As a point of reference, Rockvale Writers’ Colony is located in Williamson County, Tennessee, in the town of College Grove, in the community of Flat Creek, with the address of 6994 Giles Hill Road. You might note we’ve given the rooms in the farmhouse these specific place names.
The family history of the property begins with Matthew Hughes Dobson who was born on July 19, 1815 and died on September 1, 1886. His grave is in the College Grove Cemetery nearby. Matthew was born in North Carolina but moved to Williamson County, Tennessee as a young man. While visiting his uncle, Archelaus Hughes, in College Grove, he met his cousin Leticia Hughes (1824-1913). The two fell in love, married on January 19, 1842, and set out to build their life together. After spending the first 10 years of their marriage back in North Carolina, the couple returned to Williamson County to raise their 8 children. On April 23, 1853, they purchased 206 acres of land on Flat Creek for $2900. A few years later, they bought an additional 111 acres for a total of 317 acres of rolling farmland. Matthew and Leticia employed the services of John Rickman to construct their home. It had high ceilings, four large fireplaces, and plastered walls. The center beam ran 75 feet and was hand-hewn of red cedar. This house is part of the building we now call the Farmhouse. The front three rooms (Reading Room, Entry Hall, and Library) are original rooms of the Dobson home from 1853. The cedar beams, front door, wood floors, and front windows are original as well. The landscape of the farm remains much as it was when the Dobsons farmed it, including numerous stone walls built by slaves.
During the Civil War, tensions were high as most of the area now known as College Grove supported the Confederacy, while the Cove, a small community southwest of Pulltight Hill and bisected by Arno Road, remained predominantly Union in favor. In the spring of 1861, the Webb Guards of the Tennessee Infantry was raised from the towns of Triune, College Grove, Peytonsville, and Bethesda and was later organized as Company D of the 20th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry in the Confederate Army. In a classic tale of brother versus brother, the Biggers family from Pulltight Hill saw one son, Will, serve the Confederates under Generals Nathan Bedford Forrest and Earl Van Dorn, while another fought for the Union. When Will was sent home on sick leave in 1863, he visited his brother at the Union camps in Franklin. Soon after, members of Van Dorn’s cavalry, stationed in Spring Hill, captured and killed Will. There is no apparent reason for this crime, other than the young Confederate’s visit to his Union brother. Sadly, Will did not meet death in battle, but at the hands of his fellow soldiers for one moment of choosing family over country. (See the historic marker at the corner of Arno Allisona and Pulltight Roads.) But not every tale of the area ends in sadness. One unconfirmed story tells how the Dobson house was spared from burning by Yankee raiding parties due to the influence of the builder, Mr. Rickman, a northern sympathizer. Without that act of goodwill, we wouldn’t have the historical base of our present Farmhouse.
The Dobsons eventually sold their farm and moved into town. The next family name associated with the property is Smithson. William Overton Smithson was born February 8, 1812 in Virginia. He married Lucy Wilkinson Giles, daughter of William Giles, Jr. on December 18, 1834 in Williamson County, Tennessee. William and Lucy were the parents of 13 children. Their youngest son, Carrol Mayhew Smithson, was born July 20, 1860. Mayhew married his cousin, Alice Smithson, born December 15, 1866. Mayhew was known to be a prosperous farmer and he and Alice bought the 300+ acre farm of Matthew Dobson. Mayhew additionally purchased a 177-acre farm and a 100-acre farm to add to his land holdings. He and Alice raised 4 children on the Dobson place. After Alice died, Mayhew moved to a new house with his new wife, Fanny. His son, Nathaniel N. Smithson, and wife, Cora Farrar Smithson, continued to live on the Dobson farm. In the fall of 1928, Mayhew sold all of his Flat Creek land to a member of the Wallace family.
George W. Wallace, born June 19, 1832 in Williamson County, married Tennessee Farris, born November 7, 1847. She was the daughter of John B. and Leah Donelson Farris. Leah was a cousin of Rachel Donelson Jackson, wife of President Andrew Jackson. George fought under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest in the Civil War. George and Tennie had 8 children, the third of whom was John William, born August 30, 1867. He married Lottie Lee Smithson. John and Lottie raised two sons, Claud Travis and Sam E., on land near what is now Glenn Road. In 1928, Claud Travis and his wife Ella Henry, purchased the Dobson / Mayhew Smithson farm at the head of Flat Creek. He and Ella, and his brother Sam and wife Bernice Reed, lived on the farm and raised their families. Sam and Bernice had 7 children, the 6th of whom was Ennis Core Wallace. Ennis and his wife Allean Harper, their sons and daughters-in-law and their families made five generations of Wallaces to live on the property.
We don’t have a date for the next purchase of the farm, but we do have names. Robert Albert (Brownie) Manier (1914 – 2000) and his wife Mary Lizzie Manier (1915 – 2006) bought the farm from Claud Travis Wallace but did not live there. Robert Bradley and his wife, Ida Mai Bradley, along with their son Charles and his wife, Maxine Dalton, lived on and worked the farm which then supported dairy cattle.
In 1993, the property was sold to Walter William Ogilvie (1930 – 2017) and his wife, Anita R. Ogilvie. The Ogilvie family has had a presence in College Grove for over 200 years. Their family farm, house, and cemetery can be found off of Horton Highway nearby. (See historic marker on Horton Highway 1 mile south of the town of College Grove.) Walter and Anita began to expand the original Farmhouse to create a country inn. Much care was taken to preserve the historical front rooms and transition into the modern bedrooms and bathrooms as seamlessly as possible. From 1994 to 2004, the property served as Peacock Hill Country Inn Bed & Breakfast. Following the closure of Peacock Hill, the property was used by the Ogilvie family and friends as a summer retreat and Airbnb until it was sold in 2018 to become the home of Rockvale Writers’ Colony.
While you’re here, you’ll notice the other unique buildings on the property: The Rockvale Cabin and The Ogilvie Granary. The cabin dates back nearly 150 years and was originally a smokehouse. It was converted into a 2-level structure containing a bedroom, bathroom, and writing/reading room. We’ve recently hired a specialist in historic restoration and log preservation to repair and renew the structure so that it will last another 150 years. The Granary was actually a storehouse for grain back in the days when the property was primarily utilized as a cattle and dairy farm. It, too, has been converted into a private apartment with a bedroom, bathroom, sitting room, and kitchen. No one would guess the charming living space that waits within the plain wooden exterior.
Dobson – Smithson – Wallace – Manier/Bradley – Ogilvie – Rockvale Writers Colony
1853 – 2018