Saturday, September 3, 2011



A century-old log house, one of the landmarks of early East Nashville, was destroyed last night by fire starting at 9:30 o’clock from an unknown source.  The house at the end of Rosebank avenue was originally owned by the Vaughn family, and later by the Cornelius, Scheffer and Wilkes families and at the time of its destruction was owned by George L. Hicks, vice-president of the Dixie Life & Accident Insurance Company.

The house had passed into Mr. Hicks’ hands but a few weeks ago.  Its value was estimated at $14,000, with only about one-third of this amount covered by insurance.  Only a few rugs had been moved into it by Mr. Hicks and these, with a range were the only articles destroyed.

Built of Logs.

Built of huge logs and covered by hand-hewn weather boarding, the house was a combination of old handwork and modern construction.  It had recently been modernized by Mr. Wilks and had previously been improved by W. R. Cornelius.

Member of the Vaughn and Brown families lived in the house during its first 40 years.  It was among the first built in that section of East Nashville, then an open country, and remained throughout its 100 years of existence a center of the community.

The late W. R. Cornelius bought the house in 1862.  In it he lived until near the end of the century.  Throughout the days of the Civil War the family watched the coming and going of Federal and Confederate troops from the estate surrounding the house.  The elder Mr, Cornelius sold the house to the Rosebank Nursery Company and his son, W. R. Cornelius rebought it in 1903.  Five years later he sold it to Frank Wilk, who retained the lovely house until recently.

Two stories in height, the house had nine large rooms, typical of early Southern architecture.  Many expressions of regret have been made over its passing as it was regarded as one of the finest old mansions in East Nashville.

The house was located in the highlighted area of the plat.  By 1908 William R. Cornelius had divided his father's East Nashville farm into lots and sold the lots on which the old log house stood to Henry Shafer.  Shafer soon died and the house passed to his daughter Mrs. Frank [Katherine] Wilk.  Frank Wilk sold the house to Mr. Hicks in 1928 a few weeks before it burned.  The house was located near the present intersection of Rosebank and Eastland Avenues. 

William R. Cornelius
by Debie Oeser Cox
July 2011
Originally published in The Nashville Retrospect, August 2011

William R. Cornelius was born in Union County, PA on December 23, 1824.  William started working for William Armstrong of Lewisburg, PA in 1842 to learn the cabinet making business.  Mr. Armstrong, as was often the case for cabinet makers, was also in the undertaking business.  While studying the art of cabinet making, Cornelius was also initiated into the business of undertaking and burial. 

In 1847, he arrived in Nashville and began to work with cabinet maker, James W. McCombs.  According to the 1850 manufacturing U. S. census for Tennessee, Cornelius and McCombs owned one of the largest furniture making businesses in the state of Tennessee, employing 16 men.  Cornelius continued in the furniture and undertaking business until the outbreak of the     U. S. Civil War.  At that point he sold his furniture business and took up undertaking full time.  He contracted with the Confederate army to bury the Confederate dead in and around Nashville.  When the Confederates departed the area and the Federals arrived, Cornelius contracted with Captain Gillam, to provide undertaking services for the United States.  Eventually he had establishments in Nashville, Murfreesboro and Chattanooga in Tennessee, as well as several locations in Alabama and Georgia.  Cornelius claimed that during the war, he buried, and shipped home, the remains of over 33,000 soldiers and civilian employees. 

In 1850 William Cornelius married Martha Dorris daughter of Samuel F. and Susannah Dorris of Davidosn County, Tennessee.  They were parents of at least six children, Benjamin, Sally, William Jr., George, Samuella, and Mattie.  In 1864 Cornelius purchased land and a log home from Michael Vaughn in the area that is now in East Nashville, along Rosebank Avenue near the Cumberland River.  The Vaughn family had owned the land for more than 50 years and are believed to have built the log house.  Cornelius improved the house, likely enlarging it and made it his home.  After the war he left the undertaking business and retired to his home and took up farming.  By 1879, having enough of farming, Cornelius returned to the funeral business.  

 In the 1901 Nashville City Directory, his sons, B. F. and William, Jr. are listed along with William, Sr. under the firm of W. R. Cornelius, Undertaker.  Cornelius had by that time left his farm and moved to 413 Main Street in East Nashville, just across the river from downtown Nashville.   William R. Cornelius died on Feb. 19, 1910.