By EDWARD L. THACKSTON
Most people who know much about Lebanon history are familiar with the fact that Sam Houston once lived and practiced law here. There is even a bronze plaque on the front of a building at 109 East Main Street designating the location of his office, and a picture of the actual log building (taken many years after Houston was here) is in the City of Lebanon Museum at City Hall.
However, many are confused about when, and under what circumstances, Houston’s short sojourn in Lebanon actually took place. An example of this confusion was an article published in this newspaper on September 10, 2008.
This article claimed that the Lebanon house at 238 West Gay Street had been built by Houston in 1829 when he was Governor of Tennessee. It also speculated that Houston may have met his wife, Eliza Allen, in the house, or that he may have built it for her, and also that he conversed with his friend Andrew Jackson there in the parlor, before he, “…on a mission for friend Andrew Jackson, went to Texas….”
It was a wonderfully romantic story, but unfortunately, none of it is, or could be, true, as a cursory perusal of any Houston biography would reveal. The article condensed numerous true events in Houston’s life, which actually occurred over a span of ten years, and at many different locations, into one incorrect location in 1829, and placed the construction of the house in 1829, about 50 years too early, in order to match the supposed dates of the events.
First, this house could not have been built in 1829. It was actually built in the 1870s or 1880s, several years after Houston died in Texas in 1863. The style, a simplified form of Italianate, was popular in the days after the War Between the States, but did not exist in 1829. Windows or fireplaces in Lebanon houses did not have rounded tops in 1829. The millwork of the fireplace surround and the baseboard shown in the pictures is also typical of the post-bellum era, but not 1829. A real 1829 brick house, of which there were few in Lebanon in 1829, would have looked more like the Fessenden House Museum on West Main Street.
Another major problem with the story is that Houston did not live in Lebanon in 1829, when he was Governor. He lived in Nashville, the state capital. He lived here only for a few months in 1819, and stayed at Wynne’s Tavern, at the expense of his patron, Isaac Golladay. He left Lebanon to become Attorney General for the Nashville District and was elected to Congress in 1823 from Davidson County.
When he was elected Governor in 1827, he was living in Nashville, or in Washington, where he was serving in Congress, not in Lebanon. He had known Eliza Allen for several years, because he occasionally visited her father, John Allen, at his plantation, Fairvue, near Gallatin, but she was then only in her early teens. There is a story that he met her again, for the first time as a now-beautiful 18-year-old at a party at the home of Britain Drake in Wilson County near Martha, but certainly not in Lebanon, and even this connection with Wilson County is unproven.
They wed soon after, at Fairvue, on January 22, 1829, but never lived in Lebanon, but obviously in Nashville, at the Nashville Inn on the Public Square, to be exact, to be near Houston’s office, which was in the Davidson County Courthouse in the center of the Square. There was no separate State Capitol Building then, because it had only been three years since the state capital moved to Nashville from Murfreesboro. In 1829, Andrew Jackson was not in Tennessee to converse with Houston, but in Washington, serving his first term as President.
Unfortunately, Houston’s marriage to Eliza Allen was a failure, to put it mildly. She left him on April 16th, after less than 80 days, and returned to her father at Fairvue. Houston, embarrassed, depressed, drinking heavily, and seeing his once-promising political career collapsing, resigned the Governorship and left town, not “…on a mission for friend Andrew Jackson…to Texas…,” but to live with the Cherokees in what is now Oklahoma. Texas, and Glory, were years away. Later, we will describe Houston’s brief stay in Lebanon more extensively, and describe how his experience here saved a Lebanon resident’s life in Texas 40 years later.