‘Riley Estate’ is Pickett’s newest Tennessee Century Farm
The’ Riley Estate’ at 1625 Jones Chapel Road, Byrdstown has met the criteria to be included in the Tennessee Century Farms Program. Caneta Hankins Director for Century Farms Program administered at Middle Tennessee State University for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture made this announcement after verifying the documents submitted by the current owners of the Riley Estate, Gregory and Deborah Tompkins of Burkesville, Ky. To qualify for as a Tennessee Century Farm a property has to be held by the same family for at least 100 years.
Joe and Ellen Riley were married in October 1898 and shortly thereafter their parents refurbished an existing log cabin for the newlyweds on their new property. The cabin was located at the current home sight of Kevin and Melissa Tompkins. “I knew our old place was qualified for the Century Farms Program,” said Greg Tompkins, “but with most county records being destroyed in 1934 when the courthouse burned, our family records were not enough to prove the line of ownership. Then mother (Audrey Tompkins) discovered that she had a receipt dated Feb. 2, 1902 where her grandpa Joe Riley paid his land taxes at the Pickett County Courthouse”. The tax receipt was discovered in the drawer of Ellen Riley’s treadle sewing machine. Audrey Tompkins, had her grandmother’s old sewing machine restored after it had sat for years among other relics of the estate. Years after the restoration the receipt was still in the drawer where it had been placed by either Joe or Ellen Riley apparently for safekeeping when the taxes were paid. The tax receipt for $3.07 was sufficient evidence that the property was indeed in the possession of Joe Riley as early as 1901. Other family records, photographs, and copies of deeds from the current files at the courthouse in Byrdstown were used to further demonstrate the linage of ownership.
Joe and Ellen Riley passed away in the mid 1960’s. They had three surviving sons, Webster, J.E. and McKinley. Elbert Riley, Frank Riley, and Audrey Tompkins are today’s surviving grandchildren of Joe and Ellen Riley. Portions of the original holdings of Joe and Ellen Riley were deeded to Webster and J.E. in the 1930’s and each made their living and raised their families on the property. Elbert and other family members still occupy the land deeded to J.E. Webster’s portion passed to his daughter Audrey after Webster and wife Maggie’s passing. In 2009, Greg and Debbie Tompkins acquired the remnant of the deeded acreage from Greg’s mother Audrey.
“I remember very well my great grandparents Joe and Ellen Riley and I spent most of my youth on this old place,” says Greg, “and I feel very privileged to be in possession of what is left of it. My professional career as a County Agriculture Extension Agent has been spent serving the needs of people who make their living farming and who appreciate the land and its resources. I appreciate the opportunity to have my ancestor’s estate recognized in this fashion”.
For more information about Tennessee’s Century Farms Program visit www.mtsuhistpres.org.