Preserving Nashville’s Pioneer Legacy, Part I: Paving over Our Past

from the files of the Nashville Historical Newsletter.

Mike Slate wrote this press release in early 2012, hoping to stimulate public interest in rescuing one of early Nashville’s most important historical sites, which was about to be swallowed up by industrial development.

On a rocky bluff above a bubbling Mill Creek, under a canopy of trees that include American elm, black cherry, and sassafras, a group of pioneers – some of the architects of Nashville’s “can do” spirit – lie buried and forgotten. Two of them are especially significant.

Twenty-year-old John Buchanan (later called “Major John”) and his family arrived at the future Nashville during the unusually cold winter of 1779-1780—perhaps even ahead of James Robertson’s founding party—with nothing but a few necessities on pack horses. Unlike many other early settlers, Major John persevered here for the remainder of his life.

After losing his brother Alexander at Ft. Nashborough’s 1781 “Battle of the Bluffs” and writing Nashville’s first book, John Buchanan’s Book of Arithmetic, the young land surveyor and his extended family established Buchanan’s Station at Mill Creek, near today’s Elm Hill Pike at Massman Drive in what is now Donelson. Additional sorrows soon followed as John lost his father, John Buchanan Sr., and another brother, Samuel, in continuing Indian assaults.

The Chickamauga War reached its climax at Buchanan’s Station on September 30, 1792, when only about twenty defenders held off several hundred Native Americans whose goal was to destroy all the Cumberland settlements. Buchanan and his friends stopped them there, saving Nashville without the loss of a single stationer. Nineteenth-century historian J.G.M. Ramsey called this victory “a feat of bravery which has scarcely been surpassed in all the annals of border warfare.”

It was during this nighttime “Battle of Buchanan’s Station” that Major John’s eighteen-year-old wife, Sarah (“Sally”) Ridley Buchanan, in her ninth month of pregnancy with the first of their thirteen children, earned national fame. She encouraged the men, reassured the women and children, molded much-needed ammunition reportedly by melting down her dinnerware, and provided the voice of victory throughout the seemingly hopeless pandemonium. For her uncommon spunk, biographer Elizabeth Ellet referred to her as “the greatest heroine of the West,” and she was heralded in magazines and newspapers from as far away as Boston.

Unfortunately, the Buchanan Station story, as celebrated as it once was, has become lost to contemporary Nashville. Today the dilapidated Buchanan’s Station Cemetery, where Major John and Sarah Buchanan lie buried, is wedged anonymously into a Massman Drive industrial park, where hundreds of workers drive past twice a day, completely unaware of the graveyard’s historical import. (2011)

All photos of Buchanan Station’s Cemetery by Mike Slate, 2011.

William Driver’s Flag

Primary Source Document from Nashville’s Post Five Legionnaire, July 1956, p. 6.


            U.S. Rep. J. Percy Priest has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to permit an American flag to fly 24 hours daily over the grave of Captain William Driver in City Cemetery at Nashville.

            The bill was introduced at the request of the Post 5 Committee for the erection of a shrine to Captain Driver, who named the American flag “Old Glory.”

William Driver’s monument in Nashville City Cemetery (NHN photo)

            Burr Cullom, Chairman of the Post 5 committee appointed by Commander Lannom, introduced the original resolution last year at a Post meeting and forwarded the Post’s request to Congressman Priest recently.

            Congressman Priest’s H.R. 12092, introduced on July 3, 1956, and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, follows:


            “To permit the flying of the flag of the United States for twenty-four hours of each day over the grave of Captain William Driver in City Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee.

            “Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That notwithstanding any rule or custom pertaining to the display of the flag of the United States of America as set forth in the joint resolution entitled “Joint resolution to codify and emphasize existing rules and customs pertaining to the display and use of the flag of the United States of America,” approved June 22, 1942, as amended, authority is hereby conferred on the appropriate officer of the State of Tennessee to permit the flying of the flag of the United States for twenty-four hours of each day over the grave of Captain William Driver in City Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee.”

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

Walker, Taylor, and Carr: The Men behind Nashville’s African American Parks and Cemeteries

by Kathy B. Lauder.

Although City Cemetery, Nashville’s first public burial ground (1822) accepted people of all races from the beginning, the rise of the “Jim Crow” South after the Civil War compelled African Americans to look elsewhere for a final resting place. In 1869 black businessman Nelson Walker and the Colored Benevolent Society bought land for Mt. Ararat Cemetery near the Elm Hill-Murfreesboro Pike intersection, directly behind today’s Purity Dairy plant. Walker (1825-1875), a barber at the Maxwell House, became an important figure in African American politics after the Civil War. Elected president of the first State Colored Men’s Convention (August 1865), he was active in the Masonic Order, the Sons of Relief, and the State Colored Emigration Board. Largely self-educated, he became a practicing attorney and later a Davidson County magistrate. An outspoken supporter of the public schools, Walker encouraged his seven children to become well educated – his daughter Virginia was a member of Fisk University’s first graduating class in 1875.

·         The Maxwell House Hotel, built between 1859 and 1869, was partially completed in 1862, when the occupying Federal forces used it as a hospital, a prison, and barracks for Union soldiers. (In 1863 over 100 Confederate soldiers fell five stories when a staircase collapsed, killing up to 45 men and injuring many more.) Maxwell House coffee, introduced by Nashville’s Cheek family, was served in the hotel dining room. The building was destroyed by fire on Christmas night 1961.

When Mt. Ararat burial plots went on sale in May 1869, church leaders urged their parishioners to purchase them. Mt. Ararat received considerable media attention in 1890 when Reverend Nelson Merry’s remains were reinterred there from City Cemetery, and again in 1892, after three heroic African American firemen lost their lives fighting a devastating fire in downtown Nashville. The day of their burial was declared a city-wide day of mourning, and the procession leading from their funeral ceremony at the Capitol to the cemetery was said to be over a mile long. Mt. Ararat (now Greenwood West) became part of the Greenwood Cemetery complex in 1982.

Another key figure in Nashville history was the Reverend Preston Taylor (1849-1931). Born into slavery, he served as a Union Army drummer boy when he was a young teenager. While still in his 20s he founded a Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, church, attracting the largest congregation in the state during his fifteen years there, while also working as a contractor to build several sections of the Big Sandy Railroad. After moving to Nashville, he preached at the Gay Street Christian church and also joined the Masons and the IOOF, holding state offices in both organizations.

Rev. Preston Taylor

As the 19th century ended, Preston Taylor committed himself to improving the social and economic condition of Nashville’s black community. Already well known as a local religious leader and businessman, he opened the city’s first African American mortuary, the Taylor Funeral Company, in 1888, the same year he and three others came together to purchase land for a “first class burial space . . . available at cost” for African American families. After his partners backed out of the project, Taylor alone funded the purchase of a 37-acre site on Elm Hill Pike and Spence Lane, near Buttermilk Ridge (so-called because of the scattering of dairy farms along the big S-curve on Lebanon Road east of Spence). Greenwood Cemetery, still in operation today, opened in 1888. Preston Taylor’s will deeded the cemetery to the Disciples of Christ religious organization, who continue to operate the facility (now merged with Mt. Ararat/ Greenwood West) as a non-profit enterprise. Preston Taylor is buried beneath a striking monument near the entrance to Greenwood. He was also involved in establishing the Lea Avenue Christian Church, the National Colored Christian Missionary Convention, the One Cent Bank (now Citizens Savings & Trust), and Tennessee State A&I Normal School (now Tennessee State University).

Preston Taylor’s monument in Greenwood Cemetery. (photo from NHN collection)

Jim Crow laws barred African Americans not only from cemeteries but also from many entertainment venues. However, in 1905 Preston Taylor responded to these restrictions by opening Greenwood Park north of the cemetery on the large unused portion of his original 37-acre land purchase. The park’s entrance stood just west of the intersection of Lebanon Road and Spence Lane. The first recreational park for Nashville’s black community, its attractions included a merry-go-round, a roller coaster, a shooting gallery, and a skating rink. Visitors could attend events at a baseball park, a bandstand, or a theatre, and if they were hungry, they could eat at a barbecue stand, a lunchroom, or a well-maintained picnic area. The area was spacious enough to include a Boy Scout camp, a racetrack, and a zoo, and it was home to the Colored State Fair, as well as other popular annual celebrations on Labor Day and July 4th. The Barbers’ Union, Masonic Lodges, and USCT veterans scheduled special events in the park. Taylor, who actually lived on the grounds, banned fighting, drinking, or cursing by Greenwood visitors and required them to dress appropriately. When white neighbors complained about Greenwood and its attendant congestion, only Ben Carr’s last-minute appeal to Governor Patterson rescued the park from ruinous legislation. In 1910 a suspicious fire destroyed Greenwood’s large grandstand, but no one was ever charged with the crime. Preston Taylor died in 1931, but the park survived until 1949, superintended by Taylor’s widow.

The Taylor home in Greenwood Park. (photo courtesy of Peggy Dillard)

Benjamin J. Carr (1875-1935) was another remarkable Tennessean, whose concern for his fellow black citizens resulted in the creation of both a second park and a notable educational institution. Born into poverty, Carr grew up working on farms in Trousdale County, Tennessee. He carefully set aside most of his meager earnings (50¢ per day) to purchase his own farm. In time, the frugal young man was able to pay off his mortgage with income from his tobacco crop. Shortly before 1900 Carr came to Nashville, where he was elected porter for the state Supreme Court and became an unexpected friend and ally of Governor Malcolm Patterson (1907-1911), who sent Carr on a lecture tour throughout Middle Tennessee to educate and inspire black farmers. Carr headed the citizens’ organization that brought the Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State Normal School (Tennessee A&I, known today as Tennessee State University) to Nashville, and he was the school’s first agriculture teacher. He was also the driving force behind the city’s purchase of 34 acres near the college for use as a municipal park. When Mayor Hilary Howse dedicated Nashville’s Hadley Park in 1912, it became the first public park for African Americans in the entire nation.

Ben Carr (TSLA photo from Calvert Collection)

The name given to Hadley Park is still a matter of some dispute. When Major Eugene C. Lewis (chairman of the Nashville, Chattanooga, & St. Louis Railway and director-general of the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition) named the park, many assumed the title was a tribute to John L. Hadley, a white slave owner whose home plantation became the site of Tennessee State University. However, Lewis may have intended instead to honor Dr. W. A. Hadley (1850-1901), a physician-educator with whom he had worked closely during the Centennial Exposition, and for whom the Hadley School was named. A graduate of Meharry Medical College, Dr. Hadley had taught briefly in Davidson County schools before opening his medical practice. In 1880 he was elected secretary of the newly formed State Medical Association, and in 1883 he was chosen as a delegate to the National Convention of Colored Men at Louisville. He founded the Independent Order of the Immaculates and served on the executive committee (with Major E. C. Lewis) of the 1897 Centennial. After practicing medicine for several years, Hadley returned to teaching. At the time of his death, he was principal of Carter Public School in Nashville.

Adapted from the Greenwood Project.

Their Dust Dispersed on Many Fields: The Confederate Circle at Mt. Olivet Cemetery

by Terry Baker.

Eighteen-year-old Private Willis L. McWhirter of Adamsville in McNairy County was mustered into the 27th Tennessee Infantry, CSA, in September 1861. He would not survive the war. A little over three years after his enlistment he was hit by artillery fire at the Battle of Franklin. The missile caused severe damage to his right hip joint, and it is remarkable that McWhirter, by then a corporal, survived as long as he did.

The monument that graces Confederate Circle in Mt. Olivet Cemetery is a granite obelisk topped by a nine-foot statue of a Confederate soldier. Thirteen rows of graves surround the monument: buried in the first six rows are Confederate soldiers from other states; in the seventh row are unknown soldiers; and in the outer rows, the graves of Tennesseans. (photo from NHN collection)

When Hood retreated after the Battle of Nashville, McWhirter remained behind with the rest of those too seriously wounded to be moved. Taken prisoner on December 17, 1864, he was left in the care of Union Army surgeons at the U.S. Army General Hospital #1, on the hill near where Third and Lindsley now meet. McWhirter died of his wounds on January 31, 1865, and was buried the next day at Nashville City Cemetery.

According to his military records, the corporal was assigned two numbers, a hospital patient number and a grave number, the latter also appearing in Nashville mortician W. R. Cornelius‘s burial ledger. The letters “GSW” next to his name there represent the cause of death: “gunshot wound.” Cornelius had contracted with the Union military authorities to bury both the Union dead and their Confederate counterparts. His ledger contains over 15,000 entries, many of them unknown soldiers. 

In 1869 a movement developed to honor fallen Confederates by re-interring them at Mount Olivet Cemetery, in existence then for nearly 15 years. Twenty years later, in 1889, the monument at Confederate Circle was dedicated in a ceremony commemorated by photos in Confederate Veteran Magazine. In the early 1970s, owing largely to the work of the Reverend Florence Redelsheimer of the Mount Olivet staff, markers provided by the United States Veterans Administration (now the Department of Veterans Affairs) were placed around the circle. Flat stones were chosen rather than the more typical vertical stones (which were pointed, allegedly to prevent disrespectful persons from sitting on them). Walking the northern face of the Circle, a visitor can see rows of markers for Alabama soldiers along with Corporal McWhirter’s, one of half a dozen Tennesseans whose markers lie on that side.

Not far from Corporal McWhirter lies the grave of one of only three women buried here. Mary Kate Patterson Davis Hill Kyle was an active member of a Confederate unit known as Coleman’s Scouts.  It was this company to which Sam Davis belonged at the time of his 1863 capture. The story of Davis’s hanging by the Federals is well-known to Middle Tennesseans. Mary Kate, whose first marriage was to Sam’s brother John, died in 1931 at age 97.

In at least one case, a husband and wife were buried together in Confederate Circle: William and Catharine Palmer rest together under upright stones. We see from the inscriptions that William lived to be one hundred years old, and Catharine survived until 1952. Behind an evergreen tree in the outer rows lies J.A. Hankin, a nurse who died in 1863.

It should be noted that Corporal McWhirter is buried under the name William, rather than Willis, as his service records identify him.  Many of the old records are difficult to read, particularly since styles of penmanship have changed; to complicate matters further, some of Mount Olivet’s microfilm records are almost illegible.  Not so the records of Mr. W. R. Cornelius, the mortician, whose hand was quite elegant.

Missing are the pre-1875 records for Mount Olivet, later supplemented by the discovery of some interment books in a building on the cemetery grounds. Also lost was a pre-1952 map, without which it was difficult for the staff to locate the known Confederate graves. Add to that the apparent indifference to standardized name spellings during the Civil War and the high illiteracy rate among rural soldiers, and one can begin to understand why so many names on the markers are oddly spelled.

Close to 1,500 Confederate soldiers are buried in thirteen rows, the overwhelming majority of the soldiers unknown. Those who died in hospitals and prison camps left records of their names, and these can be found on the inner row markers. Unknown soldiers were buried in a trench running completely around the Circle. In the outer rows lie men who died after the war, their names etched in stone for all to read. On the left side of the 45-foot-tall monument is a touching verse, which reads in part, “The muster roll of our dauntless dead is lost and their dust dispersed on many fields.” At least a part of that muster roll has finally been recovered.

This 45-foot monument stands guard over Confederate Circle in Mt. Olivet Cemetery (photo from NHN collection)

The author would like to thank Tim Burgess, researcher into Confederate deaths and burials, who has been instrumental in having markers placed at Confederate Circle in recent years. This essay was composed using material supplied by Mr. Burgess, along with microfilm records at the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Notes from readers:

1. Mary Kate Patterson Davis Hill Kyle had a brother, Everard Meade Patterson, who was also a Coleman Scout. He, too, is buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery. Three other Coleman Scouts are also buried there. Everard died in 1932, being the last of the Scouts. My relative Joshua Brown was a Scout, and he, Mary Kate, and Everard are profiled in our new Civil War book, Shadow Soldiers of the Confederacy. (Talley Bailey)

2. I am named for John F. Wheless, First Tennessee Rock City Guard, who is buried in the Circle, He was a friend and business partner of my great-grandfather, Henry Wade, and godfather to my grandfather, Harry Wheless Wade Sr. (Harry Wheless Wade III, Nashville)

Where is the Buchanan Station Sword?

by Mike Slate.

The earlier of Nashville’s two most famous Indian onslaughts occurred on April 2, 1781. It was probably Charlotte Robertson – stalwart wife of Nashville co-founder James Robertson – who sicced the Fort Nashborough dogs on the attacking Indians, a storied deed that helped foil a clever Indian subterfuge. Another hero of that fateful day was John Buchanan Sr., who darted from the fort and rescued Edward Swanson, who had been clubbed by one of the marauders. These heroics notwithstanding, several pioneers died at the “Battle of the Bluff,” including Alexander Buchanan, thought to be John’s son.

The second of our legendary Indian battles took place on September 30, 1792, at Buchanan’s Station, which had been established about 1784 by Major John Buchanan, another son of the elder John. In his 1853 Annals of Tennessee, J.G.M. Ramsey described the Battle of Buchanan’s Station as “a feat of bravery which has scarcely been surpassed in all the annals of border warfare.” In that nighttime attack as many as 900 Creeks, Cherokees, Chickamaugans, and others were repulsed by about 20 settlers inside the station. Again the hero of the day was a woman: Sarah (called “Sally” or “Sallie”) Buchanan, wife of Major John. The heavily pregnant Sally cheered on the defenders, molded bullets, and perhaps even served up distilled beverages while the men fired away through blockhouse portholes.

Photo of Buchanan’s Station cemetery by Esther Victory.

Although the battle could have become Tennessee’s Alamo, the besieged pioneers did not suffer a single casualty. However, among the noteworthy Indians killed that night was Kiachatalee (or Chiachattalla), a dauntless warrior who attempted to set the fort ablaze. The Indians intent was to assault Fort Nashborough after destroying Buchanan’s Station, but the plucky stationers confounded the natives’ ambitions.

At first light an inspection of the premises produced numerous articles left by the retreating attackers. Several swords were found, including “a fine Spanish blade . . . richly mounted in the Spanish fashion.” Some historians have conjectured that the sword may have been traded to the Indians in exchange for scalps of slain settlers (certainly the Spanish stirred up such trouble for the westward-advancing Americans). Such a sword would have been quite a prize for the victorious stationers, plunder that would not have been treated carelessly. We can easily imagine that they presented it to Sally Buchanan as a tribute to her uncommon spunk.

So what has happened to this splendid Spanish sword? Does a Buchanan family member treasure it today? Does it survive in some museum, under the auspices of curators who have no knowledge of its history? Maybe it awaits us in a dark, cobwebbed attic; or perhaps all that separates us from this luxurious booty is a nondescript floorboard in some old house. Unfortunately, we may never set our eyes on this symbol of pioneer resilience, but all is not lost. In fact, we have something far more precious than a mere sword: we have the Buchanan Station Cemetery, where Major John and Sarah Buchanan are buried, along with other pioneers.

If the Buchanan Station sword were in a display case at the Tennessee State Museum, tens of thousands of admirers would have by now filed past it. But only a handful of Nashvillians have made the pilgrimage to the little cemetery to pay respects to our earliest settlers, upon whose sturdy shoulders rests our local civilization. If you are moved to visit the cemetery, you will find it along Mill Creek near the corner of Elm Hill Pike and Massman Drive. If you turn on Massman into the industrial park, you will find the cemetery on your left just after the first set of buildings. Parking for a few cars is available on the left side of the cemetery, which is now marked by a black fence and informative signage. We think you will agree that the Buchanan Station Cemetery is one of the most fascinating features of Nashville history.

Woodlawn Memorial Park

by Doris Boyce.

A scene in the Forehand compound in Woodlawn Memorial Park (photo from NHN collection)

Woodlawn Memorial Park, a cemetery established in the 1930s and acquired in 1993 by Houston-based Roesch-Patton Corporation, occupies a piece of ground rich in local history. The property, which eventually became known as Melrose, was part of John Topp’s Revolutionary War Grant #461 of November 25, 1788. The original 960 acres were reduced by a sale to Michael Deadrick, first president of the old Nashville Bank. The remaining 205 acres were purchased in 1836 by a United States Senator from Louisiana, who built a mansion there. In December 1865, the property was the site of a field hospital during the Battle of Nashville. Even today a group of log cabins, a spring house, and a man-made pond can be found near the site where the Melrose mansion once stood. Present-day Woodlawn cemetery is part of the 205-acre site that once ran from what is now the Melrose shopping area on Franklin Road to Melrose Avenue between Bransford Avenue and Nolensville Road. 

Melrose Mansion, built in 1836 by Louisiana planter Alexander Barrow II, was sold six years later to John W. Saunders, who died shortly after taking possession of the property. In 1845 Saunders’ widow married Aaron V. Brown, just after his inauguration as the thirteenth governor of Tennessee. Brown, a law partner of James K. Polk (who was elected President the same year Brown became governor), had over a 24-year period served in both the Tennessee State Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives.  He later served as President Buchanan’s Postmaster from 1857 until Brown’s death in 1859.     

The widow Brown suffered severe financial losses as a result of the Civil War. After her death in 1892, the property, by then only 130 acres, was sold at auction to Godfrey M. Fogg. The house would later pass into the hands of first the Sinclair and then the Bransford families. In time it became the Melrose House Restaurant, which operated in the building until the mid-1970s. Eventually two fires, in 1975 and 1979, destroyed the old mansion.  

A few years earlier, in 1966, the Forehand area of the property took its name, when George and Lillian Forehand leased the stone spring house where the Melrose Mansion’s owners kept milk, butter, and other perishables. They attached their own home to the spring house, which became the Forehands’ living room, with its three-foot thick walls and cork floor.

A plaque beside the spring points out that the Confederate works ran 200 yards south of the Melrose residence; a second marker explains that a Confederate cannon used in the Battle of Nashville was borrowed from the home of Spencer McGavock. The cannon, featured in a photograph taken at the dedication of the memorial in 1969, no longer guards the plaque. The gun’s current location is a mystery. 

One of the two log cabins on the Forehand property. (photo from NHN collection)

As the Forehand house was under construction, the family acquired two more historic structures: log cabins that had once stood on ground now covered by Percy Priest Lake. Numbered before being dismantled, the logs were transported to their present location, where they were carefully reassembled. In front of one of the cabins is a placard identifying it as “one of the oldest remaining houses from the early American era.” 

The cabins’ original owner, Tennessee pioneer Alexander Carper, came to Davidson County from Virginia and settled in the Cane Ridge community of Antioch. He married in 1825 and built his log home near Mill Creek.  Descendant William Washington “Wash” Carper and his family dedicated the buildings in 1969 to Woodlawn Memorial Park for historical preservation. 

The Forehand enclave nestles among sheltering trees on a bend of the road behind the Woodlawn funeral home. The couple created an idealistic pioneer setting there, ornamented with flowering shrubs and plants blooming in pots and hanging baskets. Cats napped on the porches, ducks swam in the lily pond, and the flag soared proudly above a colorful garden. 

Eventually graves began to encroach upon the Forehand property. After George’s death in 2001, Lillian lived there alone, surrounded by the cemetery. Armed with pistol and shotgun, and under the watchful eyes of the Berry Hill police, she kept the vandals away. Eventually Lillian, too, moved from the house. 

Memorials are created to be visited, contemplated, appreciated, and enjoyed. Today the Forehand compound features the spring and spring house of Melrose Mansion, the two Carper cabins, plaques to remind us of our Civil War past, and a tribute to Governor Aaron V. Brown.  Sadly, few Nashvillians and no newcomers are aware of the existence of this historic oasis within the well-known cemetery.   

Adolphus Heiman’s Cemetery Stone Work

by John S. Lancaster.

At the height of his career in Nashville, 1837 to 1861, Adolphus Heiman designed over 30 structures, ranging from churches and public buildings to residences, forts, and even a bridge. By the mid-1850s his architectural skills and achievements had received so much recognition he was referred to as “Nashville’s Architect.”

Until recently, Heiman’s efforts in designing and creating tombstones and vaults had not been investigated, but three newly identified examples of his work show another side to the talents of this Prussian immigrant.

Located within the Old City Cemetery on Fourth Avenue South are two very different markers. The simpler of the two tombstones was made for Benjamin Sharpe in 1848. It has experienced such severe weathering that the acroteria on the four corners and much of the inscription have eroded away. Chancery Court records of a lawsuit between F. Scott, Adm., vs. Heirs of Benjamin Sharpe provide clear documentation that this stone is a Heiman creation.

Benjamin Sharpe’s tombstone in the City Cemetery. (photo courtesy of the Nashville City Cemetery Association)

As part of the docket evidence now preserved at the Nashville Metropolitan Archives, an entry on an itemized ledger page shows that A. Heiman was paid for a tombstone on September 8, 1848. Also included is a note written in Heiman’s own hand confirming payment from Mrs. Ann Sharpe for the “forty-seven dollars on account of a tomb for Benj. Sharpe deceased.” Heiman seems to have been a friend of the family: his name also appears on the Sharpes’ wedding bond and as an executor of Mrs. Sharpe’s will.

As further documentation is discovered, other tombstones in the Old City Cemetery may also be attributable to Heiman . One such record was recently discovered in the Chancery Court case of J. W. Birdwell & wife vs. William H. Harris: a payment receipt for William Harris’s monument lists the payees as Heiman and Stevenson. (Stevenson was a popular stonecutter in Nashville and signed his name to the Mexican War Memorial in Gallatin, Tennessee.) Although we know Mr. Harris was buried in Old City Cemetery, his stone has yet to be located.

The other Heiman tombstone in City Cemetery marks the grave of Nancy Maynor. The wife of Pleasant Maynor, Nancy passed away on the 28th of May in 1836. Pleasant Maynor remarried on February 21, 1837 to Jane M. Iredale. Of interest is the fact that Heiman is believed not to have arrived in Nashville until 1837. While there is sufficient space to carve another name on the opposite side, only Nancy’s information appears on the monument. This stone also bears the signature “A. Heiman” near the base.

Nancy Maynor’s tombstone in City Cemetery. (photo courtesy of Nashville City Cemetery Association)

Carvers and designers rarely signed tombstones unless the work was unique. The Maynor monument is an above-ground stone box topped with a shaft-like pedestal surmounted by an urn. Two notable details of this piece are the carved butterfly on the pedestal and the anthemion designs on the four corners of the tombstone. In memorial art a butterfly represents the soul and/or resurrection; the anthemion is purely decorative. The use of an above-ground stone vault was common in the Nashville area, but the bodies were buried in the ground beneath rather than inside the vault.

The third and most elaborate example of Heiman’s known stonework was the Franklin Vault in Sumner County, Tennessee. Located on the property of Fairview Farm, the vault was built for the wealthy slave trader Isaac Franklin and his family. Only seven years after marrying the much younger Nashvillian, Adelicia Hayes Acklen, Mr. Franklin died suddenly in Louisiana in 1846 at the age of 57. His wishes were to be returned to Tennessee for burial, and his remains were shipped in a lead-lined casket filled with alcohol. His body was placed in a temporary brick structure until a permanent vault could be constructed. Tragedy struck the Franklin household again only seven weeks after Mr. Franklin’s death when his two oldest daughters, Victoria and Adelicia, succumbed to croup and bronchitis only two days apart.

The loss of her husband and children devastated the young widow, who soon moved back to Nashville. Her father, Oliver Bliss Hayes, was appointed to handle her affairs. It is not clear who hired Heiman to create the Franklin Vault, but he designed it along with an octagonal cast iron fence for $2,500.00. By 1850 the mausoleum still had not been finished. The local builder hired to do the job had subcontracted the work. When the builder died in 1849, the subcontractor, who had not been paid, tried unsuccessfully to sue the trustees of the Franklin estate for monies still owed him.

The Sumner County Chancery Court case of Henley vs. Armfield specifies that the material for the vault was to be solid stone masonry except for the brick interior arches for the ceiling. The dimensions were twenty-eight feet square and fourteen feet high, excluding an obelisk. The walls were to be two feet thick with the outside rubbed and with four interior pillars, two feet square, to assist in the support of the superstructure. Four partition walls would create an eight-foot-wide central passage giving access to six apartments on each side, and two sets of stone shelves that were to be no less than six inches thick. The floor was to be made of “chiseled flagging of stone diamonding with stone of different colors” and the arched brick ceiling was to be “plastered with hydraulic cement.” The outward door was to be made of iron and the inner door of cedar. A window with an iron grate would provide ventilation. The roof was to be made of stone slabs five to six inches thick laid in such a way as to prevent leaks. As cost was not a prohibiting factor, the finest materials available were to be used.

It was specifically noted that Heiman himself was expected to erect the monument on top of the vault and to create the design on the two frontispieces. Some of the details appear never to have been finished, but the design of the frontispiece was completed as an Egyptian motif — an orb flanked by winged serpents. Almost certainly the largest vault Heiman ever designed, it had a style more readily found in the St. Louis Cemetery of New Orleans than on a Sumner County farm in Tennessee. A 1911 picture of the Franklin Vault has been published in Margaret Lindsley Warden’s booklet, The Saga of Fairvue, 1832-1977, p. 10.

In 1912 the vault was struck by a tornado and collapsed. Fortunately, the remains of Franklin and his children had been removed to Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Nashville years earlier. For years the Egyptian-styled lintel remained, lying in the tall grass. Today, with the fence long since removed, the ruins of the vault are threatened by development.

Although not common knowledge, many prominent architects of the early 19th century, including Robert Mills, Gideon Shyrock, and William Strickland, accepted commissions to design tombstones or monuments, in addition to their buildings. Even after the completion of his First Baptist Church project, Heiman continued to rely on stonemasonry as a primary form of income until after his return as a hero from the Mexican War in 1847. Thenceforth, his enhanced status thrust him into the spotlight of Nashville society and he began to be offered commissions for all types of building projects.

Confederate Monument, Mt. Olivet Cemetery (photo from NHN collection)

It is ironic that the favorite architect of ante-bellum Nashville would fade into obscurity. Most of Heiman’s work has now been destroyed, including the majority of his public buildings and private residences. Even his final resting place is uncertain. Adolphus Heiman lies in an unmarked grave beneath the forty-five-foot granite monument in Mt. Olivet Cemetery’s Confederate Circle. (2000)

Touring Elm Hill Pike

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.

The gates of Mt. Ararat Cemetery (photograph from NHN Collection)

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.

John and Sally Buchanan’s gravestones in Buchanan Station Cemetery. (from NHN Collection)

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)