Nashville is more than music, riverfront, and great food. Its surrounding area also has a rich history dating back to the Civil War era. My family and I recently took a trip to the city and explored the Lotz House. Imagine the cheerful occasion of celebrating your daughter’s 6th birthday. Loved ones gathered, presents to open and smiles around the room. You go to bed with happiness in your heart and your daughter’s joyful expressions in your mind just to be awoken to Union soldiers digging trenches just 80 yards south of your house. The soldiers have torn down your wood shop, barns and carriage house to use the material to create barricades. The General approaches you and informs you that they are preparing for a battle. He advises you that if you flee your home he would not be able to guarantee the contents of it. What would you do? This was the exact position of Mr. Johann Lotz in 1864.
Before I go any further, let me give you a little background.
A Better Life in Tennessee
Johann Lotz brought his family to the United States from Germany in search of a better life. They settled in Franklin, Tennessee in 1855 where Mr. Lotz, a master woodworker, began building the now infamous Lotz House. With his own two hands, he constructed the home with intricate details and displayed their residence as a “show house” to demonstrate his talent to potential clients who were looking to build their own homes. On the morning of November 30, 1864, he awoke to what was about to be one of the most horrific battles of the entire Civil War. Knowing that his wooden house wouldn’t hold up to the severe fighting that was about to take place, he gathered his family and all of the tools he could carry (after all, his tools were his livelihood and provided for his family) and took off down the street to the Carter house.
There, the Lotz family took refuge along with others in the brick basement for the next 17 hours while the Battle of Franklin raged on. The next day as they emerged from the basement they were horrified at what they saw; countless men lying dead and wounded the entire span of land going back to their house. In fact, Mr. Lotz himself said the bodies were so thick that you couldn’t take a step without walking on someone. The Lotz home became a makeshift hospital for the next several days. Even with the chaos and horror of medical treatment around him, Johann began to quickly repair all the damage done to his once beautiful home. The damage was extensive.
Wreckage at the Lotz House
The southern wall had been blasted off due to Confederate cannonballs. He sealed up the windows that were once there and created a solid wall. He patched holes in the ceiling and floor where cannon balls came through. He did what he could to repair his house quickly and efficiently so his family could survive the winter. They lived in the dirt cellar below the house while repairs were made and soldiers were cared for. It’s very humbling to walk through the house where you see the remnants of war still there over 150 years later and blood stains in every room from the wounded. You can still feel the panic and passion as you look at repairs that make it clear Johann was not doing his best work as a trained craftsman to fix his home, but doing his best work as a father and provider to his family by making his home secure and livable for his loved ones again.
The Lotz family was ultimately forced to leave their cherished home due to a poor economy after the Civil War and threats from the Ku Klux Klan on Johann’s life. The Lotz House was sold over and over again in the years to come. It has recently been reclaimed and opened as a museum that not only showcases Johann’s talent but also serves as a historical building and a Civil War museum.
Born to Johann and Margaretha Lotz on November 29, 1858, little Matilda grew up with a natural love of animals and a talent for drawing them. In fact, she would draw animals in the dirt with branches, on paper with cooled coal from the fireplace and once she even attempted to draw on an empty wall (see parents, this artistic expression has been going on for years!) This passion would prove to be her life calling. After moving to California she attended the San Francisco School of Design and later continued her education at a school in Paris. Matilda became a world renowned painter and animal portrait artist. You can see some of her original works hanging in the Lotz House which still seems to communicate her deep love and passion for animals.
The Lotz home was one of the most heavily damaged structures during the Civil War. So damaged, in fact, that even though it took Mr. Lotz three years to build the house, it took him four years to complete all the repairs. As you can imagine, most of the interior was destroyed in battle. A great deal of the Lotz family belongs were damaged by bullets, blood and the chaos of war. Some things were salvaged and still remain there today, some of which Johann himself made. Not everything there nowadays was originally in the house in 1864 but all the furnishings are true to the period and help paint the picture of what their home was like in its original and intended state.
The Guided Tour
For $10, a tour guide will take you room to room in this iconic home and tell you about the history, the craftsmanship of the house and the furniture within it. Your guide will tell you the unique stories that belong to each quarter. In the main area, you will find cases of Civil War antiques — some of which were picked up off the battlefield right in front of the house.
I will leave most of the stories about paranormal activities up to the guides, if they would like to share their experiences with you, but I will tell you a couple accounts that I heard first hand. Everyone who works at The Lotz House admits to strange things happening. Items being moved overnight, things going missing and even sightings on camera within the house. The director puts it best by saying, “Whatever or whoever is here just wants to be acknowledged. So every morning we say ‘Good morning!’ and every evening before we leave we say ‘Goodnight’.” It seems so long as whatever or whoever is there is recognized they are content, but if you forget about them they will remind you of their presence. I felt a strong connection to this house as we pulled our car on property. I thought it would be a horrid and fearful connection because of the massacre that happened there but it was not what I expected. I felt peace, love, and yes, an odd presence but not one I was fearful of. I personally think the way this home and Johann’s legacy is being cared for does so much honor to the family that someone, somewhere is showing their gratitude.
The Lotz House Foundation
After the Lotz family fled to California their home was sold multiple times as a residence to a variety of owners and also became a dwelling for many businesses. It has been everything from apartments to restaurants. In 2008, the Lotz House Foundation was established and purchased the house back. They restored the house to its original state and preserved the building and its stories so that the public could be educated on the history and culture of the Battle of Franklin. They have done a great honor to Mr. Johann Lotz himself by protecting and displaying his talent and his passion the way it was intended to be. All proceeds go to supporting the foundation and preserving this historic building.
The Lotz House is probably one of my favorite historical experiences I’ve ever had. Not only did I learn a lot about the time period, the battle and the political climate of the age, but it felt like I was introduced to an amazing family all these years later as if it was face to face. This home touches on so many levels. It’s relatable to the history buff, the war hero, the art lover, the one who works with their hands and the family person inside all of us that just wants to provide and love our families well. A wonderful experience for adults and kids alike, this is a must do for anyone in the Nashville area.
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