University of Nashville in the DAB

by Mike Slate.

The Dictionary of American Biography, an esteemed multi-volume reference work, contains essays on individuals who died before 1981. One portion of its master index lists the subjects of the biographies by the college or university they attended. Under “University of Nashville” are seventeen names: William Barksdale, John Bell, Jacob McGavock Dickinson, Andrew Jackson Donelson, Tolbert Fanning, Ephraim Hubbard Foster, Henry Hitchcock, Cave Johnson, John Berrien Lindsley, George Earle Maney, Robert Paine, Gideon Johnson Pillow, James Davis Porter, Wickliffe Rose, William Walker, John Anthony Winston, and William Yerger.

Lindsley Hall, the main classroom building of the University of Nashville, still stands near the Howard Municipal Office Building at 2nd and Lindsley.

Of these seventeen, ten are also featured in The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History & Culture, and we refer the reader to that volume for their biographies. Here we offer introductions to the remaining seven, not only to highlight their lives but also to illustrate the extensive influence of the University of Nashville.

William Barksdale (1821-1863), born in Rutherford County, Tennessee, attended the University of Nashville and studied law in Columbus, Mississippi. He became editor of the Columbus Democrat before serving in the U.S. Congress from 1853-1861. An advocate of slavery, Barksdale rose to the rank of brigadier-general during the Civil War. He died of wounds received at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Jacob McGavock Dickinson (1851-1928) was born in Columbus, Mississippi, but moved to Nashville and became one of the city’s most accomplished citizens. From the University of Nashville he received the A.B. degree in 1871 and the A.M. the following year. A well-known lawyer and judge, Dickinson served as president of the American Bar Association from 1907-1908. His appointment as Secretary of War under long-time friend William Taft is another of his many achievements. An interesting fact not mentioned in the DAB (but noted by Margaret Lindsley Warden in Nashville: A Family Town) is that at various times Dickinson was the owner of three of Nashville’s historic estates: Ensworth, Polk Place, and Belle Meade.

Henry Hitchcock (1829-1902), an Alabama native, graduated from the University of Nashville in 1846 and from Yale in 1848. He was pro-Union and served under Sherman during that General’s march to the sea. A scholarly jurist and able speaker, Hitchcock organized the law school of Washington University in St. Louis and was its first dean. Like Dickinson, he served as president of the American Bar Association (1889-1890).

Born in Franklin, Tennessee, George Earl Maney (1826-1901) graduated from the University of Nashville a year before Hitchcock but, as a Confederate brigadier-general, fought against Sherman in the Atlanta Campaign. After the War, Maney became president of the Tennessee & Pacific Railroad and was elected to the state legislature. From 1881 to 1894 he served as a diplomat in South America.

In 1814 Robert Paine (1799-1882) moved from North Carolina to Giles County, Tennessee. The DAB reports that he was “ready to enter the sophomore class of Cumberland College [a forerunner of the University of Nashville]” when a religious experience moved him to preach. In 1846, after serving for sixteen years as president of LaGrange College in Alabama, he was elected Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and moved to Aberdeen, Mississippi. He is the author of Life and Times of William McKendree.

John Anthony Winston (1812-1871), born in Madison County, Alabama, “spent some time at Cumberland College” in Nashville and became a successful planter, owning plantations in four Southern states. He was governor of Alabama (1853-1857), and, after the Civil War, was elected to the U.S. Senate. An ardent Confederate, he was denied his Senate seat after refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the United States.

William Yerger (1816-1872), born in Lebanon, Tennessee, graduated from the University of Nashville in 1833. He moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where he developed one of the largest law practices in the state. Although he opposed secession, Yerger was elected to the state legislature and remained in that office throughout the War. At war’s end, he was instrumental in bringing Mississippi back into the Union.

The seventeen DAB articles on men who attended the University of Nashville reinforce the importance of that institution in our city’s history. In addition, Nashville-related entries in standard reference works remind us that our history often ceases to be only “local” and becomes national or even international in significance.

A. N. Eshman and Radnor College

by Mike Slate.

He is responsible for the use of the “Radnor” name for Tennessee’s first natural area, Radnor Lake. He was president of two colleges. He knew William Jennings Bryan. He wrote books and ran a publishing house. He helped save a church. He conducted tours across the United States. He had two wives named “Annie B. Eshman.” He was a pioneer in the field of automobile driving safety. Nevertheless, few Tennesseans would recognize the name of this gifted farm boy, Andrew Nelson Eshman.

A.N. Eshman, born near Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee, came to Nashville in 1905 from West Point, Mississippi. He was 40 years old, yet he had already served as Huntsville, Alabama’s superintendent of schools and as president of West Point’s Southern Female College. In 1898 he had drawn a renowned speaker, William Jennings Bryan, to the SFC campus, where the noted orator addressed an audience of 5,000. After arriving in Nashville, Eshman bought 20 acres on the Nolensville Pike and built a 250-foot-long brick school building on a hill overlooking the pike. Like the SFC, it was a women’s school, which he named Radnor College.

Radnor College (postcard from NHN collection)

Eshman’s use of the name “Radnor” was apparently the first in Nashville. Several years after the school was founded, the L&N Railroad opened Radnor Yards, located just to the west of the college. The railroad evidently appropriated the name of the school for its freight and switching yards. In turn, Radnor Lake was named after the yards. A man-made reservoir in the Overton Hills, the lake provided Radnor Yards with water. The larger question is how Eshman came by the name “Radnor” for his school. No one knows, but it is conceivable that he named the college after Radnor Township near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The famous women’s college Bryn Mawr is located there, and Eshman, a frequent traveler, had no doubt ridden trains through Radnor on trips to Philadelphia.

Eshman was a Cumberland Presbyterian minister who, along with other dedicated leaders, fought to save the Cumberland Presbyterian Church from losing its identity after its 1906 merger with the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. Thanks to the efforts of these men, the C. P. Church survived, although greatly diminished in size. One unfortunate casualty of the merger was the Cumberland Presbyterian Publishing House, which had operated for many years on Cherry Street (today’s Fourth Avenue) in downtown Nashville. In 1913 the Federal District Court in Nashville granted control of the publishing house to the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. From that point forward, Eshman did the work of the C. P. publishing house in his own printing plant on the Radnor College campus. Cumberland Presbyterian publishing continued there until 1924, at what came to be called “Radnor Terrace” on McClellan Avenue. The present church building of the Radnor Church of Christ is thought to sit approximately where the old printing plant stood.

For reasons not fully understood today, Eshman closed Radnor College in 1914. No doubt a large factor was the death that May of his wife, Annie Bone Eshman, who had served as treasurer of the school. The rising popularity of co-education may have contributed to the decision as well. Other local schools for women closed during this same period: Columbia’s Athenaeum college in 1907, Franklin’s Tennessee Female College in 1913, Boscobel College in 1914, and Buford College in 1920.

After closing the school Eshman converted the main building into apartments and subdivided the acreage into housing lots. He sold lot numbers 24 through 31 to the Board of Trustees of the Cumberland Presbyterian Theological Seminary, who were searching for a permanent location for a ministerial school. The Board chose not to use the site, however, and the C. P. Church continued to rely on its theological department at Bethel College in McKenzie, Tennessee. If fate had twisted in a different direction, we might today find several imposing academic structures along McClellan Avenue and Nolensville Pike.

Ostensibly, Eshman had named McClellan Avenue, which led from Nolensville Pike to the main college building, in honor of Judge J. J. McClellan of West Point, Mississippi, another leader in the C. P. Church. In addition to an “Eshman Avenue,” West Point also has a street named after McClellan. Thus, Nashville and West Point are historically entwined, yet their interconnected stories have long been virtually unknown to either city.

On April 15, 1919, Eshman married Annie Boardman Mack in Hartford, Alabama. This second Annie B. Eshman had been a student at Southern Female College and had taught music at Radnor College. She was younger than Eshman by 18 years.

After their marriage A. N. and Annie moved to the resort town of Estill Springs, Tennessee, where he engaged in writing and conducting tours across the country. On the evening of September 28, 1921, the Radnor Apartments, formerly Radnor College, were totally destroyed by fire. So spectacular was the nighttime fire on the hilltop, an L&N train engineer reportedly sighted the blaze from 47 miles away. The sad news of the loss of the building, however, was no doubt mitigated by the happy event of October 8, 1923. On this date Eshman and Annie, he at 58 and she at 39, became the parents of A. N. Eshman Jr., born at Estill Springs.

In his later years Eshman served as an agent of the U. S. Sesquicentennial, pastored churches in Alabama and Tennessee, and authored books including Beauty Spots in America and the Life-Saving Brigade, in which he championed the safe driving of automobiles. He and Annie spent the last years of their lives in Columbia, Tennessee, Annie’s home town. A. N. Eshman passed away on January 23, 1951; Annie died on October 26, 1965, and was laid to rest beside her husband in the historic cemetery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church at McCains, Tennessee.

Now the site of a telephone relay tower, Eshman Hill was crowned with city water tanks for many years following the destruction of the college building. A Radnor College catalogue of 1911-1912 had boasted that from the hill one could see up to 30 miles to the east. So prominent is the knoll that it can be seen from Ft. Negley (St. Cloud Hill), causing one to wonder what part it may have played in the 1864 Battle of Nashville. This and other captivating aspects of the hill’s history await future research.

Theodore Roosevelt’s 1907 Nashville Visit

by C. Michael Norton.

Theodore Roosevelt’s rise to the Presidency was meteoric. In 1897 he resigned from his position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to lead the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War. Returning from Cuba a hero, he was elected Governor of New York in 1898. In 1900 he was chosen to serve as William McKinley’s Vice President, and, when McKinley was assassinated a year later, Theodore Roosevelt became President. He was 42 years old. In 1904 he was elected President in his own right.

This dynamic man visited Nashville on October 22, 1907, and received a warm welcome. After he arrived at Union Station about 9:00 a.m. in his own rail car , a parade formed on Broadway behind the President in a horse-drawn carriage, accompanied by 25 to 30 automobiles. The escort of honor was Troop A of the Confederate Veteran Cavalry. The procession moved down Broadway to Eighth Avenue. At that corner were some 2,000 students from schools including the University of Tennessee Medical School, the Hume and Fogg Schools, Buford College, Belmont College, Radnor College, Boscobel College, and St. Cecelia Academy. The parade then wound its way through downtown, ending up at the Ryman Auditorium.

Theodore Roosevelt at Peabody College (postcard image courtesy of C. Michael Norton)

At the Ryman, Roosevelt delivered his principal address of the day. He touched on such current issues as turning the Mississippi River and its principal tributaries into navigable waterways, as well as more enduring issues, like the necessity of preventing stock manipulation (in his words, the need to “punish successful dishonesty”). Leaving the Ryman, Roosevelt changed vehicles to a 50-horsepower Peerless automobile and headed toward the Hermitage. The procession stopped at Peabody College, then located on “College Hill” at Second and Lindsley. This area also included the University of Nashville Medical College and Montgomery Bell Academy.

After a few brief remarks, Roosevelt and his entourage left again for the Hermitage.  On the trip out Lebanon Pike, the vehicles passed the site of the Clover Bottom horse racing track where Andrew Jackson had raced his horses.  Arriving at the Hermitage where a crowd of over 10,000 had gathered, Roosevelt met with officials of the Ladies’ Hermitage Association.  After a tour the President spoke to the crowd on the grounds and promised to secure federal funds to be used toward the preservation of the Hermitage.

The procession’s final stop was at the Confederate Solders’ Home, where the President also made a few remarks.  Finally, he returned to his rail car at the Hermitage Station and left Nashville a little after 1:00 p.m., heading south to Chattanooga.  During the trip he stopped and briefly spoke from his rail car at several towns, including Murfreesboro and Tullahoma.

An interesting aside concerning this visit involves the advertising campaign later developed by Maxwell House, which attributed its slogan “good to the last drop” to Roosevelt, based on a comment he allegedly made at the time.  In fact, it is unlikely that he made such a statement.  Nashville newspapers reported that, during his visit to the Hermitage, Roosevelt did ask for a cup of coffee; none of the reports, however, indicated the brand of coffee that was served to him.  The Nashville Banner reported that Roosevelt enjoyed the coffee and said, “This is the kind of stuff I like, by George, when I hunt bears.”  One can hardly imagine a successful advertising campaign based on that slogan!

Nashville Tennessean, October 23, 1907.
Nashville Banner, October 22, 1907.
The Nashville American, October 23, 1907.
Carey, Bill. Fortunes, Fiddles, & Fried Chicken, Hillsboro Press, 2000, pp. 47-48.

“Strength and Beauty”: Buford College of Nashville, 1901-1920

by Terry Baker.  

On February 15, 1862, E.G. “Eb” Buford of Giles County, Tennessee, received what later generations of soldiers would call “a million-dollar wound.” Not serious enough to kill or badly disfigure him, it nonetheless earned him a permanent discharge from the Army of Tennessee. While thousands of men from the captured garrison at Fort Donelson were being sent north to POW camps, Eb was sent to the rear. He had been shot through the left lung, the one-ounce lead ball reportedly taking part of his ramrod* with it as it exited his body.

In 1869 Eb married Belinda D. Miller in Williamson County; their only child, a son named John, was born the following July. Belinda died in 1874 at age 30, and Eb remained single for ten years. The 1880 Giles County census lists him as a widower, engaged in the hardware business and living on his mother’s farm.

On Christmas Day 1884 Eb married 35-year-old Mary Elizabeth Burgess, a prominent educator who already had quite an impressive resume. Although her tombstone lists her birth year as 1857 and says she started teaching at 16, she was in fact born in 1849, as the 1850 and 1860 census enumerations clearly show.

Her academic career, including a year at Dr. Price’s Nashville College for Young Ladies, culminated in her 1886 founding of the earliest Buford College at Clarksville. Meanwhile, Eb continued in the hardware trade, in a Clarksville firm called Buford and Bowling. For reasons the college publications do not explain, the campus was relocated to Nashville in 1901. School brochures tell us far more about Mrs. Buford, known as Elizabeth, than Eb, whose title at Buford College was Regent.

Buford College, about 1910 (postcard from NHN collection)

Contemporary photos show the Bufords as a dignified couple in their 60s. Confederate Veteran Magazine ran ads for the college and even published one of Elizabeth’s poems in 1910. As President of Buford College, she no doubt wrote the advertising copy, as well as yearbooks and other college publications.

In addition to being an ardent devotee of Shakespeare, Elizabeth was also fond of mottoes, which abounded at Buford, often called “Beaufort” in the literature. This Norman spelling of her husband’s name allowed her to convey the twin virtues of the school: Beauty and Strength. It is no surprise that many of her favorite mottoes and Bible verses found their way onto her impressive tombstone.

While Eb was certainly aware of his lineage, Elizabeth was very much the genealogy buff. She traced her Burgess line back to the Mayflower and was fond of saying that she and her staff were “to the manner born.” She seemed to believe that any post-Civil War Southern aristocracy should be based on literacy. Her ad for the Clarksville campus in an 1894 issue of Confederate Veteran stressed that she was the wife of a Confederate veteran.

Today nothing remains of Buford College except the name. West of Franklin Road, near the intersection of Caldwell Lane and General Bate Drive, is a short street named Buford Place. Although the last of the college buildings were torn down in 1946, surviving photos and a drive through the Buford Place vicinity can provide a good mental picture of the campus, which was situated just beyond the popular Glendale Park. The college yearbooks were a bit hazy as to how far from downtown the campus was, one saying it was a mere twenty minutes away by trolley, another saying thirty-five. The line ended at the campus, in an area that became known as Buford Station.

The 1903 Nashville City Directory showed Elizabeth Buford living at Buford Station. Eb, not listed, could still have been in Clarksville taking care of business. College publications are almost totally silent on his role as Regent, which might have been a figurehead title, although he may in fact have been the school liaison to the Nashville business community. It is revealing that his pension application described the school as a business.

The yearbooks describe the campus as “a magnificent highland park of 25 acres, surrounded by an 85-acre woodland, with springs, wells, and a cistern, upon a fine electric car line.” Croquet and tennis courts were set among the magnolias, while gardens, a dairy, and a hennery provided a healthy diet for campus residents.

The land was originally donated by wealthy businessman O. F. Noel, who also constructed the buildings. However, this partnership would last only during Noel’s lifetime and placed the college on precarious financial footing from the outset. College publications included some rather shrill pleas for assistance, and, although “Beaufort” had an impressive list of benefactors, it was not able to survive the deaths of Noel and the Bufords.

The enrollment at Buford, which was referred to as “select,” was limited to 100 girls between the ages of 16 and 20. The school offered the standard four-year college course, modified somewhat by Elizabeth’s (and perhaps Eb’s) personal tastes. The curriculum included English, Latin, the Bible, painting, music, and even business and journalism. Annoyed by literary portrayals of “frail Southern womanhood,” Elizabeth also stressed health and exercise.

The modern reader may scoff at the unabashedly Victorian ideals promoted at Buford, although graduates looked back on their college days with a fond nostalgia we can only envy. The presence of chaperones was a salient feature of all social outings and field trips taken by the girls, dressed in their forty-dollar gray uniforms. However, this is not to say that men were a forbidden item at Buford. Eligible young men were welcome as visitors at the college after they sent a letter of introduction to Elizabeth – only a certain gentility would do at Buford. More than one of the college yearbooks boasted that there had been no “elopement, death or casualty” in the history of the school, including the Clarksville years.

In contrast to the 19th century values and ideals taught at Buford, Elizabeth tenaciously prepared her charges for the 20th century. For example, she saw journalism as a way for women to find careers outside the home, allowing them to compete with men for jobs. Others, inspired by Elizabeth’s love of the English language, became teachers who inspired a generation of students to disdain slang and trendy speech in keeping with lofty Buford ideals.

The 1914 death of O. F. Noel, Buford’s principal benefactor, generated a flood of changes in the life of Buford College. In 1915 the Glendale campus welcomed its last class before the land devolved to Noel’s heirs. The girls who made the transition lamented that it was the last year of the “real Buford,” the idyllic picture-postcard school surrounded by oaks and magnolias.

How Eb fared in those lean years we have only a hint. In 1917 he was forced to file a Confederate pension claim, stating that he and his wife had been “engaged in School business at Nashville” the previous year, “but have been deprived of this, and are now without means,” and unable “to make any provision for the future.”

The year 1916 had seen the college relocate, according to their ad in Confederate Veteran, to the area between 21st and 22nd avenues, near the corner of 22nd and Church, in what was the old Sam Murphy Place. By 1918, the year before Eb died, it had again moved: near Gallatin Pike, on N 12th and Eastland, the Bransford Mansion was Buford’s final location.

Elizabeth would not long survive Eb. The strain of running the college and worrying over finances proved too much for the aging administrator. At 71 she suffered a breakdown from which she would not recover. She died on February 12th, 1920, and was buried next to her husband on Valentine’s Day. Looking at their grand tombstone at Mount Olivet – covered with mottos, Bible verses, a timeline of her career, the love showered on her by her girls – one realizes that, even in death, she remains the president of Buford College.

*According to the author, what actually went through Eb’s lung was not part of his ramrod, but what was known as a musket pick. A Civil War reenactor has explained that this item was a wire brush used to clean the outer parts of the gun lock, such as the percussion cap nipple.

Additional author’s note: A book recently located at TSLA “showed what Eb was doing after he married Mary Elizabeth Burgess. He was a traveling salesman for a Clarksville hardware firm. That might explain why his name is missing from the 1903 City Directory mentioned in the essay.”