Historic Structures

McGavock House - Two Rivers Plantation Mansion, Donelson Tennessee

Date added: May 28, 2021 Categories: Tennessee House Mansion

Born on September 1, 1826, David H. McGavock was reared on his father's plantation adjoining Belle Meade and educated at the University of Nashville. After spending four years in Arkansas, he returned to Nashville in 1849. The following year, he married his cousin, Willie E. Harding, the only daughter of William Harding, original owner of the Two Rivers farm. This was the first of three generations of McGavocks to occupy the Two Rivers estate.

Two published sources, neither providing any documentation, provide conflicting identities of the possible architect of the Two Rivers mansion. The first account, Caldwell's Historical and Beautiful Country Homes Near Nashville, Tennessee (Nashville, 1911), relates that "Mr. McGavock was his own architect and builder, cutting with his own mill all the timber from trees on the place. ...". A later source, Brandau's History of Homes and Gardens of Tennessee (Nashville, 1936), observes that "the main mansion house ... is said to have been planned by the architect, William Strickland, in 1859 . . ." It should be observed, however, that Strickland died on April 7, 1854, and had been buried in the walls of the Tennessee State Capitol for five years when Two Rivers was erected in 1859. It is conceivable that the author may have had Strickland's son, Francis, in mind. The latter's name, however, has not been encountered in any reference or documentation relating to Two Rivers. In the absence of any documentation whatever, it is impossible to identify the architect of the mansion. However, the great sophistication apparent in the design and the refinement and integration of its component details suggest strongly the hand of something more than an inexperienced amateur. No evidence exists to suggest that David H. McGavock had the benefit of any prior or comparable experience in designing the house; at the same time, the details employed throughout the house and the manner of their composition are not those customarily seen in William Strickland's known work.

Under the circumstances, it seems appropriate to cite a published source which observes that:

"Two Rivers has been compared to Clover Bottom Mansion which was built by Dr. James Hoggatt in 1858. . . . Willie Harding McGavock's grandmother was Rhody Hoggatt Clopton and she probably was Dr. Hoggatt's great-aunt. . . .

The Clover Bottom Mansion does not have the porch extending across the entire front of the house but has only the center part and an upstairs porch supported by columns. It has a large entrance hall, and double parlors on the left as Two Rivers does, but it has a winding stairway at the back of the hall. . . . Back of the double-parlors is a porch straight across the back instead of the L-shaped porch at Two Rivers . . . Two Rivers is the larger of the two houses" [Aiken, op. cit., p. 238].

Built by David H. McGavock on land originally owned by William Harding, the Two Rivers mansion was, until its sale in 1966, owned by the McGavock family.

Willie E. Harding McGavock inherited the Two Rivers farm from her father upon her marriage to David H. McGavock on May 23, 1850.

The Two Rivers estate passed on to David and Willie's son, Frank O. McGavock on March 9, 1891.

Spence McGavock, Frank's son, assumed ownership of the Two Rivers estate on March 25, 1907.

Spence McGavock married Mary Louise Brandsford in 1928 and gave her Two Rivers as a wedding present.

Mrs. Spence McGavock's mother died in 1933 and the McGavocks moved to Melrose to be with her father. Though her husband died in 1936 and her father died in 1938, Mary Louise McGavock continued to live at Melrose until January 25, 1955, at which time she moved back into the Two Rivers mansion that had been unoccupied in the interim.

Mrs. Spence McGavock died on November 22, 1965. In her will, she bequeathed a principal portion of the Two Rivers estate to Vanderbilt University's School of Medicine and Hospital. The First American National Bank was named executor of the estate and authorized to sell the property at the most advantageous time.

With a federal grant of 50% for the cost of acquiring the 447 acres, the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County purchased the estate on October 20, 1966, for $995,000. Thirty acres were alloted for a new high school, which was built in 1970, and forty-five acres were developed into thoroughfares. The remainder of the area was planned as an extensive recreational park. The mansion and the nearby white-painted brick house (1802) were planned to be preserved as historic museums.