Meet Nashville’s Leaders

by Kathy B. Lauder.

One of Nashville’s most popular events is the annual Living History Tour each fall at City Cemetery. Visitors see the past come alive as costumed characters step forward from the gravestones to tell their stories. Although a few beloved personalities from Nashville’s history do reappear from time to time, the Nashville City Cemetery Association (NCCA) selects many new characters each year. The individuals named below were featured in the 2013 Tour. The photos of reenactors were taken during NCCA Living History Tours between 2008 and 2012.

Lipscomb Norvell, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, served under General George Washington at Brandywine, Trenton, and Monmouth. An early pioneer, he raised a large family in Kentucky before joining family members in Nashville, where he died at age 87.

Frank Parrish, a free man of color, was a Nashville entrepreneur, operating a Bathing House and Barber Shop on Deaderick Street. He died in 1867 and was buried in a family plot at City Cemetery.

Ann Robertson Cockrill, James Robertson’s sister, was a young widow with three little girls when she arrived in Nashville with the Donelson party in 1780. She later married John Cockrill, and they settled near today’s Centennial Park to raise their large family. She was the only woman among the early Cumberland settlers to receive a land grant in her own name, earned largely for her courage in defending Fort Caswell (later Fort Watauga) against Indian attack.

William Carroll Napier owned a Nashville livery stable. His son James carried Mayor Cheatham to surrender Nashville to Union forces in 1862. Later the two Napiers helped John Berrien Lindsley set up military hospitals around the city by transporting food equipment and supplies. During the Occupation, the Union Army employed Carroll as a spy, tasked with reporting Confederate troop movements in Murfreesboro and along the Harpeth River. Son James C. Napier would later become Nashville’s African American city councilor, as well as Register of the U.S. Treasury under President Taft.

George W. Campbell, one of Nashville’s most distinguished citizens, was an attorney, a U.S. Representative and Senator, one of the first two Tennessee Supreme Court Justices, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and U.S. Ambassador to Russia. His wife Harriet Stoddert was the daughter of the secretary of the Navy in Thomas Jefferson’s cabinet. In 1843 Campbell sold a property known as “Campbell’s Hill” to the city of Nashville, later transferred to the state as the site of the Tennessee state capitol.

Mabel Lewis Imes was raised in New England, where she received an excellent education, learned to speak French, and took voice lessons. When she auditioned for the Fisk Jubilee Singers during their Eastern tour, they immediately invited her to sing contralto with the group . . . at the age of 13!

A former Fisk Jubilee Singer portrayed Mabel Imes in the 2008 Living History event, regaling delighted visitors with beautiful music.

Thomas Crutcher served as the State Treasurer of Tennessee for 25 years. An activist in promoting education for women, he was a founder and active trustee of the Nashville Female Academy, where the students called him “Uncle Crutcher.”

Lizzie Porterfield Elliott was the daughter of Collins D. Elliott, president of the Nashville Female Academy, and she was perhaps the most compelling example of his belief in educating women. She taught in both public and private schools for more than 30 years and was active in educational and civic organizations. An authority on Tennessee history, she served as an officer in the Tennessee Historical Society. A bright and interesting woman, she authored the Early History of Nashville, still admired for its historical accuracy.

Before the section of the city north of the Cumberland River was known as Edgefield (and then East Nashville), it was referred to as Wetmore’s Addition. Moses Wetmore, the first person to subdivide the area into lots for homes and businesses, also donated the land for Holy Trinity Church and gave his name to two city streets.

State Representative Ben West portrayed his father, Ben West (Mayor of Nashville 1951-1963), during the 2010 Living History event.

Mayor John Patton Erwin served two terms as mayor of Nashville. He worked as a bank cashier (in those days, the equivalent of a bank manager), was editor of the Nashville Whig, and served as Postmaster, Justice of the Peace, and clerk of the Tennessee House of Representatives.

Powhatan Maxey served as a justice of the peace, an alderman for seven terms, and mayor of Nashville from 1843-1845. He negotiated the purchase of Capitol Hill from William Nichol and George W. Campbell, and then donated the land to the Tennessee General Assembly, provided they would locate the State Capitol on that site.  (2013)

Ghosts in Nashville City Cemetery (photo by Lynn McDonald, 2011)

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

A Souvenir from the 1920s

Primary Source Document, transcribed by Mike Slate.

Yesteryear’s folding booklets of postcards sometimes included a few paragraphs about the featured state or city. The text below, which reads as though it might have been prepared by the local Chamber of Commerce, came from a booklet of postcards published by S. H. Kress & Co. and is hand-dated September 15, 1924. Ephemera like this can often provide both interesting data and thought-provoking interpretive possibilities.


Nashville is the Capital City of Tennessee, and the County Seat of Davidson County.

Four railroads serve the city. Forty-four passenger and sixty-eight freight trains arrive in Nashville daily.

The Cumberland River is navigable 210 miles down the river practically the year round and 352 miles up the river for about six months, and the work of installing new locks and dams will increase this practically to ten months each year. Nashville has seven bridges across the Cumberland River.

There are 22 parks and playgrounds, containing 468 acres. Centennial Park has the only replica of the Parthenon in the world. Shelby Park has a nine-hole municipal golf course. The Vanderbilt Stadium seats 22,000 people, and is the largest athletic field in the South. Nashville’s water supply is pure and inexhaustible, with more than 50,000,000-gallon capacity daily. The Tennessee State Fair, one of the largest expositions in the South, is held in Nashville each year. The Public Auditorium has a seating capacity of 5,000 persons.

Nashville’s Parthenon is the only full-size replica of the original building.

Vanderbilt University, with assets of $11,000,000, has entrance requirements and a curriculum equal to any university in the United States, and has drawn students from every state in the Union and from eight foreign countries. It has an endowment of $6,850,000. The medical department has an endowment of $3,500,000, and is erecting the most complete medical school in the South and one of the finest in America.

The only Y.M.C.A. College in the South is located in Nashville.

Three institutions for women, Ward-Belmont, St. Bernard Academy, and St. Cecilia, draw students from practically every state in the Union. Ward-Belmont alone has over 600 non-resident students.

Ward-Belmont School (postcard from NHN collection)

The Southeastern School of Printing has $80,000 worth of equipment, and is the only school of its kind in the South.

The United States government recognizes as colleges only three institutions for the higher education of the Negro; two of them, Fisk University and Meharry College, are located here; also Walden University, Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial Normal School, Roger Williams, and two Negro Baptist Theological Seminaries.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers have sung in every Capital and at every court in Europe.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers: from left, B. W. Thomas, Julia Jackson, Maggie Porter, Ella Sheppard, F. J. Louden, H. D. Alexander, Georgia Gordon, Jennie Jackson, America Robinson, Thomas Rutling

George Peabody College for Teachers, with an investment of $4,000,000 and 20 departments, is the only teachers’ college in the South, and the second largest in the United States. It has an endowment of $2,500,000, and in 1922-23 had an enrollment representing 36 states and 5 foreign countries.

It leads all other cities in the South in livestock, butter, poultry, grinding of wheat, eggs, and various agricultural products.

The mean annual temperature is 60 degrees; the average summer temperature is 78 degrees; and average winter temperature is 41 degrees.

The average annual rainfall is 47.2 inches, humidity moderate, and no sunstrokes are recorded.

Nashville has more than 500 manufacturing enterprises, makes more self-rising flour than any city in the world (“Goodness gracious, it’s good!”), and is one of the two largest hardwood flooring markets in the world. Its annual hardwood flooring output would pave an automobile boulevard 10 feet wide from Nashville to New York. Over 35,000,000 pounds of green coffee are roasted annually.

The Hermitage, the home of Andrew Jackson, is located near Nashville, and is one of the show grounds of America.

Three Presidents of the United States, Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Andrew Johnson, have lived in Nashville. Jackson is buried at the Hermitage and Polk on the grounds of the historic State Capitol.

Tomb of President James K. Polk

Five Nashville men have sat in the Supreme Court of the United States: John Catron, Howell E. Jackson, Horace H. Lurton, J. C. McReynolds, and E. T. Sanford.

The Battle of Nashville, one of the major engagements of the Civil War, was fought partially within the city limits on December 15 and 16, 1864.

William Driver, a New England sea captain who named the American flag “Old Glory,” is buried in the old City Cemetery.

William Driver reenactor at a recent City Cemetery Living History tour

William Walker, the “Grey-eyed Man of Destiny,” the most famous of all American filibusters, was born and reared in Nashville. Walker became president of Nicaragua and raised the blood-red five-point star of the United States of Central America, but he failed in his plans and was shot by a firing squad.  (1997)

The Stieglitz Collection at Fisk University

by C. Michael Norton.*

Georgia O’Keeffe received word in 1946 in New Mexico that her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, had suffered a serious stroke in New York. Catching the next airplane from Albuquerque, she was by his side when he died on July 13. No one at Fisk University in Nashville knew then that Stieglitz’s death had put into motion a chain of events which would lead to Fisk’s receiving, in 1949, an art collection considered “the finest of its type anywhere in the South.”

The Carl Van Vechten Art Gallery on the Fisk University campus

Stieglitz, one of the greatest photographers in the history of the medium, is credited with transforming photography from a method of documentation into an art form. As a premier collector and gallery owner of his time, Stieglitz encouraged and acquired art work by many young American artists, including Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles Demuth, and John Marin. He is also credited with mounting the first exhibition of African sculpture in the United States. O’Keeffe, generally considered the most important female artist in 20th century America (a description that would have irritated her), had both a business and personal relationship with the much older Stieglitz. They married in 1924, despite the 23-year difference in their ages.

Along with his own photographs, Stieglitz amassed a substantial collection of paintings, but he failed to do anything with the collection during his lifetime, leaving that particular burden to O’Keeffe after his death. His will granted O’Keeffe the right to select the recipients of the art, provided it went to “one or more” non-profit corporations “under such arrangements as will assure to the public, under reasonable regulations, access thereto to promote the study of art.”

1918 Alfred Stieglitz photograph of Georgia O’Keeffe (public domain)

O’Keeffe undertook the difficult task of organizing and giving away over 1,000 pieces of art. She eventually divided the works among six institutions. The first five were logical choices: the Library of Congress, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The sixth choice was a surprise: Fisk University.

Founded in 1866 to educate newly freed slaves, Fisk is one of Nashville’s oldest universities. Outside the black community, Fisk was at that time probably best known for its choir, the Fisk Jubilee Singers, who have performed throughout this country and others since 1871. Fisk was also respected for offering a solid academic program: in 1930 it became the first African-American institution to earn accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The obvious question, however, is why Fisk was selected to receive 101 pieces of art from the collection, when neither Stieglitz nor O’Keeffe had ever visited this small, historically black college in the South, where rigid segregation was the order of the day.

Enter Carl Van Vechten, New York writer/photographer and friend of both Stieglitz and O’Keeffe. A patron of the Harlem Renaissance with a consuming interest in black culture, he was also a friend of Fisk President Charles Spurgeon Johnson. Van Vechten informed O’Keeffe of his intention to leave many of his photographs and other materials to the school and introduced her to President Johnson. A sociologist by training, Dr. Johnson had come to Fisk in 1928 after spending several years in New York as director of research for the National Urban League and as a supporter of the arts. Elected president of Fisk in 1946, Johnson was the first black to occupy that position.

Later O’Keeffe explained that she picked Fisk because it would have made Stieglitz happy. Since she had given portions of the collections to institutions in the Northeast and the Midwest, she thought it logical that some of the collection go to another part of the country.

Whatever her reasons, the choice was not without problems. In late October 1949, O’Keeffe and her assistant drove to Nashville from New Mexico to inspect the gallery (to be named in honor of Van Vechten) and to assist with the hanging of the art. Fisk had gone to considerable effort and expense to convert its old gymnasium into an art gallery, hiring a New York architect to design the space. When O’Keeffe saw the gallery for the first time, she hated it. She and her assistant began conforming the space to her wishes, coming in at 7:00 each morning to meet with the workmen. For at least a week she made changes: replacing the lighting, removing molding, painting walls, changing the color of cabinets, and more. Still unhappy with the lights, she flew in a lighting expert on the morning of the opening to make a few final changes.

The opening ceremonies took place on the afternoon of November 4, 1949, in Memorial Chapel, filled to capacity with more than 900 present. President Johnson introduced O’Keeffe, who declined to approach the rostrum, speaking instead from her chair: “Dr. Johnson wrote and asked me to speak and I did not answer. I had and have no intention of speaking. These paintings and sculptures are a gift from Stieglitz. They are for the students. I hope you will go back and look at them more than once.” Van Vechten also spoke briefly, concluding that the gallery was “not equaled by any in New York City.” The dean of education at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art delivered the major address.

The Stieglitz Collection consists of 101 art works: five pieces of African tribal art, nineteen Stieglitz photographs, two paintings by O’Keeffe, prints by Cezanne and Renoir, and a number of paintings by Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, Charles Demuth, and John Marin.

*Editor’s note: A seven-year legal battle, which took place during a period of severe financial hardship for Fisk, ended in a partnership between Fisk University and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. According to the terms of the final $30 million agreement, the two institutions, each now owning half of the relevant art pieces, agree to share the Stieglitz Collection, passing it back and forth on a two-year rotation. (Author Mike Norton was part of the legal team that fashioned this agreement.) The collection returned to Fisk University in April 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic has forced it to be closed to the public much of the time since its return. This short film from NPT provides a useful introduction to the museum and its collection: