One of the most popular features of the Donelson area is a paved greenway trail system along the banks of Stone’s River from the Percy Priest Dam to the Cumberland River. The trail winds through the Clover Bottoms, an area of prime importance to the early settlers in the Nashville area.
The pioneer story began in 1766 with the exploration of the Long Hunters. The river was named in honor of one of their group, Uriah Stone. These adventurers carried the story of this bountiful, uninhabited land with them when they returned to Virginia and North Carolina. It was fourteen years, however, before the first settlers arrived.
In the spring of 1780, John Donelson, having led the flotilla of settlers to Nashborough, recognized the need to plant a corn crop immediately. He again boarded the good ship Adventure with his family, poled up the Cumberland around the great bend until he found the mouth of Stone’s River. He was looking for alluvial fields that were as fertile as the Valley of the Nile and which needed no clearing in order to plant.
A short distance from the confluence of the two rivers he found what he was looking for on the west bank of Stone’s River*, an area forever after known as the Clover Bottoms. Here he docked his boat and built half-faced shelters to house his family on the opposite bluff. This was fifteen-year-old Rachel Donelson’s first home in Tennessee.
That July heavy rains inundated the corn crop. This unhappy event, plus constant harassment from the native Indians, forced the family to move to Mansker’s Fort for protection.
By fall, word reached the settlers at Mansker’s that the flood waters had subsided and that the corn had eared. John Donelson sent a request to the men at Fort Nashborough to meet him at the Clover Bottoms to help harvest the corn. Approximately ten men from each fort built wooden sleds to drag the corn from the field to the boats moored in Stone’s River. Several days were required to load the boats.
As they left the shore, the boat from Fort Nashborough was attacked by Indians; only three settlers escaped with their lives. The Donelson party was on the north bank, harvesting the cotton planted there. They abandoned their boat loaded with corn and managed to get away on foot through the woods. Donelson’s heroic slave, Somerset, swam the Cumberland River and brought help from Mansker’s Fort to the stranded group.
Meanwhile, the boat from Fort Nashborough floated downstream, eventually reaching the bluffs with its tragic cargo of corn and slain men. The settlers there rescued the corn and buried their dead.
Some years later Andrew Jackson, who had married Rachel Donelson, operated several businesses along the Stone’s River corridor. He first opened a general store near the Clover Bottoms. In order to stock his store, he went to Philadelphia and traded land preemptions for flour, sugar, piece goods, and pocket knives. The store was a two-story building near today’s Downeymead Drive. C. Lawrence Winn, a descendant of Jackson’s adopted son, built a house on the property in 1960.
In 1805 Jackson, with two partners, formed the Clover Bottom Jockey Club. A race track and tavern were built by the river. The story of Jackson’s duel with Charles Dickinson is well known. The unfortunate quarrel that sparked the duel started at this race track.
A story that is not so well known is that of Jackson’s boat yard on Stone’s River, near its mouth. Here he constructed five flat boats and one keel boat for former Vice President Aaron Burr who was leading a group of colonists to lands he had acquired in Louisiana. In 1812 Andrew Jackson became a military officer and began his lengthy pursuit of both a military and a political career. Thereafter his business interests on Stone’s River faded away.
The large tract of land known as Clover Bottom Plantation came to be owned by Dr. James Hoggatt, who built the ante-bellum mansion on the property. The property was sold to Mr. Andrew Price in the late 19th century, and then to A.F. and R.D. Stanford in the early 20th century. After World War II it was sold to the State of Tennessee.
Although the last several years have brought considerable business development to the Clover Bottoms, much of the river bank remains untouched by man. The Greenway Project is a promise to maintain the natural beauty of this historic site and preserve it for our future generations. (2000)
* Historians surmise that John Donelson’s cornfield was located just west of the Stone’s River bridge, in the general area of today’s Jackson Downs (Target) shopping center, which was named, incidentally, for the racetrack Andrew Jackson later built slightly northeast of that location.
Once upon a time there wuz a family that lived at Gainesboro, Tennessee, Jackson County, four, three miles north of Gainesboro. So they decided to come to Nashville. An Dad come down an rented a farm that a fellar told him he’d get rich. Rented a four-hundred-acre farm. So then he come back and he told em that, oh, how much a barrel of corn would bring. It’us bringin bout three dollars at home, them time. So then, that wuz in August 1911.
So we got ready to come, we had a watermelon patch on the hill there. An Dad got some watermelon to come along with us, an . . . so me an Willie, we went up on the hill, an course we busted one open an eat it, and throwed it over in the bushes.
So we . . . the way we’uz comin down here, me an uncle, us three boys, Willie, an myself, Carlie, Comer, Bedford, and Zinnie. We had, uh . . . four mules, five mules. Uncle Jim had three or four. We’uz gonna ride on the mules an in the wagon, an change around an drive our cows too. Gonna come thru all the way in a covered wagon. So that mornin, that . . . we had made a deal with an ole man, that’s a raft man that pilot rafts thru to Nashville, on the water, Cumberland River. So, he had made up a little raft to come to Nashville, an so we put all of our household goods on the raft, including our meat, an eggs, an flour. All things like that . . . chickens. So anyway, we got ready to move after he’d got done pulled away, why, we got ready to go, that mornin it wuz pourin the rain. An Mother an them had cooked fried chicken, an a whole basket full of teacakes. Aw, we’uz gonna have a glorious time on our way. Jus tickled to death
So Dad an em went to the store an there’s a fella that used to haul products of all kinds, an goods, from West Point, plum on to Gainesboro. An he’d pick up stuff an bring it to West Point, stuff that wuz shipped. So he had a deal, with . . . he could make a deal with the boat people. An he made a deal then, it’uz rainin and everthing. We decided to jus go on the boat then. We goes on to West Point, got there jus fore dark, put our cattle and mules up, everthing.
So, we’uz aimin to lay down in the warehouse til the boat come. It’uz sposed to come in the early part of the night sometime. So then, bout that time, why, the cows got . . . one cow got out. An so Uncle Jim an Dad went to git it, while they ‘uz gone, me an Comer, prowlin around lookin into everthing, so we saw some bananas, and so we stole some bananas. Eat them. Then we laid down . . . to go to sleep and bout that time Uncle Jim an Dad come with the cow and put em in the stall with the others.
An then, it wudn’t too long til . . . Mother an the chilern an Aunt Mattie an her chilern came. Some one brought um, I don’t know who. Someone brought um to there in a surrey.
So we wuz waitin for the boat, and finally the boat come around a curve. An . . . when it come around that curve and throwed that big bright light on the stock pin, one ole mule went plum overboard. An out he went. So Dad an Uncle Jim had to go an git em. Finally they got em, brought em back. And put em back in the stall, an they got a ropes on em. An all the men that worked on the boat, the crew, they had to put ropes around his front feet, to make em step. An then some would get behind em an push em.
So we loaded all of that stuff, an Aunt Mattie, an them commenced comin on the boat. She’s kindly shy, scared of everthing she saw. But she wudn’t too crazy bout the crew. But anyway, we went on, we pulled up the river just a little piece up there an loaded wheat bout all night. An then pulled out. We come along towards Nashville. Now then, we’d go down a piece, load up wheat, corn, cattle, hogs, sheep, anything that wuz to be shipped, why, we’d load up there. An I’d seen the time that it’d jus be pourin the rain and they’d git out there in that mud a tryin to drive cattle. Some of em they’d jus have to catch em by the tail, to keep em from runnin away. An all of that. But they had a good time when they went from one landing to another.
But we soon learnt, that how many times it blowed for a lock an how many times it blowed for a landin. Evertime it blowed for a lock, we’d go, even if it’uz in the night we’d git up. But anyway, the first lock we come to, why, we’d never seen a lock before, so we wondered what it’d look like. When you’d go in, why, you could see everthing, but then when you’d leave out, you’d have to look up to see the top of it. So we’uz way down, couldn’t even talk to people on the lock. So then one night, it blowed for a lock, an Willie heard it an he got up. Someone had sold our dog to em, to a man. He wuz fixin to get off at that lock, an he told him, says, “Hey, where you goin with my dog.” He says, “I bought this dog.” “He’s my dog anyway” says “I’m gonna have em.” So he got em, went an tied em up again. But he watched that dog all the time.
So then we come around down to Carthage, which wudn’t bout 30 miles from where we got on. An we saw a train. We’d never saw a train before. It’s jus bout daylight. So we jumps right out of the bed, jus flies out. Don’t pay no tension to what we got on. Saw that train and boy we thought that thang wuz awful. So then, we run back to bed.
Then comin on, we had bout two locks to go thru before we got to the farm that we had rented. So before we had got . . .uh . . . our journey, course they’d milk the cows an . . . uh . . . they’d churn right on the boat, right with the crowd, just like they’s at home. An I don’t know whether they put the butter on the table or milk, or what they done. But anyway, jus made theirself at home, there in the big hallway. An then we’d get ready to eat, why, they’d set the tables up right there in the middle, then everbody’d eat around.
Well, if you’uz wantin to jus get outside, why, you’d go right out on the bow there, or deck. The deck’s what it’d be. Go out there an you could sit there an watch . . . look on each side of the river as you go along an different landins. When it’d land if you’uz gonna be there several hours, why, we’d get off an walk around. We’s all over that boat, everwhere, and Olene an em, it’d jus kill em cause Mother wouldn’t let em jus go, like we did. We’d go plum to the pilot house, an everwhere. Anyway, we come on, last lock we jus got thru breakfast. They tried to, tried to put us off before breakfast. They tried to put the breakfast off, but they couldn’t do it. We got our breakfast anyway. So here we come, when they put the stage down, course we had to be the first ones off. Me and Bedford, an Comer, an Zinney, Willie, an Carlie. An Bedford, as quick as he hit the ground he reached down and says, “Boy” says “Too much sand down here”, says “I don’t like it”.
But anyway, we got all our stuff off, moved em up there to our tenant house that Uncle Oliver was supposed to move in there. The main house wudn’t empty, wouldn’t be empty first of the year. An Uncle Oliver and em wudn’t supposed to come down til first of the year, so that gave us that house to live in. An then we moved up there in the main house. Anyway we stayed there one year. But then, . . . it took bout three or four days to make the trip.
GOIN TO TOWN
So . . . uh . . . we decided, Dad an em decided, to carry us to town one day. We’d never been to Nashville. We didn’t know what it looked like. So we’uz walkin an the streetcar wuz jus goin out, out of town. Zinnie says “Look a’there at that thing”, says “What’s that thing on top?” “That big rod up there.” An that’uz the trolley ware. The one that run the thang. But we didn’t know it that time, but we knowed it fore we got back home. So it come back, an we went to town, all big eyes, you know, an lookin at everthang, countrified as it ever got.
So then, later on, then school started. Well, when we’uz in Jackson County, we’d . . . uh . . . Jackson County, why, we had a big stairway to put our lunch buckets in, or dinner buckets what we called it. We didn’t know what a lunch wuz. Dinner bucket in. We’d go out at dinnertime and sit down on a rock, the whole family sit around an eat, jus like you’uz at home, only we had flat rocks to eat on, and everbody done the same. But anyway, we went an we carried our dinner bucket with us, an everthing in it, you know. So we got there an we didn’t have nowhere to put our buckets: we couldn’t find no place to put our buckets. Nobody else had no buckets, we didn’t know what to do. Finally we put em under our desk. Well then, when dinner time come we taken our buckets out there, an . . . uh . . . to sit down an eat. We didn’t have no rock to sit on. We sat out on the ground. So, anyway we spread it out there, an we wuz eatin, an noticed all the children jus comin round, standin round, lookin at us, callin us Hillbillys, an everthing else. So I guess we wuz a Hillbilly anyway. But that wound the buckets up. From then on we carried a, a little individual lunch. Jus what we wanted to eat.
Before that time, why, there’s another family moved from up there, the Cantrells. I don’t know . . . there’uz four or five of them. An went to that same school. Course they lived across the river, but they went to that school. So they, got the . . . why, when they carried their lunch, why, then the boys they didn’t have nowhere to put their buckets and they kept lookin and nobody had no buckets, but them. So he told all of em, went around to all of em, told em, said now, “We’re not gonna have no dinner today. Ain’t nobody got no buckets.” So they listened to him, but on the way home when school wuz out, they’s a little patch of woods there, and they went in them woods an eat their lunch, their dinner.
But anyway, durin that summer we had picnics there on the farm. It’uz a picnic ground there for boats to bring people up. They’d bring from one, two, three, or four, I noticed as high as four boat loads would come up there at one time. So anyway, we got the rent outa that. An that help pay on the farm. We kept it all cleaned off, with the mowers. So then, the first picnic come, why, we went down there. We didn’t have nothing to do, us six boys, Uncle Jim, an Dad. Course the fella’uz down there that told us bout the farm when we lived in Jackson, why he wuz there, eatin somethin. I said some’en to Comer, or some of em, I says, “That man must like butter.” He says, “That ain’t butter”, says “that’s ice cream.” So then, we decided to go to Uncle Jim and Dad, an get us a nickel apiece. It wudn’t but a nickel. A great big bowl full for a nickel. So we went an they gave us a nickel apiece. We begged um out of it. Course we’uz like all boys, didn’t have a penny to our name. But we got us a bowl of ice cream apiece. So we enjoyed that picnic. Evertime they’d have one, if we could go, we’d go up there. Sometimes we couldn’t go.
But anyway, then later on, we come to town again. So we jus alookin around an someone said something other bout some elevators. So anyway, we went to the Stahlman Buildin, which was 12 stories, the biggest building in Nashville at that time. So we went in alookin around, so we jus ride up to the top. An we looked around a little while an we’uz ready to go, all six of us. So we decided to go back, an we’uz waitin for the elevator, an happened that both of um come up there at the same time. So they said something to each other. I don’t know what they said. But we knew later on after we got down, because when he put us on, he didn’t stop. The other feller was to catch the traffic as he went down. But we didn’t know it, an we went all the way without stoppin. We didn’t know what’uz gonna take place, because seem like we’uz going back to the top, and it’uz jus settin there. So we got off, and I know they had a big laugh out of us.
George Peabody College’s Knapp Farm and its sister institution, the Seaman A. Knapp School of Country Life, began operations on Elm Hill Pike in 1915. Financed by a $250,000 philanthropic endowment and other funds raised throughout the South, the farm and its associated agricultural school was a memorial to Seaman Knapp, an agronomist and leader in farm demonstration work. Eventually the farm grew to 315 acres and became nationally known for putting modern agricultural theory into practice. Many of its pioneering practices were at first ridiculed as “college ideas” but later became accepted as standard techniques. One source of pride was the farm’s outstanding herd of registered Holstein cattle, perhaps the first to graze in the pastures of the South.
The farm was situated in a bend in the Mill Creek along the old Chicken Pike/Mud Tavern pioneer route. The farmland included the site of historic Buchanan’s Station, one of the original Cumberland settlements where a handful of settlers withstood one of the last great Indian onslaughts in Nashville’s history. Today, the Buchanan’s Station historical marker and the cemetery where Major Buchanan and his wife are buried have survived the industrialization of the area.
In 1923 Peabody established its Knapp Farm Club House on the exact site of the old Buchanan stockade. This stately colonial mansion was a social center for the college for about forty years, and its bucolic setting along with the hypnotic sounds of the rushing Mill Creek enchanted thousands of students, faculty, and other visitors over the years.
Despite the disapproval and counter proposals of some alumni and faculty, the Peabody Board of Trustees sold the farm and its club house for one million dollars in 1965. Today, many important commercial facilities—including those of Standard Candy Company and Gibson Guitar—are located along Massman Drive, which cuts through the heart of the once-great farm.
Since no vestige of Knapp Farm remains today, Nashvillians are generally unaware of its existence. One way to ensure the future recognition of the Knapp Farm adventure would be to erect a suitable historical marker along Elm Hill Pike or Massman Drive. (1997)