Akard-Smalling Farm Recognized for Agricultural Contributions
MURFREESBORO — The Akard-Smalling Farm in Sullivan County has been designated as a Tennessee Century Farm, reports Caneta S. Hankins, director of the Century Farms Program at the Center for Historic Preservation at MTSU.
The Century Farms Program recognizes the contributions of Tennessee residents who have owned and kept family land in continuous agricultural production for at least 100 years.
Adam Akard and the Rev. James King exchanged parcels of land in 1832, and Adam and his wife, Elizabeth Wassom Akard, built a home on the farm. He and Elizabeth had eight children – John, Jacob, James, Moses, Sara (also called Sally), Samuel, William and David. Elizabeth died, and Adam married Charlotte Hampton in 1840. They had one daughter, Margaret. The Akards raised sheep and row crops. Soon after Margaret’s birth, Adam died and was buried at the Beeler Cemetery in Bristol, Tenn., which is within two miles of the farm.
The farm was then divided among Adam’s seven surviving children. William Akard and his brother John spent the next 10 years purchasing their siblings’ interest in the farm and then divided the land. By 1853, William was the sole owner of 127 acres of the original property, and he also owned an additional 108 acres. William’s wife of 24 years, Rebecca Giesler Akard died, and he married Phebe Elizabeth Wassom, a widow, in 1872. With Rebecca, William had five children: Mary, David, Amanda, Rebecca and Eliza. With Phebe, he had Dorothy Jane, who hated her first name and called herself “Jennie D.” At 39, William joined the Confederate Army and served as a private in the 63rd Tennessee Infantry, Company E. The family raised sheep, cattle and chickens while growing wheat. Phebe died in 1899, and William died in 1906. Both were buried near Adam Akard at the Beeler Cemetery.
Jennie D. Akard married Andrew T. Smalling on March 1, 1898, in “the house of her father’s”, according to the family bible. In 1903, Andrew contracted Will Hendrix to build a house and springhouse that Andrew had helped design; it still stands on the property. After William Akard’s death, the Smallings’ inherited/purchased the 235-acre farm. The couple had five children – Andrew Jr., William Cody (who died in infancy), Elizabeth Harriet, Hazel Nell and Jenny Akard--and used their farm to produce extensive crops and livestock. They grew wheat, beans, corn, oats, tomatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, lettuce, onions and rhubarb and cultivated pear trees while also raising cattle, dairy cows and chickens.
While Jennie managed their home operations, Andrew was recognized as a leading businessman in Bristol as well as in the region, and across the South. Not only did he have the contract for the Morton, Lewis and Willey Lumber Company’s properties, he purchased much of the acreage after logging it. Because of this, he became a major landholder and ran several farms.
Outside the state, Andrew Smallings owned the Washington Springs Hotel in Glade Springs, Va. 30 miles away and a 10,000-acre plantation on the coast of Georgia near Savannah. Andrew died in 1926, leaving Jennie, with the aid of her son Andy Jr., to manage the estate. After Andy Jr. died in an automobile accident four years later, family tradition holds that various business partners took advantage of Jennie and her daughters’ lack of financial knowledge during the Great Depression and, as a result, the family lost everything except the original 235-acre farm leaving them in debt.
When Jennie Smalling passed away in 1942, she left 200 acres of the farm and the Smalling house to her daughter Hazel Nell and Hazel Nell’s husband, Lewis Francis. Nell was educated at Sullins College and Marion College, while Lewis attended school in Roanoke, Va. In addition to managing the farm, which produced cattle, dairy cows, hogs, chickens, wheat, hay, tobacco, pears, tomatoes and various household crops, Lewis worked in the Bristol Harold Courier’s pressroom. He paid off the Smalling family debt and successfully managed the original family acreage until his death in 1973. The Francises had one son, Andrew A., who inherited the farm in 1987 after his mother passed away. He leased the farm for cattle and tobacco.
Today, Andy A. Francis and his wife, Mary, live in Knoxville while their son, James and his wife, Sarah who were married on the farm in 2010, live on the farm in the 1903 Victorian farmhouse. Through six generations, the original farm has shrunk to 76 acres, but James has plans to expand the farm’s acreage. The farm has produced beef and dairy cattle, chickens, hogs, wheat, hay, corn and various vegetables. James recently planted an acre of chestnut trees and continues to lease pastureland for cattle.
The Akard-Smalling Farm is the 26th Century Farm to be certified in Sullivan County and is the county’s 8th oldest farm.
Since 1984, the Center for Historic Preservation at MTSU has been a leader in the important work of documenting Tennessee’s agricultural heritage and history through the Tennessee Century Farms Program.
For more information about the Century Farms Program, please visit www.tncenturyfarms.org. The Center for Historic Preservation also may be contacted at Box 80, MTSU, Murfreesboro, Tenn., 37132 or 615-898-2947.
• ATTENTION, MEDIA: To interview the farm’s owner or request jpegs of the farm for editorial use, please contact the CHP at 615-898-2947.