Reportedly the oldest brick commercial structure in North Carolina, the Rea Museum was built ca 1790-1800 by William Rea, a wealthy Boston merchant and shipper. The structure is built of locally produced brick with walls twenty inches thick and it has most of the interior woodwork intact.
The one-story brick addition was constructed slightly later than the main building. It was built as an office for Rea’s close friend and attorney Thomas Maney. Maney practiced law at the site until he moved in 1827 to Tennessee, where he became a prominent state judge.
In later years the Ferguson Agriculture Implement Company occupied the building. Fenton Finley Ferguson (1849-1918) opened a machine shop in the old William Rea Store on Williams Street in 1891. The Ferguson Machine Company was well equipped, and its owner widely respected both for his ingenuity and interest in community development. His inventive work, especially that devoted to the design and construction (with Jesse Benthall) of the first successful peanut picker, was to have far reaching social and economic significance.
The building was donated to The Murfreesboro Historical Association, Inc., in 1967 by Mr. and Mrs. Edwin P. Brown, Sr., and became the first major restoration of the “Murfreesboro Adaptive Restoration Program.”
Today the structure serves as the Historical Association’s main museum building, featuring special exhibitions on agriculture, education, architecture, river trade, Native American life, Dr. Jim Jordan, and the Gatling Family.
During the restoration, the interior woodwork from the main room of the Gatling plantation house was removed and recreated in one section of the building. This room now houses the Gatling Collection, which examines the illustrious lives of inventors Richard Jordan Gatling and his brother James Henry Gatling.