Luke Lea: A Biographical Sketch

by Doris Boyce.

Luke Lea was born in Nashville in 1879. His grandmother was a descendant of Judge John Overton, law partner of Andrew Jackson. His grandfather, John McCormack Lea, was mayor of Nashville in 1849. His father, Overton Lea, was an attorney. At the time of his birth his parents owned 1,000 acres of land between Granny White and Franklin Pikes known as Lealand, part of the original acreage of Travellers Rest.

Judge John Overton, 1766-1833 (Tennessee Portrait Project)

Lea enrolled at the University of the South at Sewanee in 1896 and was awarded his master’s degree in 1900. Later that year he travelled briefly in Europe and then entered law school at Columbia University, becoming editor of the Columbia Law Review in 1903. After graduation he opened a law office in the Cole Building in downtown Nashville. In 1906 he married Mary Louise Warner, daughter of Percy Warner, and their sons were born in 1908 and 1909.

Lea organized The Tennessean Company in 1907, and by 1908 the paper was up and running efficiently enough that he was able to return to his law practice. In 1910 he chartered the Belle Meade Company for future real estate development of the 5,000-acre farm of that name, and the company presently donated 144 acres to the golf club which later became the Belle Meade Country Club.

Luke Lea was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1911, at 32 years of age, in office until 1917, at which time he took on the task of recruiting volunteers for the 114th Field Artillery. He served as their colonel until the end of the First World War.

Senator Luke Lea (1911-1917)

When Lea came home from World War I, he shifted his focus toward managing his newspapers, the Nashville Tennessean and the Evening Tennessean. Late in the 1920s he also became publisher of the Memphis Commercial Appeal and the Knoxville Journal, which he jointly owned with Rogers Caldwell.

During that same decade Lea acquired a number of properties, and he built Nashville’s first ramp-style parking garage on Seventh Avenue between Church and Commerce Streets. In 1927 he donated 868 acres for a public park that would be named for his father-in-law, Percy Warner.

In 1929 Tennessee Governor Henry H. Horton appointed Lea to the U.S. Senate to fill an unexpired term, but Lea declined, saying he could “do the greatest good and be of more service to Tennessee as a private citizen.”

Depression-era bank run on the American Union Bank, New York City. April 26, 1932.

The Great Depression brought ruin to Lea’s business affairs because of devalued assets, cash flow problems, and political maneuvering by his enemies. He was convicted of banking law violations in 1931, and his newspapers were silenced. He served two years in the North Carolina State Prison.  

Less than a month after Lea was paroled, backers approached him about running for governor of Tennessee. Still hoping to re-enter the publishing field, he turned them down.

Although Lea eventually regained his health, which had deteriorated while he was imprisoned, he never regained his wealth. When he died in 1945 at age 66, a congressional investigation was underway that might have restored the Nashville Tennessean to him once again. (1997)

Sarah “Sallie” McGavock Lindsley, 1830-1903

by Kathy B. Lauder.

Sarah Malvina Bass McGavock, usually called Sallie, was born July 17, 1830, in Nashville, Tennessee.1 Her father was Jacob McGavock (1790-1878), a county, circuit, and U.S. circuit court clerk for fifty years.2 Jacob had served as Andrew Jackson’s aide during the Creek War,3 and the two men remained close friends throughout their lives.4 Sallie’s mother, Louisa Grundy McGavock, was the daughter of noted jurist Felix Grundy,5 Chief Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court, U. S. Representative and Senator from Tennessee, and U. S. Attorney General under President Martin Van Buren.6          

Sallie McGavock Lindsley

On February 9, 1857, Sallie married Dr. John Berrien Lindsley (1822-1897),7 one of Nashville’s most eligible bachelors. Lindsley’s journal reports, “At 4 & 10 minutes P.M. was married by the Rev. J. T. Edgar, D.D. to Miss Sallie McGavock . . . only the immediate family and a very few friends present. All very happy.”8

Sallie Lindsley gave birth to six children: Louise Grundy Lindsley (1858-1944); Jacob McGavock Lindsley (1860-1925), nicknamed “J. Mac,” who married Kittie Kline; Mary McGavock Lindsley (b 1861), wife of R. C. Kent; Margaret Elizabeth Lawrence Lindsley (1863-1936), who married Percy Warner, and whose descendants bore the names Frazer, White, Mallison, and Lea; Anne “Annie” Dickinson Lindsley (1864-1958), who married Dr. Carl Warner; and Randal McGavock Lindsley (1870-1871),9 named for Sallie’s brother, a former Nashville mayor (1824-1825), who had died in the Civil War.

Dr. John Berrien Lindsley

The Lindsley family remained in Nashville during the War, moving to Sallie’s parents’ home after Union troops seized the Lindsleys’ property during the Battle of Nashville.10 Sallie later became active in various charities of the First Presbyterian Church. She was a charter member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (founded in1894) and served as the group’s first corresponding secretary.11 The work closest to Sallie Lindsley’s heart, however, was the creation of the Ladies’ Hermitage Association (LHA), organized to protect and preserve Andrew Jackson’s home, a state property scheduled to become a rest home for aged and needy Confederate soldiers.12 When attorney A. S. Colyar determined that only unmarried women (femmes soles) were eligible to sign the LHA charter of incorporation,13 the committee members selected five unmarried women, including Sallie’s daughter, Louise Grundy Lindsley,14 to sign the document.  Meanwhile, John Berrien Lindsley, then Executive Secretary of the State Board of Public Health, was attempting unsuccessfully to craft a compromise between the Confederate organization and the LHA. At his urging, Sallie met with Representative John H. Savage, a former Confederate officer and the chief opponent of the amendment that would cede the women’s group 25 acres that included the house, family graveyard, and tomb.15 Sallie persuaded Savage to change his vote, the amendment passed, and the Association opened the property to the public in July 1889.16  The group’s first major undertaking, restoring Jackson’s original log home, “First Hermitage,” was Tennessee’s first historic preservation project. 17

“First Hermitage,” Hermitage, Davidson County, Tennessee

Sallie Lindsley was elected Second Vice Regent of the Ladies’ Hermitage Association (1891-1899), then served as Regent18 until her death by heart failure on July 5, 1903.19   (2014)


1 Her birth and death dates are inscribed on her tombstone in Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

2 Gray, Robert. The McGavock Family: A Genealogical History of James McGavock and His Descendants from 1760 to 1903. Richmond, VA: William Ellis Jones, Printer, 1903, 21.3 Gray, Robert, 20-21.

4 Gray, Robert, 14.

5 “Mrs. Lindsley Dead. Passes Away Quietly after Brief Illness.” The Nashville American, July 6, 1903, page 4.

6 “Felix Grundy.” United States Congress. Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-2005. Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 2005.

7 Tennessee State Marriages, 1780-2002. Nashville: Tennessee State Library and Archives.

8 Lindsley, John Berrien. Diary, Volume 5, October 6, 1856 – January 1, 1866. Lindsley Family Papers, ca. 1812 – [1840-1940] – 1953, Box 1, Folder 23. Tennessee State Library and Archives. February 9, 1857.

9 Lindly, John M. The History of the Lindley-Lindsley-Linsley Families in America, 1639-1924, Vol. II.  Winfield, Iowa: Self-published, 1924, 19.

10 Lindsley, John Berrien. Diary, Volume 5, December 1-24, 1864.

11 Bucy, Carole Stanford. “Quiet Revolutionaries: The Grundy Women and the Beginnings of Women’s Volunteer Associations in Tennessee,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Vol.LIV, No. 1, Spring 1995, 45.

12 Bucy, Carole Stanford. “Ladies’ Hermitage Association.” Tennessee Encyclopedia Online. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2002-2014.

13 Dorris, Mary C. Currey. Preservation of the Hermitage, 1889-1915: Annals, History, and Stories. Smith & Lamar, 1915, 35.

14 Bucy, Carole Stanford. “Quiet Revolutionaries,” 46.

15 Bucy, Carole Stanford. “Quiet Revolutionaries,” 46.

16 The Hermitage, Home of President Andrew Jackson website. Accessed 6-23-2014.

17 The Hermitage, Home of President Andrew Jackson website. Accessed 6-23-2014.

18 Dorris, Mary C. Currey. Preservation of the Hermitage, 1889-1915, 219-220.

19 Tennessee City Death Records, Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Memphis, 1848-1907.  Nashville: Tennessee State Library and Archives.