Riverwood Mansion is one of Nashville's historical treasures. It has been identified as
one of Nashville's most significant historic structures/sites by the Metropolitan Historical Commission. Built in the late 1790's Riverwood is one of Nashville's oldest homes. And at 9,200 square feet, it is one of the largest.
The Porters, 1799-1859
The initial section of the house (the rear wing) was constructed circa 1799 by Alexander Porter, who came to Nashville from Ireland in the mid 1790's. The large two story brick structure was named Tammany Woods after his family home in Ireland. Through the early years of the nineteenth century Porter prospered as a linen merchant, commission agent and landowner of considerable commercial property, helping build most of downtown Nashville.
Sometime in the 1820's Porter built a much larger, elaborate two story home a few feet from the original house, probably federal in style. As the Porters prospered, they became an influential part of the wealthy planters and politicians of the south with land holdings and businesses in Nashville, Texas and New Orleans.
In 1850, an extensive reconstruction was undertaken including the addition of a full story to the 1820's house, a new foundation and six rooms to the front of the house. A magnificent Greek Revival portico was added, supported by six Corinthian columns. The facade is three bayed with the central pair of columns doubled to support a projecting section of entablature. A shallow gallery runs across the second floor. The railings on both the galley and the porch are cast iron, delicately wrought as are the column capitals. Many experts attribute this addition to William Strictland.
The house was used extensively for social events and the Porters frequently entertained friends and family including Andrew Jackson and his wife Rachel who was an aunt to Alexander's son's wife. But since the Porters had acquired substantial properties in New Orleans, they decided to sell the house and property in Nashville and move there to run growing businesses.
The Coopers, 1859-1975
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
The Burches 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.
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 Nation's first Poet Laureate, 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!
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