In 1784 a Virginian surveyor named Daniel Smith moved with his family to the Cumberland Settlement in present-day Middle Tennessee and began construction on a limestone, Federal-Style building that would house generations of the Smith family for almost 200 years.
Located next to a Cumberland River tributary called Drake’s Creek, the house was built on part of the 3,140 acres that Daniel Smith received in land grants for his service in the Revolutionary War and his surveying work. Over the course of a decade, the Smiths constructed their home in three phases resulting in the story-filled, multi-cultural historic house that stands today.
Over 200 years later, Rock Castle stands as a testament not only to the Smith family but also to life on the Tennessee Frontier; to the Native Americans who lost their homelands to invading settlers; to the slaves that lived and labored here; to the sharecroppers who continued to work the farm after slavery ended; to the Tennessee Valley Authority and the creation of Old Hickory Lake; to urban sprawl and the gradual loss of farmland to developments; and to the heritage and growth of the local community.
Come to Historic Rock Castle and explore the stories and people that make this place a Tennessee legacy.
The Smith Family
When Daniel Smith arrived in Tennessee, he brought with him his wife Sarah and two children, George and Mary Ann. General Smith was often away from home thanks to his considerable career as a surveyor, politician, and military officer. He served as the Commander of the Mero District, Secretary of the Southwest Territory; Chairman of the committee that drafted the TN State Constitution; U.S. Senator; and U.S. Commissioner for Indian negotiations.
During his long absences his wife, Sarah Michie Smith, handled much of the construction supervision as well as plantation management in addition to raising their two children. Their son George became a captain in the Tennessee Mounted Volunteer Gunmen during the War of 1812 and later inherited Rock Castle from his father. Mary Ann, affectionately known as Polly, married at a young age to Samuel Donelson, Rachel Donelson Jackson’s youngest brother, and had three boys before tragically losing her husband to pneumonia. She would later marry James Sanders and have nine more children.
Other prominent members of the Smith family from later generations include Harry Smith, Daniel Smith’s grandson, who made a fortune surveying the Louisiana Purchase and rescued Rock Castle from debt, and Sarah Crosby Berry, Daniel Smith’s great-great granddaughter, who received a degree in scientific farming from Peabody College in 1916 and two years later was named the “Outstanding Woman Farmer of Tennessee” by the Southern Agriculturalist.
Rock Castle Today
Today Rock Castle operates as a Nationally Registered historic house museum that is owned by the State of Tennessee and operated by the Friends of Rock Castle, Inc. The group received its charter in 1971 under the leadership of Sarah Crosby Berry and has preserved and interpreted the home of Daniel Smith for over forty years. Although the farmlands were sold off for housing development, Rock Castle still sits on 18 acres of original property and maintains the original smokehouse as well as the family cemetery.
Stop by for a visit today and explore the sites and stories of this beautiful historic property