Written by Meghan E. Gattignolo
When you read old Clarksville newspapers from the post-Civil War era, one name comes up a lot: Gustavus A. Henry. As a well-connected man throughout the 19th century, Henry filled a variety of roles during his long life and saw many changes in Kentucky and Tennessee along the way.
Gustavus Adolphus Henry, Sr.
Courtesy of TSLA
Transylvania University in Lexington, KY
Courtesy of Erik Weber
A Kentuckian by birth, Henry graduated from the historic Transylvania University with a law degree in 1825. Soon after he graduated, Transylvania gained national renown for its law department in the 1830s. Henry began his law career in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, a city on an upswing of growth due to the thriving tobacco industry. However, he wasn’t there long – Henry fell in love with Marion McClure, a daughter of a wealthy Clarksville family, and soon moved across the border to Tennessee to marry her in 1833 and continue his law practice.
Before his Tennessee move, Henry served for three years in the Kentucky State Legislature, representing Christian County from 1831 to 1833. During this time, he became acquainted with the famous Henry Clay, loudly voicing his support politically for the rest of Clay’s career. Henry was the Whig Party leader in Tennessee and ran for office several times under the party’s nomination without success, including a bid for governor against future president Andrew Johnson in 1853. After this latest defeat, he retired from politics – until he was appointed as a Senator for Tennessee to the Confederate government in 1861. He served this position until the end of the Confederacy in 1865.
Good politicians are great at public speaking, and Henry was widely known and remembered for his impassioned speeches. Some attribute this affinity to his kinship to the great orator Patrick Henry, a cousin on Gustavus’ father’s side. His reputation garnered Henry the moniker “Eagle Orator of Tennessee,” and his home was also nicknamed “Eagle’s Nest” during his lifetime. He was one of the most well-known speakers in the state, and was commonly in attendance at large gatherings and commemorations after the Civil War. Clarksville residents were always happy to hear him talk.
Courtesy of TSLA
The home Henry shared with his wife and children for the last 50 years of his life is known as Emerald Hill. Built in the 1830s, the big house on the vast hill behind the gates off N. 2nd Street was given to Marion McClure by her uncle and became the family home after she and Henry were married. Gustavus Henry’s connection to the house influenced its addition to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Since 1975, the house has taken on a new identity as the Austin Peay State University Pace Alumni Center. The beautiful grounds of the Emerald Hill property are much-loved by students. Accessible through campus, the hill is a hidden gem during snowy winter months as a prime sledding spot. Last year, a Douglas fir on the property was recognized as the largest of its kind in Tennessee. The APSU director of landscape and grounds estimates the tree was planted around the same time the house was built, so Henry and his family undoubtedly watched it grow. Additionally, a new Greenway Trail leading through the Emerald Hill property opened in the spring of 2021, making the extraordinary grounds more accessible for all Clarksville residents to enjoy.
Gustavus A. Henry was laid to rest in Greenwood Cemetery in 1880, less than a decade after he participated in the cemetery’s opening with a grand speech. October is almost over, so make sure you grab a spot on the Historic Greenwood Cemetery Walking Tour with the wonderful Kim McCue to take a look first-hand at Henry’s final resting place and hear other great stories.
National Register of Historic Places
Montgomery County Biographical Directory (tngenweb.org)
Henry, Gustavus A. | Tennessee Encyclopedia
Meghan E. Gattignolo
Meghan E. Gattignolo is a freelance writer and longtime Clarksville, TN resident. She loves to obsess about historical subjects and annoy her family daily with unsolicited random facts. Meghan holds a History B.A. from Austin Peay State University and lives in town with her husband and two daughters.
Becky Wood, Technical Writer, edits each blog post. Maegan Collins, Marketing Communications Manager, prepares photographs and visual images as well as prepares the blog posts for the web.