Civil War  |  Historic Site

Matt Gardner Homestead Museum


110 Dixontown Rd, Elkton, TN 38455
Elkton, TN 38455
United States

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This heritage site is a part of the American Battlefield Trust's Road to Freedom: Tennessee Tour Guide app, which showcases sites integral to the Black experience during the Civil War era. Download the FREE app now.

Matt Gardner Homestead Museum (Front), Giles County, Tenn.
Matt Gardner Homestead Museum, Giles County, Tenn. Matt Gardner Homestead Museum

Born enslaved in 1847, Matt Gardner gained his freedom during the Civil War and, like few Black landowners, rose to prominence as a farmer and leader who strengthened his community.

His parents were enslaved house servants. After his father died, he was sold along with his family to a plantation here in Elkton. During the sale of the plantation and some 90 enslaved people, Gardner was “freed by the events of the war” after the Union re-occupied Giles County in late 1863.

In 1870, he was living with his family in Giles County working as a farm laborer. He married Henrietta Jenkins in 1877. Their family grew to include 11 children and some 60 grandchildren, many of whom carried on their legacy in this community.

Gradually, Gardner accumulated resources and, in 1889, partnered with John Dixon to purchase 106 acres of farmland along the Elk River. By the time he built this farmhouse in 1896, he was the sole owner. Into the 20th century, Gardner supported the community’s economy, profitably farming several hundred acres, trading goods from his store, and lending money to Blacks and whites. But his success also drew attacks from the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

In the late 1880s, he helped fund and build the first Black school in Elkton, and housed and paid the teachers. When the KKK burned it down in 1926, the Baptist churches he served became classrooms. He raised funds to build the Rosenwald Black public school that opened in 1930, which survives today as the Union Hill Missionary Baptist Church less than a mile east on Dixon Town Road.

Reverend Gardner encouraged fellowship among African Americans in Giles County and surrounding communities, purchasing a nearby gravel island for river baptisms in 1902, preaching for a circuit of several churches, and pastoring New Hope Primitive Baptist Church of Elkton beginning in 1911.

When Gardner died in 1943, he left behind a remarkable legacy of family, faith, and community. Today his descendants must overcome new challenges to preserve and reopen the Matt Gardner Homestead Museum.

Matt Gardner Homestead Museum: What's Nearby

Elkton, TN