by Susan Douglas Wilson.
Elm Hill Pike is one of the most historic roads in Nashville. Few thoroughfares in our city contain so much history packed into so few miles. The road, which probably began as a buffalo or Indian trail, has been mentioned in several accounts of early Nashville history. Andrew Jackson was reported to be a frequent traveler on Elm Hill Pike on his journeys from downtown Nashville to the Hermitage. Mapmakers and old-timers have also referred to this road as “the chicken pike” and the Stones River Road.
As you turn off of Murfreesboro Pike onto Elm Hill Pike, the first historic site encountered is Mt. Ararat Cemetery on the north. Mount Ararat was founded in 1869 by local black leaders and became a burial ground for many of Nashville’s black pioneers. Over the years, the cemetery became a dumping ground and a target for vandals. In 1982 the management of Mt. Ararat was taken over by the Greenwood Cemetery’s board of directors, which voted to change the name from Mt. Ararat to Greenwood Cemetery West and to begin a comprehensive restoration project.
About a mile east of Mt. Ararat Cemetery is Greenwood Cemetery, established on thirty-seven acres in 1888 by Preston Taylor. Taylor, born a slave in Louisiana in 1849, was an influential black preacher, undertaker, and business leader. In addition to Taylor, illustrious Nashville citizens buried at Greenwood Cemetery include Z. Alexander Looby, the Rev. Kelly Miller Smith, Sr., DeFord Bailey, John Merritt, and J. C. Napier.
In 1906 Preston Taylor opened Greenwood Park on approximately forty acres adjoining Greenwood Cemetery. The park was established to serve the black community and included a baseball stadium, skating rink, swimming pool, theater, merry-go-round, bandstand, zoo, and many other attractions. A state-wide fair and a Boy Scout summer camp were also held at Greenwood Park. The admission to the park was ten cents on regular days and twenty-five cents on holidays. The Fairfield-Green streetcar stop was nearby and horse-drawn wagons would pick up patrons and deliver them to the park’s entrance at Lebanon Road and Spence Lane. Preston Taylor died in 1931 and his wife managed the park until its closing in 1949.
Buchanan’s Station was located about another mile east where Mill Creek crosses Elm Hill Pike. The station was established by John Buchanan in 1780. Twelve years later, an oft-recounted Indian battle ensued. On a moonlit night in 1792, a band of three hundred Creek and Cherokee, under the leadership of Chiachattalla, raided the station. The twenty-one settlers fought bravely and defeated their attackers, killing Chiachattalla. Major Buchanan lived at the station until his death in 1832. He is buried, along with his wife and other settlers, in the station’s cemetery.
Peabody College established the Seaman A. Knapp School of Rural Life in 1915 on one hundred fifty acres on Elm Hill Pike. More acreage, including the site of Buchanan’s Station, was acquired in 1922. The farm was the first institution in the United States devoted to the study of the problems of rural life. Peabody College officials believed that teachers should become acquainted with agricultural life since so many of them would be teaching in rural areas. The experimental farm became a showplace with award-winning dairy and beef cattle herds. Innovative techniques in irrigation, pasturage and field equipment were tested at the farm; and many crops were raised including a certified corn station and a contoured, 25-acre orchard. Knapp Farm provided Peabody College with all its meat, vegetables, and fruit until World War II. The importance of the farm declined after the 1920s because of state-supported agricultural research. Expensive to maintain, Knapp Farm was sold in 1965 to a contractor who developed it into an industrial park.
Though the exact location of Mud Tavern is disputed, most old-timers agree that it was near the intersection of Elm Hill Pike and McGavock Pike. The tavern, built during Nashville’s youth, was made of cedar logs with a mud and stick chimney. Andrew Jackson was a frequent patron and it is reported that he spent two days there planning strategy in his duel with the ill-fated Charles Dickinson. Years later a community named Mud Tavern grew up in the area and contained a railroad station, school, post office, and grocery store. The Mud Tavern school building was used for many years as a clubhouse by the Elm Hill Community Club.
On the far side of Donelson Pike, at the corner of Elm Hill Pike and Hurt Drive, is the James Buchanan house. This two-story log house was built circa 1809. James Buchanan and his wife are buried in the family graveyard near the house, which is now under the care of the Association for Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities.
At the present time, Elm Hill Pike ends at Bell Road. The eastern-most part of the road has been re-engineered several times. The course of the road itself may change, but the history of Elm Hill Pike will always remain as a significant part of Nashville’s heritage. (2000)