Governor A. H. Roberts and His Donelson Farm

by Amelia Whitsitt Edwards.

The two-story Victorian house that is now 3212 Freno Lane in Lincoya subdivision was the residence of Governor A. H. Roberts and his family from 1928 until shortly after his death in 1946. Roberts (1868-1946) is best remembered as being the chief executive of the State of Tennessee when, in 1920, the Tennessee legislature approved the 19th amendment, which granted voting rights to women.

Former home of Governor A. H. Roberts and family in Donelson, Tennessee.

The old house, located on the western slope of Todd’s Knob, was built in 1880 by Alex and Anna Perry. Perry’s house and large farm, called Nutwood, was across McGavock Lane from Spence McGavock’s Two Rivers farm1. Alex Perry died in 1927, and Roberts purchased 150 acres from Perry’s heirs on July 8, 19272. This was only a portion of the Perry tract.

There were eight Perry children, several of whom owned tracts of land carved from their parents’ property. Roberts continued to purchase property from these heirs from time to time. A granddaughter of Governor Roberts has written that his farm eventually comprised 600 acres, including all of Todd’s Knob, and was bounded by Stone’s River3.

Gov. Albert H. Roberts

Roberts had returned to his law practice in Nashville when his two-year term as governor expired in 1921. By 1927 he was 59 years old and probably thinking of retiring when he purchased his farm. It is also possible that he was anxious to have sufficient property for his adult children to be able to live near him. During the 1930s three of his four children owned houses on the farm.

Maurice M. and Hattie Smith Roberts built Stone Cottage, an English cottage-style house, at 3214 McGavock Lane. Sadie Roberts Capps and her husband Paul bought the shingle cottage at 3238 McGavock Lane from Boyd Perry4. Nan Isbell and A. H. Roberts, Jr. built a stone house near the summit of Todd’s Knob. This house was named Fort Houston in honor of Gov. Roberts’ ancestor, Sam Houston. It was designed by McKissack Brothers, Architects5. Helen Roberts, who married Dr. Horace Gayden, lived in Nashville on the southeast corner of Hillsboro Road and Woodmont Boulevard.

After living in Donelson for only four years, Governor Roberts’ first wife, Nora Deane Bowden Roberts, died in 1932. On October 3, 1934, Roberts married Irene Arnstein, who had previously resided on Lauderdale Road in Cherokee Park where she owned a home dry-cleaning machine. On March 7, 1935, as Irene was dry cleaning some clothes in her former home, the machine exploded. Gravely injured, she died the following day at St. Thomas Hospital6. Governor Roberts married a third time, to Mary Edwards, but this union ended in divorce in 1944.

Gov. Roberts died in 1946 and was buried in Livingston, Tennessee7. After his death his children sold the Victorian house and the property to Criswell, Freeman, and Nokes, who developed the Lincoya subdivision on the farmland.

According to Gov. Roberts’ granddaughter, Betty Capps Uffelman, who remained in the Donelson area, there was another house built on the Roberts farm at 3210 McGavock Lane. This was the residence of Maj. Claude Daughtry and his family. Maj. Daughtry was a good friend of A. H. Roberts and had been on his staff when he was governor. This house, on the site of the Donelson Free Will Baptist Church, was razed in the 1990s. (2000)

1 Smith, Elizabeth M. “A Nashvillian Tells Her Story.” Unpublished manuscript. Nashville Room, Ben West Public Library.
2Davidson County Deed Book No. 777, p. 213.
3 The Nashville Tennessean, September 6, 1972.
4 Author’s interview with Mrs. Betty Capps Uffelman, April 3, 2000.
5Aiken, Leona T. Donelson, Tennessee: Its History and Landmarks, pp. 222-224.
6 The Nashville Tennessean, March 7, 1935.
7 Braden, Kenneth S. “The Wizard of Overton: Governor A. H. Roberts of Tennessee.” Unpublished thesis at University of Memphis (also at TSLA), 1983.

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