Chancery Court, the Adelphi, and Adolphus Heiman

by Linda Center.

The Davidson County Chancery Court dockets located at Metro Archives are a little known and greatly underutilized resource for Nashville history. Established in 1836, Chancery Court for this district was held in Franklin, Williamson County, until 1846. In that year a separate court was created for Davidson County with Terry H. Cahal appointed as Chancellor. In 1997-1998 Archives staff and volunteers took on the task of cleaning, flattening, and indexing dockets dating from 1846 through 1865, and they were able to complete the first five years (through 1851). From those first 800 dockets staffers created a database of over 16,000 entries listing the names of the principals, along with their family members and slaves.

The dockets from these early cases, some of which continued for years, contain a wealth of details about daily life in Nashville and Middle Tennessee. The depositions, exhibits, and supporting papers are lively documents describing personal items of dress, toiletries, medicines, and sometimes even personal appearance. In the depositions themselves, which were phonetically recorded by the clerk, the speech patterns, pronunciations, and idioms of the day come through loud and clear. Many documents contain vivid descriptions of people, places, and buildings long gone. Consider the case of Gilman et al. vs. The Adelphi Theatre Company, filed April 23, 1851.

In 1850 the Adelphi company was incorporated by the state and proceeded to purchase property on North Cherry Street (today’s 4th Avenue). The major stockholders in the company were Anthony Vanleer, J. Walker Percy, and Hugh Kirkman. The company hired Adolphus Heiman to design a “costly and handsome edifice suitable for theatrical performances.” Timothy W. Gilman, of Gilman & Hughes, submitted his bid of $8,000 plus $200 in stock in the company, and he was selected to be chief carpenter and mechanic under Heiman’s supervision. Major Heiman’s design, completed at a cost of $25,000, was indeed handsome and included a two-story arched entrance which led to the brick-paved lobby. A ventilation system and other up-to-the-minute features were highlights of the plan. At the time, the theater was reputed to have the second largest stage in America.

Gilman found Heiman’s supervision arbitrary and his plans “so vague and indefinite as scarcely to form a basis for a contract and so frequently and repeatedly were they departed from when they were specific that they furnish scarcely a shadow of the work after it was completed.” In several instances, Gilman stated, “when the work had been done according to the original design said Heiman would change his plan have it pulled down taken away and something different put in its stead.”

The theater’s opening night, July 1, 1850, was a gala affair. The opening notice ran in the Republican Banner immediately following the Sexton’s report of burials in the city cemetery: five of the seven deaths had been caused by cholera. “The Theatre – Opens to-night . . . and we expect to see a large audience on hand . . . to see the interior of one of the prettiest and best establishments of the kind in the West or South.” Although, as the notice stated, it was not considered “an auspicious time to commence operations,” Nashville’s finest did indeed turn out for the premiere performance.

The epidemic struck with a vengeance that week. The Banner called for the entire city to limit or cancel July 4th celebrations and did not publish on July 5th, but the Adelphi opened every night of its first week.

Johanna Maria “Jenny” Lind (1820-1887), Swedish soprano

In February 1851 after a successful campaign led by the local newspapers, P.T. Barnum was convinced to bring Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale, to sing in the shiny new theater. However, a third tier of box seats was deemed necessary to accommodate the anticipated crowds, and William Strickland was hired to design the added tier. Gilman & Hughes were once again chief carpenters. They agreed and bound themselves “to make the alterations and enlargements of the interior of the Adelphi Theatre according to the plan now furnished by W. Strickland as Architect…to be finished so it can be used comfortably on the night of the 31(st) March present, being the time fixed as the first concert to be given by Jenny Lind.” Gilman & Hughes charged $1,500 for their services: $1,000 from P.T. Barnum, $250 from the Adelphi Theatre Company, and $250 from ticket subscriptions by hotels and other businesses.

The company did not pay its debts in a timely fashion, and in April 1851 Heiman, Gilman, Strickland, and the other contractors sued. The depositions and bills give a vivid picture of the construction and finishing touches to the building. The court clerk’s copy of Heiman’s written “plan and specifications” describes “a ground story of 142 feet by 65 feet front on Cherry Street . . . with a room on each side of the main entrance of 19 by 23 feet, to be furnished with doors and side lights. All the doors of exit and entrance, are to be put upon pivots instead of hinges, so that they may be opened and shut in either way by any pressure from within or without.” All flooring, seats, doors, box fronts, and the roof shingles were “to be made of well-seasoned poplar.” The stage was furnished with four traps and two stairways leading to the rear of the stage from below.

Many of the leading businesses in Nashville filed claims against the theater company. A.G. Payne supplied the stone for the two-foot-thick foundation and completed the masonry work. Samuel Watkins finished the brickwork for $3,437.89. Painters Hutcherson & Flemming used paints purchased from Kirkman & Ellis Hardware – and what remarkable colors they were: sienna, yellow ochre, rose pink, Vandyke brown, Paris green, Prussian blue, Venetian red, chrome yellow, red, and green. From McNairy & Hamilton came books of gold leaf and gallons of lead and turpentine. Claiborne & Macey supplied braces, pulleys, plates, chains, hooks, and brackets. From W. & R. Freeman came gilt frames, yards of damask and gimp [ribbonlike braid or cord used to trim furniture or clothing], silk tassels, a pair of “curtain ornaments,” and 689 feet of gilt molding.

Chancellor A.O.P. Nicholson decreed that the theater should be sold at public auction to pay all debts against the company. Heiman, acting as agent for the creditors, offered the winning bid of $10,000. The property was to be “vested in them as tennants (sic) in common,” the share of each creditor to be in proportion to his claim against the company. After Heiman failed to “execute his notes,” the theater was again put up for sale. This time W.W. Wetmore made the winning bid, and the creditors were paid at last. William Strickland, as a Class III claimant, was paid only after all other debts were satisfied. He received $100 for his services. 

In the 1870’s the ownership changed again, and the Adelphi became the Grand Opera House. The theater was gutted by fire in 1902, but the facade with its arched entry remained standing. The theater was rebuilt and opened once again in 1904 as the Bijou. Because other theaters and businesses on Church Street were drawing the crowds away from Fourth Avenue, the Bijou closed its doors in 1913. However, it was rescued one more time in 1916 when the Bijou Amusement Company opened it as the Bijou Theater for Negroes, one of a chain of theaters throughout the south.

Bijou Theatre

The Bijou was a venue for movies, vaudeville shows, concerts, and boxing matches. Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith, and Ma Rainey entertained to packed houses. Special nights were set aside for white audiences to hear blues greats like Smith and her sister Mamie with her band the Jazz Hounds. The tornado of 1933 lifted the roof and dropped part of it across the street. However, not a performance was missed, and under a temporary roof, the Bijou was open again the next day.

The Adelphi/Grand/Bijou Theater stood at 423 4th Avenue North for over one hundred years through bankruptcy, fire, and storms. In 1957 it fell to the wrecking ball to make way for the new Municipal Auditorium. (1998)

‘Til Death Do Us Part: Love and Devotion at City Cemetery

by Carol Kaplan.

The tales of political and military leaders abound at City Cemetery – these influential citizens are often the focus of our research and knowledge. However, beyond the public and civic life of Nashville, private stories show us another more personal life of love and devotion, loss and memory.

Grave of Ann Robertson Cockrill (Nashville City Cemetery Association)

Two married couples may be found on the Foster family plot in section 29.2. The more famous pair is Ann Robertson Johnston and John Cockrill, who fell in love as they traveled with John Donelson’s party on the flatboat flotilla bringing settlers to Nashville in 1780. Ann, the widowed mother of three little girls, and bachelor John Cockrill were both 23 years old when they were married at Fort Nashborough, where Ann’s brother, James Robertson performed the ceremony. Despite the threat of Indian attacks, everyone celebrated the wedding on that spring day with feasting, dancing, fiddling, and bear meat. Both Ann and John received land preemptions, and they settled where Centennial Park stands today. The parents of eight children, they enjoyed a long life together. Ann died in 1821 at 64 years of age; John lived until 1837. They were originally buried near their home, but due to encroaching development, they were brought together to City Cemetery in the early 20th century.

Maj. John Cockrill (1757-1837) built the first brick house in Nashville (Tennessee Portrait Project)

Ann S. Hubbard Foster and her husband Robert C. rest nearby. They had been married 51 years, 6 months, and 12 days when he died in 1844. His vault was reopened when Ann died in 1850, so that the couple could be buried together as she had wished.

Robert Coleman Foster (1769-1844) (Tennessee Portrait Project)

True love sometimes needs a helping hand, as Margaret Nichol discovered when she fell in love with Robert Armstrong, an aide-de-camp to Andrew Jackson. Her wealthy banker father, Josiah Nichol, forbade their marriage, insisting that the life of a soldier’s wife was not what he and Margaret’s mother wanted for their daughter. Not to be denied, Margaret and Robert eloped in 1814, asking for help from the couple they knew would be on their side: Rachel and Andrew Jackson. At the Hermitage, where the future president and his wife were still living in a log cabin, Old Hickory took command, sending for a pastor to perform the marriage and writing to the bride’s father. Jackson reminded Nichol of their own “lack of fortune” when they first came to Nashville together, and vouched for Armstrong’s character. He encouraged smiles, tranquility, and acceptance of the marriage . . . and then invited everyone to a festive dinner party at the cabin.

Margaret Nichol and her beloved husband Robert Armstrong are buried side by side (Nashville City Cemetery Association)

Two of Nashville’s prominent architects designed monuments at City Cemetery. Adolphus Heiman, just beginning his career in Nashville, carved the marker for Nancy Bailey Maynor in 1836. She and her husband, painter Pleasant Maynor, had been married only eight years. Heiman marked the stone with a butterfly, symbolizing a brief, beautiful life.

Architect Adolphus Heiman created this monument for Nancy Bailey Maynor (Nashville City Cemetery Association)

Grieving husband John W. Walker commissioned William Strickland to design a monument for his 28-year-old wife, Sarah Ann Gray. Strickland described the monument as “very elegant . . . constructed of pure white marble from Baltimore . . .. The lachrymal vase is an exact copy of vases found in the ruins of Pompeii.” It was completed in July 1846.

Monument of Sarah Ann Gray Walker, designed by architect William Strickland (Nashville City Cemetery Association)

These stories remind us of the importance of recording the inscriptions and caring for the tombstones of City Cemetery. Without these markers, much of what we know about these people would be lost. The purpose of the monuments, as created by those left behind, was to ensure that their loved ones would always be remembered. Our care of the cemetery keeps that hope alive. (2008)

Previously published in Monuments & Milestones, the Nashville City Cemetery newsletter.

Readers will enjoy exploring the City Cemetery website for tombstone photos, inscriptions, obituaries, and much more:

The Suspension Bridge (1850)

by Allen Forkum.

Since settlers first arrived in 1779, there has been a need for residents to cross the Cumberland River at Nashville. Boats and ferries were the primary means until Nashville’s first bridge was completed in 1823. But within years, this covered toll bridge became an impediment to steamboat traffic, and petitions were made to the state for a second bridge.

View of Cumberland River, looking north, with view of the Woodland Street suspension bridge and railroad bridge in the distance. (from TSLA photograph collection)

In December 1845 the state legislature authorized the Broad Street Bridge Company to “erect a suspension bridge, of sufficient height as to not obstruct the navigation of the Cumberland” located “at or near the junction of Broad and Water streets” (today’s Riverfront Park). The public act dictated toll rates, e.g., “Footmen free; Man and horse, 5 cents. . . ; For any four wheel two horse pleasure carriage, 25 cents,” etc. Charter company members included Felix K. Zollicoffer (1812–1862) and John Shelby (1785–1859), who owned land across the river in the community that would become known as Edgefield. After the location of the bridge was fixed (changed from Broad Street to the Public Square), contractor M.D. Field hired Nashville architect Adolphus Heiman (1809–1862) to design the bridge. Heiman’s work was lauded, but he would resign from the project over disagreements with Field about the bridge’s construction. By August 1850 the “wire suspension bridge” had “hundreds of wagons and other vehicles pass over daily.” The toll bridge officially opened on September 23. It was 663 three feet in length and 110 feet above the low-water mark. One historian said the “magnificent structure . . . gave an impetus to the growth of Edgefield, making desirable a large body of land which was not so well reached by the old bridge.” The old covered bridge was removed in 1851.

On June 16, 1855, disaster struck at the suspension bridge when a portion of the roadway collapsed, sending a carriage and several people plummeting into the river; two people were killed. Newspaper accounts attributed the accident to brittle wood being used to replace the old wood flooring.

On February 18, 1862, despite “urgent appeals” by citizens, retreating Confederate military authorities ordered that the suspension cables be cut to impede advancing Federal troops. John B. Lindsley (1822–1897) witnessed the destruction of the bridge, writing in his diary that he had never seen a “more strikingly beautiful scene . . .the Wire Bridge was a line or flooring of fire.” The railroad bridge was also burned. Federal military authorities formally took possession of the city on February 25.

The suspension bridge was rebuilt in 1866 and reopened again as a toll bridge. But by the 1870s some citizens, particularly those on the Edgefield side of the river, were expressing the desire for a free bridge. In 1882 the city and county jointly purchased the suspension bridge from the Broad Street Bridge Company and reopened it for public use without a toll. Just two years later, however, the bridge was deemed unsafe by engineers and closed. It was agreed that a new bridge would be erected, but to the chagrin of many Edgefield residents, a pay ferry and a toll pontoon bridge had to be used in the meantime. The new bridge, featuring new piers and iron truss spans with two roadways, opened in 1886. Today the Woodland Street Bridge, opened in 1966, crosses the Cumberland River at the same location as the original 1850 suspension bridge.

Sources, abridged:

Chronicles of the Cumberland Settlements (2012), by Paul Clements, page 131.

Nashville Whig, June 11, 1823, “Nashville Bridge.”

Tennessee Legislative Petitions, Record Group 62 card catalog, bridge petitions.

Tennessee Legislative Petitions, 194-1831-1A and 194-1831-1B, petition by Nashville Bridge Company against a second bridge.

Public Acts of Tennessee, 1845-46, Chapter XXVI, pages 71 to 74, authorization of the suspension bridge.

A. Heiman to John Meigs, Dec. 28, 1857, Tennessee Historical Society Miscellaneous Files (T-100) Box 7, H-62, copy of resignation letter.

A. Heiman to John Meigs, Dec. 28, 1857, Tennessee Historical Society Miscellaneous Files (T-100) Box 7, H-63, copy of report to Directors of the Suspension Bridge

Nashville Union, April 18, 1849, “Suspension Bridge.”

Daily (Centre-State) American, August 17, 1850, “The Wire Suspension Bridge…”

History of Davidson County, Tennessee (1880) by W.W. Clayton, pages 308–309, 348.

Daily American, November 13, 1851, “The work of removing the Bridge…”

Nashville Union & American, June 17, 1855, “Terrible Casualty.”

Republican Banner, June 17, 1855, “Unfortunate Accident at the Suspension Bridge.”

Republican Banner, June 19, 1855, “The Bridge Casualty.”

“The Great Panic by an Eye-witness” (1862) booklet

Lindsley, John B., diary, February 20, 1862, “By this time (3 to 4 A.M.) the suspension and railroad bridges were all in flames.”

Republican Banner, April 21, 1866, “The Suspension Bridge over the Cumberland river, connecting Nashville with the pleasant suburb of Edgefield, will be completed in a few weeks.”

Republican Banner, September 23, 1870, “To The Editor” from “Stockholders” regarding “free passage”

Daily American, January 12, 1882, “The Suspension Bridge—The Resolution Proposing Its Condemnation for a Free Bridge.”

Daily American, September 11, 1884, “The New Bridge.”

Daily American, April 18, 1886, “Crossing The River—History of Bridges Across the Cumberland at Nashville.”

Nashville Banner, October 22, 1966, “Man Survives 90-Foot Fall Off Bridge.”

“Nashville Bridges Across the Cumberland River,” by Debie Cox, online at

The Old Nashville Market House, 1828-1937

by Dave Price.

Our original market house was completed during 1802 and can be seen in the well-known map of 1804 Nashville, which appeared in Clayton’s History of Davidson County, Tennessee. Its replacement was begun in April 1828 and was occupied in January 1829. This structure, shown on the 1831 J.P. Ayres (Doolittle & Munson) map, consisted of a long market shed running north and south with a two-story building at each end.

Photograph of the Public Square courtesy of Debie Oeser Cox,

The Ayres map was surrounded by a number of drawings of local buildings and scenes, so we know what the southerly building looked like. It was the “Tennessee Lottery Office,” the image of which has been reproduced, although I am unable to cite such a copy in one of the standard histories. Interesting features of this Lottery Office are a recessed arch shape in the brick on the west side of the building and round windows in the upper corners of the south end.

A “salt print” (dated ca. 1856) of the west side of Nashville’s Public Square attracted a good deal of attention a few years ago when the State Museum purchased the rare item at a Sotheby’s auction. (We old Nashville buffs had been aware of a copy negative in the state archives for years.) The print reveals the same features mentioned above in the northwest corner of the northerly building, indicating that the matching original end buildings of the market house were still in place with some modifications: single story wings added to the south (and we presume north) sides of the end buildings and a cupola added to the roof of the south building (and probably to the north one as well, although it cannot be seen in the print).

A familiar photo taken from Capitol Hill a few years later shows that the end buildings had either been extensively remodeled or replaced with much larger three-story structures having two square towers on each end building. This image is reproduced in Adams-Christian, p. 53. Since the old Methodist Publishing House is shown, the picture must date from before 1873. The southerly building at some point became the City Hall, and Creighton tells us that the Supreme Court met in one of the buildings for a time and that 100 stalls existed in the market section or long connecting shed.

A good view of the southerly building can be seen in James Patrick’s Architecture in Tennessee, 1768-1897, where it is suggested that Adolphus Heiman may have remodeled the buildings “about 1855.” Despite the estimated dates, the “ca. 1856” image was obviously made prior to the “about 1855” remodeling. Incidentally, this building is shown in Max Hochstetler’s great Opryland Hotel mural, which can be seen on the cover of the Summer 1990 Tennessee Historical Quarterly. A view that shows both end buildings and the connecting market building is seen in Jack Norman’s The Nashville I Knew, p. 125.

Although not mentioned by any of the histories that I consulted, the southerly building was consumed by the Burns Block fire on the square during the night of January 2, 1897. The fire company stopped at the site of an old cistern between the Court House and the Market House but found it had been Macadamed over. During the delay in finding a new water source, the old dilapidated City Hall was engulfed in flame and the crowd shouted, “Let it burn!” which is exactly what happened.

This fire was responsible for the replacement of the City Hall with the large 1898 building that older readers will recall (Norman has a good view of this on p. 122 and an unusual architectural drawing is found in the photo section of Fedora Small Frank’s Beginnings on Market Street).

In the meantime the northerly building still had at least one of its towers in an 1892 photo but had lost both towers by 1910. This building contained the office of the Market Master and such city offices as those of the Meat and Dairy Inspectors and was generally called simply, “the north end.” The new City Hall remained much the same, although much of its one large tower was gone by the time of its 1936-37 demolition. The March 14, 1933, East Nashville Tornado caused some damage on the square and this may have been when the tower was shortened.

Aerial photographs taken during the construction of the present (Woolwine) Court House show that, while the market house section and the northerly building were razed along with the Strickland Court House (since they lay in the path of construction), the City Hall was actually a few feet south of the new building and was the last part to fall. It is also obvious from these photos that the market section had been widened considerably over the years; it contained 114 or more stalls by the time of its demise.

The later (1937-1955) Market House stands today behind the present court house and is still in use as the Ben West Building, or more commonly the “Traffic Court Building.” The once-familiar wagons are gone, and the farm trucks that once surrounded the Court House moved north of the Capitol to the new Farmer’s Market in 1955. That market has now been replaced and will no doubt be recalled by a later generation as “the old Farmers’ Market.” (1998)