In 1855 Johann Albert Lotz drew his wagon to a stop on a parcel of land, five acres of lush landscape in the center of Franklin, Tennessee. Lotz, a German immigrant and master carpenter, dreamed of building his greatest creation on that parcel of land in the heart of town. His dream would come to life, but he had no idea that less than ten years later, on November 30, 1864, it would nearly come crashing down—literally.
As a master carpenter and piano maker, Lotz needed to display his skill and savvy with his medium to potential clients. What better avenue to showcase his expertise than with his own house? When Lotz purchased those five acres in Franklin, it was with the intention of building the perfect showroom—and home—to demonstrate his craft.
The house, which he finished constructing in 1858, boasted a bevy of the carpenter’s skills. The three fireplace mantles exhibited his range of talent, from the simple to the most intricate, complex carvings. A solid black walnut handrail found its feet (in the form of an inverted piano leg) on the ground floor and wound its way up to the second floor, an incredible feat in carpentry, especially for the time period. Lotz even brought his carpentry clout outdoors, adorning the exterior of the house with hand-carved acorn finials, millwork, and cartouches.
For three years, Lotz’s business flourished, his home a testament to his talent. But in 1861 the Civil War commenced—four years of brutality and suffering that left scars on souls and structures alike.
Lotz, like every entrepreneur, put his business on hold during the war, but the conflict very nearly put his life—and the life of his entire family—on hold, as well. In late November of 1864, the front neared Franklin. With battle impending, the main Union line established itself a mere 100 yards south of the Lotz house. Terrified of the havoc a battle would inflict on his beautiful wooden house, Lotz dreaded the coming days. The Lotzes’ neighbors, the Carters, in the house across the street offered them refuge. The Lotzes, along with twenty other local citizens, took shelter in the basement of the Carter’s imposing brick house.
The Battle of Franklin was waged on the thirtieth of November, 1864. For hours, the fray raged above the Lotzes, Carters, and innocents of Franklin. When they finally emerged from the basement on December 1, the battle was over—but the chaos was just beginning. They were met by the sight of thousands of dead and dying. Within hours, the Lotz house—which had survived the battle, but held the marks of fire, bullets, and cannonball—became a hospital for the wounded of both sides. The home, once a testament to Lotz’s carpentry talent, remained an infirmary for the remainder of the war.
Visitors to the home today can still find evidence of the Lotz house’s former life. As a carpenter, Lotz’s gut reaction was to immediately begin mending the damages, but there were some flaws he simply couldn’t fix. In the downstairs hall, for example, you’ll still find the scorch marks of a stray cannonball; the hot lead dropped through the roof and the second floor (both of which were expertly patched by Lotz himself), before landing on the first floor and rolling, leaving a black burn in its wake. There are also still blood stains scattered across the home, attestation of the house’s months as a hospital.
After the war, Lotz tried to reaffirm his position as the local master carpenter but, like many Southerners, found the reestablishment of his old life to be futile. Instead, he packed his family and briefly moved to Memphis before wheeling his way across the continent to California.
But the Lotz name was not to be forgotten around Franklin. Matilda Lotz, the carpenter’s daughter, inherited her father’s artistry and went on to become one of the most famous American painters of the age. One of her paintings still hangs in the halls of the Lotz House and is joined by one of the largest collections of Civil War-era antiques in the nation. In fact, the Lotz House is now a museum of antiques and artifacts, including the classic furniture designs of John Henry Belter and Prudent Mallard and beautiful stuffed birds by James Audobon. The house showcases the life of the Lotzes, the era of the Civil War, and, of course, the skills of Johann Lotz himself—just as he had always intended.
SEE MORE LOTZ HOUSE PHOTOS HERE