In the 1840s Henry Laurence Norvell and his bride, Laura Jane Sevier Norvell, took possession of their new farm. Henry was the eldest son of Moses Norvell, an early Nashville newspaper publisher, banker, and politician. Laura Jane Sevier was the daughter of George Washington Sevier and Catherine Chambers, and the granddaughter of John Sevier, first and six times governor of Tennessee, the only governor of the State of Franklin, elected to Congress four times, and a hero of the Revolutionary War.
The couple received the 2000-acre site from the Sevier family as a wedding present when they married in 1842. They named it “Leafy Lot,” due to the many trees, orchards, and vineyards located there.
By 1845, the Norvells had built the four-room “Melrose” cottage there and a small brick building which served as the farm office. For nearly 20 years, the farm prospered. Henry raised grain, cattle, and hogs at Leafy Lot, while the family lived in Nashville. Henry Norvell loved fruit trees and had not only a magnificent orchard, but a fine vineyard as well. His wife loved roses and had a large collection of the finest varieties of the period. It is a family tradition that each spring there was considerable family discussion as to what proportion of the family funds should be spent for fruit trees and what for roses. Then the war changed everything.
In 1864, following the Atlanta campaign, Confederate General John Bell Hood moved north into Tennessee in an attempt to draw General William T. Sherman away from Georgia. Hood marched to Nashville to capture the Union supply depot. Unfortunately for the Norvell family, Leafy Lot lay in the path of both armies. From late November until mid-December 1864, the Battle of Nashville raged near the Norvell farm. On December 3, 1864, Hood and his army encamped around the cottage, which became a field hospital, and the Leafy Lot became breastworks for the southern army. December 1864 was bitterly cold, with rain and sleet, and Hood’s troops cut down trees for firewood, decimating the farm. As a result, the farm became known as “Hood’s Waste,” for little remained of Leafy Lot’s lush gardens and wood lots.
Henry’s son Joseph Allen Norvell would later relate that during the “Battle of Hood’s Waste” fearing for the life of his pet cat, he had “snitched” the key to Leafy Lot’s storehouse and given all the hams to the Hood’s men, who rescued his cat for him. Others in the family attributed the opening of the storehouse to Henry who, despite his loyalty to the Union, felt he must help Hood’s starving army. Given the divided loyalties within the family, both stories are likely to be true at least in part.
Be this as it may, Leafy Lot was left a wasteland and the northern army occupied its grounds for several years during the Reconstruction period. Henry Norvell was later given the job of federal collector of internal revenue, most likely due to his loyalty during the war, but the Norvells never recovered financially from their losses.
A longer version of this story appears in the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History: “How Leafy Lot became Longview Mansion.”