Grandeur on the Frontier

A French traveler, Francois Michaux, son of the famed botanist Andre Michaux, stopped at Cragfont on his way east in 1802.
He commented that the house had only recently been completed and was “very elegant for the county”. He stated that carpenters from Baltimore had been brought some 700 miles to work on the house. It’s unclear as to the exact nature of their work, but it is likely that much of the framework and quarrying of limestone was done by enslaved workers.

Cragfont was Winchester’s statement about his place in the world. The house was overly grand for its surroundings and remained one of the finest homes in Tennessee until the frontier moved on further west. He outfitted it with bordered “turkey carpets” and furniture made by his skilled cabinet maker nephew, William Winchester, Jr. William had been trained in his trade in Baltimore, likely by British artisans, his style was distinctly eastern and replicated the fine furniture found in Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore, the only difference being that resources meant he worked from cherry rather than mahogany. A number of pieces were created specifically for the house and are there today to remind us that even on the frontier, fine things were desired and could be procured.

James had taken a wife before Cragfont was built. Her name was Susan Black Winchester. She had come to the frontier as a small child and as other children on the frontier witnessed extreme violence between men. She would have a total of fourteen children. When James Winchester went off to buy goods in Maryland or New Orleans and went to war in 1812, Susan kept Cragfont and her family intact. Upon his death in 1826, Cragfont became hers and she cared for it as a child, riding out on her horse every morning to survey the land.

Cragfont stood like a beacon on the road from Nashville to Baltimore. A landmark to weary travelers. Those with letters of introduction might stop for a night or two. Friends, acquaintances, and business associates were often at the home. Cragfont welcomed so many visitors that the family often remarked in their diaries and correspondence when a night passed without one.