associated with John Armfield (1797-1871), a former stagecoach driver, who assisted him in buying slaves. The partnership of Franklin and Armfield, formed in 1828, soon became one of the best-known slave trading firms in the South. Its headquarters, managed by Armfield, were at 1315 Duke Street in Alexandria, Virginia, and sales offices, managed by Franklin, were located in New Orleans and Natchez.

During the early 1830s, Franklin and Armfield were sending 1,000 to 1,200 slaves annually to the lower Mississippi Valley, with annual profits of more than $100,000.

"But along with wealth," according to Franklin's biographer, "had come a modicum of stigma resulting from participation in a business that was tolerated only because it was regarded as a necessity." About the age of forty, he began to consider withdrawing from the slave trade and establishing himself as a planter. By 1831 Franklin had purchased ten or twelve tracts of land, totaling about two thousand acres, near his family homestead in Sumner County, Tennessee. The following year, he began the construction of Fairvue, and by 1836, he had given up all active involvement in the slave trade. While work continued on the house in Tennessee, Franklin spent considerable time in the country below Natchez, adding to his landholdings in 1835 an undivided half of almost eight thousand acres in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana.

With the success which he enjoyed at Fairview came a desire to extend his operations afar. Going into Louisiana where in May 1835 purchased the undivided half of near 8,000 acres of land in West Feliciana, upward of 200 slaves and all of the stock necessary for the immense plantation and immediately formed a partnership with a resident of the Parish for the purpose of carrying on, as it was expressed, the business of planting upon several plantations situated in the Parish. A few years later he became "the undivided proprietor of the vast plantations in which he was before interested had accumulated together more than five sixths of his colossal fortune in immovable property" (Louisiana Supreme Court).

In 1839 a great change took place at Fairview. A macadamized surface was put on the drive up to the house. Isaac also in this year, on July 2nd, married Miss Adalicia Hayes of Nashville, daughter of a prominent citizen, lawyer and Mason of Nashville. While it is not definitely known, we presume that this was also the year that the addition to the right of the house was made. It came after several years of activity in Louisiana and the resulting influence of the architecture of that section, and at a time when, by virtue of his having married, he would, perforce, need more space in which to live and entertain In keeping with the social prominence he had attained and his wife had inherited.

Knowing that Franklin experienced close contact with Spanish buildings, and realizing his need for more room, it seems reasonable to assume that the Spanish wing would have been added after being in Louisiana and at the time of his marriage.

By 1841 Franklin had acquired more land in Louisiana to where his holdings numbered three large plantations in West Feliciana Parish and many hundreds of slaves in addition to his holdings at Fairview, but his desire for more wealth was insatiable and during his last five years he acquired four more plantations in Louisiana, so that at his death in 1846 his widow was reported to be the wealthiest woman in America.

During all his busy life of building up his great fortune, Franklin seemed to have time for developing the cultural side of his life and all who came in contact with him. Recognizing the needs for more adequate educational institutions for those less fortunate, and desiring to establish a foundation for his descendants, he caused to be placed in his will provisions for carrying out these desires. His philanthropies were greater, and preceded by five years, those of Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the country's first big philanthropists.

No direct descendent of Franklin received the benefits of these provisions for any length of time after his death for his two youngest daughters died shortly thereafter and his oldest daughter died unmarried.

In 1349 his widow married Col. J. A. Acklen, of Huntsville, moved to Nashville and built another house - Belmont -which was destined to be another of Tennessee's most famous houses.

In 1882 Mrs. Acklin sold Fairview to Chas. Reed of New York, who converted the estate into a gigantic nursery for breeding and training fine horses. It is said that no expense was spared and this is exemplified by his building every stall in the stable out of oak, each carefully finished by expert cabinet makers. In all his activities, Mr. Reed was equally as lavish, but though his horses brought much in the market and his income was large, it was not enough to maintain the pace that he had started. Realizing his over-indulgence he sold off all his horses and lived quietly at Fairview for several years.

The glory that was Fairview's passed away when Reed was no longer able to continue. After several transactions the house was finally bought by Grasslands foundation and it seemed that Fairview was to occupy again its former position of importance. Grasslands Foundation was a corporation composed of some of the Nation's best known names in the realms of industry, sport and the arts, it was their plan to restore the house and grounds, acquire more land and in short to develope an enormous play ground for hunting, fishing, riding, etc. This enormous dream enjoyed an ephemral existence. The depression in 1929 was the end of Grasslands foundation, and Fairview was sold "under the hammer".