Called the “Master Builder of Maury County,” Nathan Vaught is credited with the construction of many of the most imposing antebellum homes in southern Middle Tennessee. Vaught was born in Shenandoah County, Virginia, and his family moved to Rutherford County, Tennessee, in 1803 or 1805. His mother died in 1805, and his father in 1807. Vaught and his brother were placed in the care of a couple named Radford, who moved to Columbia in 1808. When Mrs. Radford died the following year, eleven-year-old Vaught was bound out by the Maury County Court to cabinetmaker James Purcell to learn that trade.
In 1811 Purcell abandoned cabinetmaking and began building houses, teaching Vaught the basics of carpentry and construction. Vaught worked under Purcell as a journeymen carpenter until Purcell’s death in 1821, at which time he began building houses on his own.
His excellent work soon attracted the attention of wealthy clients. Most of his earlier homes were constructed in the waning Federal style, but by the early 1830s, he was building stately homes in the Greek Revival, the new style of choice of the region’s planters. His largest commissions came from the Pillow family, for whom he constructed three large Greek Revival mansions–Clifton Place (1838-39), Rose Hill (1845), and Bethel Place (1855). He worked occasionally in other styles; the eclectic Gothic rectory for the Columbia Athenaeum in 1835 is one example. In the late 1850s, Vaught acquired the necessary equipment to produce finished building materials.
Besides more than fifty homes, Vaught constructed a number of commercial buildings, storehouses, and churches. The most important of these is the State Bank of Tennessee (1839) at Columbia, a Doric temple-form building replicating the Parthenon at Athens, Greece. His public buildings included a jail (1838) and Jackson College (1859) at Columbia; he also oversaw construction of the first bridge across the Duck River there in 1822. He recorded his work in his memoir “Youth and Old Age,” which survives today. Vaught died on April 9, 1880, and is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery at Columbia.