Travellers Rest was the Nashville home of Judge John and Mary Overton and their descendants for 150 years. In 1954 the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in Tennessee rescued the house from threatened demolition by the Louisville and Nashville Railroad after the railroad’s Radnor Yards and mid-twentieth-century suburban growth began encroaching on the house and its remaining historic outbuildings. The Colonial Dames initiated the research into Judge Overton and his descendants and began the restoration.
In the late 1790s Overton purchased a Revolutionary War grant from the heirs of David Maxwell and proceeded to build a vernacular Federal style house. As the cellar was being dug in 1798, the workers discovered the remains of a prehistoric Native American village–arrowheads, pottery, animal bones, and human remains. As the first to examine the wealth of buried artifacts, John Overton originally named the house “Golgotha,” hill of skulls. From the 1800s to 1996 several teams of professional archaeologists have researched the site and determined that a Mississippian village of two to three hundred people occupied this site between A.D. 1000 and 1400. Unique artifacts from these digs have enhanced scholarship about the Mississippian peoples.
The 1799 house and its 1808, 1828 and post-Civil War additions, plus the historic outbuildings, stand as above ground artifacts, which likewise have been vigorously “read” by historians in an attempt to portray accurately the lives of later inhabitants, both black and white. With snatches of documentation, including the 1833 death inventory of Overton, total restoration of the house to the period of the first Overtons is underway.
Overton was one of the wealthiest and most learned men of his time, and his large plantation thrived. Slave labor built and maintained the buildings and fields of Travellers Rest. The layout of the yard, patterns of movement within the house, remnants of tools, and the very bricks of the structures provide insight not only to the Overton slaves but their white masters as well. In its modern day role as a historic house museum, Travellers Rest and its grounds remain visual texts of the cultural, social, economic, and political history of Tennessee.
Harry Lee Swint, “Travellers Rest: Home of Judge John Overton,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 26 (1967): 119-36