This story originally appeared in the Fall 2022 print edition of the Tennessee State Museum Quarterly Newsletter.
Orr Family Furniture Group, 1815 to 1825
The Museum has received a donation of two pieces of furniture with an outstanding Tennessee provenance from the Orr Family of Marshall County. This desk and bookcase, together with a cherry tall case clock, descended through the family of Robert Orr (1764–1855). The desk and bookcase are ornamented with striking inlay more typical in the East and less commonly found in Middle Tennessee. The tall case clock features hand-carved fluted pilasters on its bright cherry exterior. Its Cincinnati-made wooden clock works present interesting stories about travel and trade in the state’s early history.
Orr Family Furniture, Tennessee State Museum collection, clock (2022.32), desk and bookcase (2022.8)
Born in Maryland, Robert Orr came to Tennessee around 1801 and operated a blacksmith shop and lumber mill in Marshall County. When he died, his estate included a five-dollar clock and a “desk bookcase” valued at twenty-five dollars, a high price suggesting exceptional quality and ornamentation. These two pieces of furniture remained in the family for two centuries before arriving at the Tennessee State Museum this year, generously donated by the family of Robert Jackson Orr, IV. Both pieces hold fascinating stories about rural cabinetmaking and the movement of people, objects and traditions in and throughout early Tennessee. Through ongoing research and conservation, we hope to share more new developments in the study of Tennessee furniture soon.
The Tennessee State Museum thanks Robert Jackson Orr IV and family for this generous donation.