Of all the questions our clients ask in our office, there are two that we love to answer most. The first answer is “Yes, you can pet Stella;” the second answer is “Well, this building has a pretty interesting history.” When you operate out of a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, people tend to notice. And our humble home has a varied and fascinating background – one we would like to share with you.
Before the City of Edgefield became a part of Nashville proper in 1880, it was its own autonomous city, founded in 1868. It had been home to the “movers and shakers” of that time, as Southern Reader puts it – including the famous outlaw Jesse James, whose home still stands. Our building pre-dates 1860, but not entirely; parts of it were added after the Civil War ended in the late 1860s.
In 1870, the building was home to the Edgefield Female Seminary, run by Professor Henry Weber. Here, students learned all the skills a cultured young woman was expected to know: Music, Metaphysics, History, Latin, French, German and English. When he died in 1879, the Seminary moved to another location, and our building was left empty until it was purchased by a Nashville riverboat captain named J.W. Lowell. He lived there until his death in 1903, and in 1904, P.S. Miles (son of Nashville Circuit Judge Roy A. Miles) bought the building. He lived here until 1919.
Historic Edgefield and the 1916 “Fire of the Century”
Anyone who lives in Nashville (or in Tennessee, for that matter) knows about the Great East Nashville Fire of 1916, dubbed the “Fire of the Century” by The Tennessean. (If you have the time to read their excellent account of the rebirth of East Nashville, we highly recommend it.) From their report:
“Every available firefighting apparatus in the city responded to the fire on March 22, 1916. The blaze did not abate. It swept first to the basement of the Seagraves & Co. planing mill, where, in a flash, the building and the pine lumber within it flared.
The fire consumed electric poles. Live wires fell. House shingles burned loose, carried by the wind over rooftops to start other fires.
The blaze raged through Edgefield, scorching every garage, outhouse and servants cabin and laying waste to 35 blocks of mostly residential property.”
All told, almost 650 homes were lost, and more than 3,000 people were left homeless after the fire. It took the fire department two days to put out all the remaining flames.
Our building survived the fire, just as it survived the flood of 1927 and the tornado of 1933, and Mr. Miles modernized the building by adding electric lighting and indoor plumbing.
From there, the house passed back and forth between multiple owners. It was a family residence until 1929, when it was converted to a boarding house. In 1977, a fire in the house led to the death of a tenant. It was purchased that year by residents of the Edgefield Historic District – the first residential district in Nashville to gain a place on the National Register of Historic Places. Our building, now called Miles House, entered the list the following year, in 1978.
Ten years later, a man named Phillip Miller and his then-partner purchased the building for their law firm. A few years after that, another attorney named Miller moved her family law practice in, and the rest, as they say, is history.
How is a law firm like a nationally protected, antebellum home?
There are a few things we really love about this building. It’s beautiful and established, and has helped give shelter to dozens of families and individuals. When faced with an impending disaster, it has stood its ground and weathered more than its fair share of storms. It has adapted to a modern world, while retaining its roots in what makes Nashville such a great town to live and work in.
There is a lot to be said for knowing where you come from, and there is always more to learn about this old house. If you ever want to learn a little more about the owners – previous or current – we hope you’ll stop by for a chat.
Miller Upshaw Family Law, PLLC offers a wide range of family law and divorce services to clients throughout Nashville and the surrounding areas. To learn more about our work, please call 615-454-9899 or fill out this contact form, and reserve your consultation.