Why is it that so many wedding expos happen in the early months? Perhaps it’s that once the holidays are past, brides-to-be are ready to start planning? I don’t know. But Oaklands Mansion—our local house museum—inaugurated an early-spring wedding dress exhibit four years ago, and it’s become very popular. My friend Jenny and I made a date to see the 2015 show the first week of March.
I love Oaklands Mansion. Murfreesboro is a historic town, but Oaklands takes you straight back to our earliest history. Revolutionary War hero Hardy Murfree—a North Carolinian—was granted land in Tennessee as a result of his service, and, in fact, Murfreesboro (originally Cannonsburgh) is named for him, though he never actually lived here. Upon his death in 1809, the Tennessee holdings appear to have been divided among his five children. The youngest, Sally (b. 1793), inherited 274 acres in Rutherford County. That’s where the Oaklands story starts.
I should have said, probably, upon the probation of the will Sally inherited. That would make it 1813—she was twenty years old, and the year before had married James Maney, a medical doctor. Their first child was born in 1813. Two years later they began construction on a two-room brick house on the site in newly renamed Murfreesboro; that brick house is still there, enclosed in the many additions that came later. The first of those was a large, Federal-style two-story addition on one end of the brick house in 1820. The family grew (ultimately there were eight Maney children), the plantation—farmed by slaves—prospered. Another addition to the home was built in 1830—fifteen years after the original two-room home was erected.
When Sally died in 1857 (she would have been around sixty-four, her husband around sixty-seven), Dr. Maney retired from practice and his oldest living child, Lewis, took over the plantation. Lewis had married Rachel Adaline Cannon—daughter of the governor of Tennessee—in 1846, when he was twenty-three year old. Adaline and Lewis resided at Oaklands, and for the next three years, they made extensive renovations to the mansion, creating a showplace befitting their social status.
The war, of course, put a stop to the high living. When the Yankees occupied Murfreesboro, they took over Oaklands; the army camped on the plantation. The end of slavery brought economic hardship, and by the time Dr. Maney died in 1872, the family was selling off land in Mississippi and at Oaklands to make ends meet. Lewis died ten years later, and shortly thereafter his widow sold the house. There more history, of course, at the Oaklands website and in this article, but it was the Murfrees and Maneys who gave us the estate that we can visit today.
I don’t want to romanticize, of course. The period of time in which this house came to be is not a proud moment for the South. But these people simply lived in those times, lived the lives they were born to. Even with money, they weren’t easy lives. When you walk through the house, you can see that.
But it’s lovely, Oaklands.
I always take out-of-town guests to see it.
But Jenny and I were here to see the wedding dresses. (You can see a nice interview about the exhibit here.)
The exhibit is new every year, as many dresses are offered for display. The folks at Oakland take a little oral history, so there is something of interest with each dress.
I was delighted to run into my friend Connor Moss, who is a docent at the museum. And since the price of our admission included a tour of the house, we jumped at the opportunity for a personal tour.
Had a great time! And I think I will make the wedding dress exhibit an annual date. As the docent says in the video linked above, these dresses were worn by our neighbors! I think it’s a nice way to celebrate Oaklands Mansion’s two-hundreth year.