Rock Castle, a late-eighteenth-century plantation house, was once the home of General Daniel Smith, his wife Sarah Michie Smith, and their two children. General Smith (1748-1818), a well-read and classically educated Virginian, attended the College of William and Mary. A military man and Revolutionary War captain, Smith also was a licensed surveyor and produced the first map showing the “Tennessee Territory” in relation to Virginia and Kentucky. Being familiar with the Middle Tennessee area, he brought his family there in 1784 and built Rock Castle on a land grant of over three thousand acres from North Carolina.
Building Rock Castle along the shores of the Cumberland River (now Old Hickory Lake), Smith’s laborers used limestone quarried on site. They cut lumber for construction and finish carpentry from timber on the property. When the Smiths’ modest log house was burned a few years later, the family occupied the two rooms of the rock house that were then partially completed. The several stages of construction were finished by 1796. Built largely by nephews Peter and Smith Hansborough under the supervision of Sarah Smith during her husband’s frequent absences on military assignment, Rock Castle shows a degree of architectural mastery rarely found on the Tennessee frontier. Although it strives for Georgian symmetry and balance, its two-story portico, which was added during the Greek Revival period, is not quite centered on the front facade. The interior has the common central-hall plan of the time, and the carpenters added unique fireplaces that feature central-mantel, over-mantel, and floor-to-ceiling side cabinets placed within an integrated and painted black walnut-paneled wall. The house is a splendid early example of frontier transitional Federal architecture in Tennessee.
The State of Tennessee purchased Rock Castle and eighteen surrounding acres, including the family cemetery, in 1969. Sarah Berry, a direct descendant of General Smith, spearheaded the formation and charter of Friends of Rock Castle in 1971. Ten years later, Historic Rock Castle opened on May 1, 1981. The Friends of Rock Castle organization exists to restore, preserve, furnish, maintain, and interpret the house and grounds as an educational model of early Tennessee. The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Walter T. Durham, Daniel Smith, Frontier Statesman (1976); Carroll Van West, Tennessees Historic Landscapes (1995)