Remembering Omohundro

by Doris Boyce.

Few people realize that Nashville is home to one of America’s oldest water pumping stations, continuously in operation since 1889. Originally named the George Reyer Pumping Station, in honor of a long-time superintendent of the Nashville Water Works, the station and the adjoining R.L. Lawrence filtration plant (in service since 1928) eventually came to be called the Omohundro Water Plant. Originally operating under steam power, the plant was converted to electricity in 1953. The Omohundro plant, which has a pumping capacity of 139,000,000 gallons of water a day, is one of the two treatment plants that provide all the water for Nashville and neighboring communities. In 1987 the Omohundro Complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Even fewer people know that the names of the water plant and Pumping Station Road were changed in 1961 to honor “Squire” John Moten Omohundro Sr. The meandering Omohundro Drive, which adjoins Omohundro Place and Omohundro Court, intersects twice with Lebanon Road not far from downtown Nashville.

John Moten Sr. was often referred to in print as the “Squire,” not to be confused with John Moten Jr. or John Moten III. The senior Moten was born in Roanoke, Virginia, in 1883 and came to Tennessee’s Wilson County as a boy. He had an active political career for over fifty-six years, serving as a justice of the peace, chief of detectives, constable, inspector, magistrate, and city judge of Criminal Court. Known as the Honorable John M. Omohundro, Esquire, he was a member of the court from 1924 until his retirement in 1960. In addition, he served on the Highway Commission when construction of Old Hickory Boulevard began and when the Old Hickory bridge over the Cumberland River was built in 1927-28. His name and those of others on the Commission are carved on both stone approaches to the twin metal bridges.

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North entrance to the Old Hickory bridge, Old Hickory, Tennessee (Photo by Brent Moore,

The Squire was an imposing man, over six feet tall, who always wore a white Stetson hat and sported a handkerchief in his pocket. He spoke with a husky voice through a hole in his throat after an operation in the early 1930s. He rode comfortably astride a horse, his father having been a partner in a Nashville livery stable, Jones and Omohundro. On horseback, Squire patrolled the powder plant at DuPont during World War I. He was a force within his community, known to be a man who got things done. Governor Buford Ellington and Mayor Beverly Briley were honorary pallbearers at his 1967 funeral.

In 1906 he married Sadie Poynor, who also enjoyed an admirable public career. She became Postmaster of Donelson in 1943, remaining in that position until the Donelson post office became a Nashville branch in 1954. Sadie was then named a postal superintendent, serving in that capacity until her retirement in 1957. She also had the distinction of being the first president of the Parent-Teachers Association of the old Rosemont School, which later became the Margaret Allen school.

The Squire and Sadie had two children, Alybel and John M. Jr. Alybel and her husband Bill Johnson had no children. John married Frances Nelson, and their union resulted in five children, ten grandchildren, and thirteen great-grandchildren.

Although the surname Omohundro is shrouded in folklore, we do know that the first recorded Omohundro in North America was Richard, who bought property in Virginia’s Westmoreland County in 1670. He married the daughter of the Englishman William Moxley, and all other American Omohundros have descended from them.

Before ending this tribute to the Squire, we should mention his famous uncle, “Texas Jack” Omohundro, who was a protégé of Buffalo Bill Cody. Texas Jack was a magnificent specimen of physical manhood, six feet tall and of the finest proportions. A native of Virginia, he was born in 1846, created a legendary persona, and died before our Squire Omohundro was born. Books written about the life and times of Texas Jack have influenced generations. The Texas Jack website describes him as a “cowboy, prairie scout, western hunting guide, Wild West showman, and partner of W. F. ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody and James B. ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok.” Perhaps Squire Omohundro infused a bit of his larger-than-life uncle into our local heritage.

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