Nikita Krushchev and Hillsboro High School

by Kenneth Fieth, Metropolitan Nashville Archivist.

The typed letters stand out in stark contrast to the white paper. This is only one of the thousands of documents held by the Metro Archives: most of them are routine; many are interesting; a few are significant. At first glance, this one appears to be nothing more than a standard form sent out from the office of John Koen, principal of Hillsboro High School. However, the date gives it instant significance: October 26, 1962.

In October 1962 the United States and the Soviet Union – the two great powers that had risen from the wreckage of World War II – stood nose to nose, ready to unleash the forces of the third, and arguably final, world war.

Nashville knew little of the events spiraling out of control in the White House and the Kremlin. Here life went on as usual: fifty cents would buy a ticket to see the latest James Bond movie, Dr. No, or to watch Marlon Brando’s Mutiny on the Bounty. A Westinghouse 4-speed phonograph cost $29.95, and a driver could fill the tank of his new $2,500 automobile with gasoline that cost 31 cents a gallon.

School children taking part in a duck-and-cover drill to practice what they should do in case of an nuclear attack.

From all indications, there were few preparations being made in Middle Tennessee for potential catastrophe. Nashville was not the primary target that Oak Ridge, Ft. Campbell, or Memphis would be, but the fallout from an attack on Fort Campbell would be picked up by the prevailing easterly winds. Nashville would be permeated by a mortality that could not be seen, heard, or tasted. Surprisingly, though, other papers in the Archives from the same period – those of Nashville Mayor Ben West, County Judge Beverly Briley, and other city and county officials – give no indication that anything was amiss. The major political concern of the moment seemed to be the conflict over a proposed consolidation of city and county administrations into a single metropolitan government.

But public and private change occurs in subtle ways. During the renovation of the Metro courthouse, many artifacts and records were transferred to the Metro Archives. Among those was a faded yellow sign, installed in the mid-1960s, proclaiming that this particular courthouse hallway was a fallout shelter that would hold 103 persons.

Paul Clements, a local historian and writer, remembers his father filling the car with gas every night that November. The senior Clements kept food and water in the car and developed an escape plan in the event of the unthinkable.

Former Nashville Mayor Richard Fulton also recalls those days in 1962. Newly elected to Congress, he had gone to Washington, D.C., to meet with Bobby Kennedy, Attorney General of the United States. The meeting ended abruptly when Kennedy received an urgent summons to the White House. Because it was raining, Fulton rode with the Attorney General to the White House, after which the driver delivered him to his own destination. The White House meeting, Fulton learned later, was a discussion of the withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba.

President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert in conference. (public domain)

Thus, the apparently routine form sent out by Principal John Koen was not a mere formality after all, as it asked parents to indicate what they wanted their children to do in the event of “a real emergency created by any type of attack.” This particular parent’s response specifies that the child should start walking home.

The Metro Archives is a treasure house full of these seemingly unrelated snippets in time – a faded yellow sign, a boy’s memory of his father’s anxiety, a freshman Congressman’s brush with world power, a simple typed form with a child’s name on it. Put together, these examples form a picture of a time when the lights almost went out never to come on again.

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.

Nashville on the High Seas

by Billy J. Slate.

The following summary has been gathered from a variety of U.S. government releases and media clippings.

Five ships bearing the name Nashville have plowed the world’s waters. The first, the Confederate steamer Nashville, originally a brig-rigged passenger steamer, was seized at Charleston after the fall of Fort Sumter and fitted out as a cruiser. With a length of 215 feet and a beam of 34 feet 6 inches, she was armed with two 12-pounders and carried a complement of 40. The Nashville ran the Union blockade on October 21, 1861 and was the first warship to fly the Confederate flag in European waters. She returned to Beaufort, North Carolina on February 28, 1862, having captured two prizes valued at $66,000.

Confederate steamer Nashville, 1861 (All photos on this page are in the public domain.)

The Nashville was then turned over to Frazer, Trenholm and Company to whom she had been sold prior to her return. After use as a blockade runner, she was refitted as a Confederate privateer and commissioned on November 5, 1862 as Rattlesnake. The Federals destroyed her in the Ogeechee River, Georgia on February 28, 1863.

Confederate ironclad ram Nashville, 1864

The Confederate ironclad ram, Nashville, was built at Montgomery, Alabama in 1864. She had a length of 271 feet and a beam of 62 feet 6 inches and was armed with three 7-inch rifles and one 24-pound smoothbore. Although never completed, Nashville had been heavily armored with steel plating and, when surrendered to the U.S. Navy, was believed unable to carry her weight of armor. At the close of the Civil War, she was stripped of her armor and sold at auction in New Orleans.

USS Nashville (PG7), commissioned 19 August 1897

USS Nashville (PG7), a gunboat built at Newport News, was launched on October 19, 1895. Sponsored by Maria Guild of Nashville, she was commissioned on August 19, 1897, Washburn Maynard commanding. With a length of 233 feet 8 inches and a beam of 38 feet 1 inch, she was armed with eight .40 caliber guns, two 6-pounders, two 3-pounders, and two 1-pounders.

This famous warship fired the first shot in the Spanish-American War and played a major part in naval operations in the Cuban area. She also helped put down the Philippine Insurrection and the Boxer Rebellion in China. During World War I, USS Nashville escorted convoys in the Mediterranean to and from Europe and North Africa. At the close of the war, she was decommissioned and sold for scrap.

USS Nashville (CL-43), commissioned 6 June 1938

USS Nashville (CL-43), a light cruiser that served with distinction in World War II, was commissioned on June 6, 1938, sponsored by Ann and Mildred Stahlman of Nashville. Her length was 608 feet 4 inches and her beam measured 61 feet 8 inches. She was part of the task force that pulled off the spectacular Doolittle raid on Tokyo in early 1942. She was chosen as the flagship to transport General of the Armies Douglas MacArthur on his famous, triumphant return to the Philippines. The Nashville was hit by a suicide bomber in the Sulu Sea and suffered grave damage and many casualties. At the end of the war, she was decommissioned and sold to the Chilean Navy.

USS Nashville (LPD 13) commissioned 14 February 1970 (2006 photo)

The final ship to bear our city’s name is USS Nashville (LPD-13), one of a class of ships designated Amphibious Transport Dock. Commissioned at Puget Sound Shipyard on February 14, 1970, she is the thirteenth ship of her class. On September 9, 1970 Nashville Mayor Beverly Briley participated in “Mayor Briley Day” aboard the Nashville in Norfolk, Virginia. She is 576 feet 4 3/8 inches in length, with a beam of 84 feet 1/2 inch. Her various assignments have included four Caribbean Amphibious Ready Groups, seven Mediterranean Groups, a Mine Countermeasure Group, and NATO North Atlantic Operations. The Nashville is still in commission and involved in operations contributing to the defense of the United States. (1998)