History of the Mansion

Riverwood Mansion is one of Nashville’s historical treasures. The Metropolitan Historical Commission has identified it as one of Nashville’s most significant historic structures. Built in the late 1790′s among its original 2,500 acres, Riverwood is one of Nashville’s oldest homes, and at 9,200 square feet, it is one of the largest. Known for its lavish parties, with famous guests including seven U.S. presidents. We continue the tradition of making unforgettable memories.

Alexander Porter and his family are responsible for the original buildings that make up Riverwood Mansion today. Born in Ireland, he became a powerful member of the Nashville community by owning considerable commercial property in the area. Originally named Tammany Woods after his family home in Northern Ireland, Riverwood underwent several renovations while he owned it. Many experts attribute the Greek revival influences to architect William Strickland, who also designed the Tennessee State Capitol.

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In 1859, the house was sold to William Frierson Cooper a member of the influential Cooper family of Columbia. He changed the name to Riverwood since it sat upon bluff's overlooking the river. A respected lawyer and politician Cooper was a member of the committee who wrote the Tennessee state codes. He later became chief justice of the Supreme Court of Tennessee. Although he remained a bachelor his entire life, he invited his brothers and their wives to share the home with him since the family had become increasing involved in the politics of the state and needed a home for conducting their entertaining in Nashville.

In the late 1880-90's the house went though another extensive remodeling at which time, plumbing and electricity was added. At that time, the dining room was extended and the two houses were joined, creating an additional room on the second floor directly over the downstairs portion of the addition. From that time however, no other major work was done on the interior or exterior of the house, and it has remained virtually untouched.


Upon his death, William deeded the house to his brother Duncan Cooper, an influential lawyer and politician who gained notoriety during the Civil War as a cavalryman under Nathan Bedford Forrest. He was known as the "Francis Marion of the Confederacy" and was an affective guerrilla leader in Middle Tennessee until he was captured in 1864. After the war, he returned to Nashville and engaged in a number of pursuits: adventurer, businessman, railroad engineer, newspaperman and politician. National notoriety came to him in 1908 as a personal dispute with Edward Carmack ended in the controversial shooting and death of Carmack in the streets of Nashville.

Duncan Cooper and Family on the steps of Riverwood Mansion

Duncan Cooper and Family on the steps of Riverwood Mansion

He retired from public life in 1909 and on the death of his wife, Duncan Cooper's daughter Sarah became mistress of Riverwood helping raise her younger siblings. When he died, Miss Sadie inherited the house and surrounding property. Sarah married Dr. Lucius Burch, a renowned surgeon and dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and lived in the house until her death in 1975.

The Burch's were famous for their once a year Christmas Dinner, as all of the elite of Nashville vied for an invitation. Once given the invitation was for life and hundreds of friends streamed to the mansion throughout the day. Sarah and Dr. Burch opened their house to many of the young students at Vanderbilt and Robert Penn Warren spent a summer in one of their cottages during his stay at Vanderbilt university.

Throughout the years, Riverwood was used extensively for entertaining and for political gatherings for the Cooper-Frierson clan and their friends and business acquaintances. The Cooper family papers describe the many affairs with guest lists that include seven presidents, numerous foreign dignitaries and many distinguished visitors.

Lester Jones, Photographer August 19, 1940 source: www.loc.gov

Lester Jones, Photographer August 19, 1940 source: www.loc.gov


Riverwood has been referred to as one of Nashville's grandest homes. It was lavishly decorated and filled with magnificent furnishings and works of art. The home was recognized as a seat of Southern hospitality for over a century and a half and throughout the years, was the scene of lavish parties honoring many of the South's most famous and prominent figures. Family records indicate that presidents Jackson, Polk, Pierce, Johnson, Cleveland, Roosevelt, and Taft and Vice President Adlai Stevenson were personal friends with the Coopers and were entertained at Riverwood. And the poet Robert Penn Warren spent a summer at Riverwood when he was a visiting Professor at Vanderbilt.

Riverwood is a house where men and women of all walks of life have been entertained. And since the house was used for entertaining throughout most of its history it is only fitting that it be used for entertaining now. As Nashville's first Historic Event House, Riverwood Mansion now hosts events for its guests and once again is the seat of Southern Hospitality in Nashville!

Riverwood mansion shown here 1975 is on a bluff above the Cumberland River. The site, now is basically between Stratford High School and Cornelia Fort Airport, and was originally a 2,500-acre plantation. 

History provided by Mary Bob McClain Richardson. 8/22/2007