Editor’s Note: The recent purchase by the City of Gallatin of the remaining acres of the historic Langley Hall property on Coles Ferry Road along with the approach of Valentine's Day have reminded this writer of the unlikely love story that spawned the writing of The Lost World of Langley Hall. That book, published in 2013, told the story of local banker, farmer, and stockman William Young Allen and his wife, Katherine Trousdale, independently wealthy granddaughter of General William Trousdale, once governor of Tennessee. The following story came to light after the book was published.
It was December 1905, and William Young Allen, known to his friends as Will, once again was choosing a Christmas gift to present to Miss Katie Trousdale, the love of his life. Will had courted Katie 15 years or so now, and he must have felt at times that it was a hopeless cause.
The two of them were recognized by friends as a couple and were invited to dinner together. They were seen together around town. Will would drive his carriage out to Katie's stunning mansion, Langley Hall, to take her for rides or to visit her extended family. They enjoyed simple pleasures like gathering chestnuts in the fall as well as more elegant affairs in Nashville. They seemed perfect for each other.
But the long courtship seemed to be going nowhere, and even Will's family took note. In 1902, one of his sisters had written to their brother: "W. & K. still 'baffling' along - same old way as the last three years - not any moves [toward] marriage as anyone knows of..." The brother later commented to a niece, "Looks like somebody don't know their mind and isn't fully decided whether they will have the other or not and that somebody can't be your Uncle Willie..."
What was the problem? Perhaps there were other reasons, but the main one was fear. Katie suffered from what was most likely Crohn's disease, an illness that often weakened her to the point of emaciation. Also both Katie's mother and grandmother had died shortly after giving birth. One of her aunts and one of her cousins had died in childbirth. Katie feared marriage because she feared childbirth. She feared that she herself was not strong enough to survive it. Knowing this, Will Allen must have despaired of ever achieving his heart's desire.
So it was that in 1905 Will chose a special book to give to his Katie. Eve's Daughters it was called, a beautiful white volume trimmed in gold leaf that contained page after page of quotations about women, all lavishly illustrated in the sensuous art nouveau style so common during a time many called "the Gilded Age."
Much thought went into the selection of this book, for Will planned to use it to plead his cause one more time. Scattered through the pages of the book he underlined words, highlighted passages with his own quotation marks, and on occasion even added words for emphasis. Hopefully, Will inscribed the book "Miss Katie Trousdale, December 1905" and presented it.
It is easy to imagine Katie as she leafed through the book, torn as always between her heart and her fear. Among the 30 or so passages Will had marked were those that declared his love, like "In every sense of the word, a woman owns the man who loves her more than he owns her" and "If all women's faces were cast in the same mould, that mould would be the grave of love."
His loneliness was palpable in "Either sex alone is but half itself" and "A house without a woman and firelight is like a body without a soul or spirit." To this last one, Will had added his own plaintive comment: "I speak knowingly."
But perhaps the most vivid expression of his own inner turmoil was in the way he had restated "A woman despises a man for loving her unless she happens to return his love" by adding a word and changing the punctuation. Now it read, "Does a woman despise a man for loving her unless she happens to return his love?" Poor Will! But Katie was still not ready.
Perhaps on Valentine's Day 1906 Katie received flowers from Will with yet another plea. Perhaps as always she struggled to respond. Perhaps the scene was repeated often, or perhaps it wasn't. All we know is that not until October 1909 did Katie finally relent, after a courtship of nearly 20 years. When they finally married, Katie was 43 years old. Will was 46.
By intent, they had no children of their own, but they doted on those in their family. Friends quickly learned that a child named for one of them could be assured of a handsome gift like a pony from the Langley Hall stables. There were many children named "Will Allen" and "Katherine" born in Gallatin during those years.
William Young Allen and Katherine Trousdale had been married for 30 years when Will died on New Year's Day 1941. It's safe to say that a story like this one would probably never happen in the world of the 21st century, but it is sweet to know that such romance - and loyalty - did indeed exist in the long-ago world of 1905.
This article is written by chapter member Judith Morgan on behalf of the General Jethro Sumner Chapter, National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, as part of that group's mission to preserve and honor national and local history. The Lost World of Langley Hall is available at the Sumner County Archives.