Oaklands plantation began in the late eighteen teens when Dr. James Maney and his wife, Sallie Murfree Maney, built a two-room brick house next to a large spring north of Murfreesboro. In 1813, Sallie inherited 274 acres of land north of the town named for her father, Colonel Hardee Murfree. It was on this tract that the Maneys constructed what would become one of the most elegant homes in Middle Tennessee.
The two-room house was built on the hall-and-parlor plan, a design that would have been familiar to the Maneys, who migrated from eastern North Carolina to Tennessee. It was a well-constructed one-and-a-half-story house with dormer windows and a chimney at each end, and penciling on the brick mortar. At a time when many people lived in log cabins, this small brick house reflected permanence and distinction. Its appearance was enhanced greatly in the 1820s when the Maneys attached a two-story addition, in the Federal style, to the west gable end of the original house. The new rooms included a parlor, a front hall passage with a staircase, and a chamber over the parlor that probably served as the Maney's first guest bedroom. The only access from the old house to the new addition was through a doorway on the first floor.
By 1830, the Maney family at Oaklands was prospering and growing. In the 1830s, their skilled slaves added a two-story ell consisting of a dining room on the first floor, and children's bedrooms directly above and to the rear of the original two-room house. The workmen raised the ceiling height of the original two rooms to two stories to allow for a more unified roofline, larger second story rooms, and longer windows to bring in more light.
Sallie Maney died in 1857 and her husband retired from his medical practice that same year. Dr. Maney lived in the various households of his children until his death in 1872. After Sallie's death, Oaklands passed into the hands of her son Lewis and daughter-in-law, Rachel Adeline Cannon. From 1857 to 1860, these second generation owners made extensive renovations and additions that brought Oaklands to its present appearance.
Lewis and Rachel, the daughter of former Tennessee governor Newton Cannon, were both accustomed to the privileges that accompanied their elite social status. Aware of the latest fashions in furnishings and architecture, they planned a new Italianate addition that would totally eclipse the old plantation house and make the manor more suitable for lavish entertaining.
The Italianate-styled two-story front addition, designed by prominent local architect Richard Sanders, included a library and a front parlor separated by a hallway on the first floor. At the rear of the front hall, the Maneys installed a magnificent spiral staircase that led to two upstairs guest bedrooms, one above the front parlor and one above the library. A spacious central hall separated these guest bedrooms. The exterior of this section featured a grand arched front entrance on the first floor, heavy window surrounds and hood molding, bracketed eaves, and an elegant second floor window that replicates (on a smaller scale) the arched design of the front entrance directly below. The entire facade was dominated by a verandah of elaborate elongated chamfered arches and columns. It is this piece of architectural extravagance that sets Oaklands apart and has, in fact, become its hallmark.
Lewis and Adeline did not have much time to enjoy their new home due to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. By then, Oaklands was the center of a rolling plantation that grew cotton, tobacco, vegetables, and other crops. On July 13, 1862, Confederate cavalrymen under Nathan Bedford Forrest surprised and defeated Federal forces encamped on the plantation grounds (front lawn of Oaklands) near the spring and at the courthouse as part of a raid on Union-occupied Murfreesboro. It is said that Lewis and Adeline's children watched the fighting from the window of the second floor hallway. Union Colonel William Duffield, commander of the 9th Michigan Infantry Regiment, was wounded in the skirmish and taken into the house, where he was treated by the family. The Confederates accepted the surrender of Murfreesboro inside the mansion. The town remained in Confederate hands until the Union victory at the December 31-January 2, 1862-63 Battle of Murfreesboro, or Stones River, after which the Federals regained control for the rest of the war.
The Maney family hosted many notable visitors while they resided at Oaklands. The most prominent of these was Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who stayed at Oaklands during his December 12-14, 1862 visit to Murfreesboro. Other visitors included John Bell (who ran against Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in the 1860 Presidential election), Sarah Childress Polk (the wife of President James K. Polk), naval officer and oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury (cousin of Rachel Adeline), Confederate General Braxton Bragg, Major General Leonidas Polk, Brigadier General George Maney (commander of the 1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment, C.S.A. and cousin of the Oaklands Maneys), and various Union officers.
The Maneys, like many southern planter families, experienced personal and economic hardship as a result of the Civil War. Lewis and Rachel Adeline lost two of their eight children to illness in 1863. The abolition of slavery as a result of the war eliminated the work force on the Maney's plantations and therefore their principle source of income. In 1872, Dr. Maney filed a claim against the federal government in the amount of $27,012 for property damage and losses incurred at Oaklands during the war as the result of the activities of both armies. The claim was ultimately rejected. Before the war, the Maneys owned at least two plantations in Mississippi and each likely experienced extensive damage during the war, although the extent is not known. To alleviate their post-war financial difficulties, the Maneys sold off portions of their Oaklands landholdings. Two such transactions resulted in the creation of present-day Maney Avenue and Evergreen Cemetery.
The Maneys managed to retain possession of the plantation for almost twenty years following the war. In 1884, Rachel Adeline sold the house and 200 acres at public auction to cover the debts of Lewis Maney, who died two years before. Elizabeth Swoope of Memphis purchased the property. It was later inherited by her brother, Leonidas Hayley, and then, following his death, by Mrs. Swoope's daughter, Tempe Swoope Darrow. A number of changes, mostly interior modernizations such as the addition of electricity and plumbing, were made during the Swoope-Darrow period. When Tempe and her husband, George Darrow, moved to their new home on Main Street in 1912, they sold the house and some acreage to R. B. and Jennie Roberts. Oaklands remained in the Roberts family until 1936 when they sold it to the Jetton family. The Jettons owned the home until 1957. A few years before then, Ms. Rebecca Jetton found the house too large to maintain alone and moved to a local hotel.
Thus, from about 1954 to 1957, the mansion was vacant and suffered from both neglect and vandalism. Woodwork, mantels, window frames, and many other architectural features were damaged or stolen. The City of Murfreesboro purchased the property from a local realtor in 1958.
When it became known that the City planned to raze the mansion to build low-income housing units, a group of concerned local ladies mobilized to save Oaklands from this unceremonious fate. In April 1959, they formed the Oaklands Association and lobbied the City to deed the mansion to them. The City agreed to do so, with the stipulation that the Association restore the house and open it to the public within ten years. This group of dedicated women, with financial help from local residents, businesses, and groups, the State of Tennessee, and various Association-sponsored membership drives and fund raisers, then proceeded with the challenging task of cleaning, rehabilitating, restoring, and refurnishing the house. Oaklands opened to the public as a house museum in the early 1960s. Since then, the Association has directed its energies toward preserving, restoring, interpreting, and maintaining the mansion and its grounds, collections, and furnishings.
Today, Oaklands Historic House Museum welcomes several thousand visitors each year, including special tour groups, school children from Rutherford and surrounding counties, and people from many states and foreign countries.