An Eerie Street, an Ancient Creek, an Old Log House

Musings by Mike Slate.

Hurt Drive, located off Elm Hill Pike in the Donelson suburb of Nashville, is for me the eeriest street in Davidson County. In the 1960s this half-mile-long road was part of my boyhood newspaper route, and some of my friends lived here in neat, moderately sized brick houses. Today nothing remains of that civilization except a ribbon of asphalt road.

Built during the 1950s Donelson boom, the subdivision that includes Hurt Drive thrived for about thirty years before the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority acquired it during its noise mitigation program of the 1980s and ’90s. (Indeed, today’s planes fly very low over this area.) The MNAA razed every house along Hurt Drive, carefully removed all rubble, constructed impressive masonry gates at both the north and south ends of the street, and generally returned the land to nature. Currently the agency keeps much of the grass cut while allowing a few lots to grow more freely.

The aforementioned gates, which inhibit vehicular but not pedestrian traffic, enhance the mysterious aura of the empty street. Arriving at the south gate, a visitor is roadblocked without any explanatory signage. May I walk along this road and enjoy it as a greenway path? Should I keep away from here altogether? Nothing answers such questions. However, around at the north gate a lonesome sign warns, “MOTORIZED VEHICLES PROHIBITED,” implicitly granting permission to walk the road. Yet visitors unacquainted with the area’s history are still faced with the overarching conundrum: why is this road here, since there’s nothing on it?

And what about the name itself, Hurt Drive (sometimes “Hurt Road”)? Where did that come from? Since “Hurt” is an esteemed local surname with area roots at least back to the War of 1812, my guess is that the road was named after the Hurt clan (or a member thereof). Hurt family members are buried in the nearby James Buchanan Cemetery; Benjamin Hurt was an area postmaster in the 1850s; Joe Hurt, also a postmaster, owned a grocery store at Lebanon Road and Donelson Pike around 1900; and Dr. Joseph Hurt was a well-known Donelson physician of recent years.

McCrory’s Creek flows immediately to the east of Hurt Drive. In fact, the ancient creek forms the back boundaries of some of the street’s lots, adding convincingly to Hurt Drive as a de facto greenway. Not surprisingly, “McCrory” is another eminent pioneer name. The specific individual for whom the creek was named is lost to history, but in 1792 Thomas McCrory helped repel the famous Indian attack at Buchanan’s Station, which was situated on Mill Creek, about three miles west of Hurt Drive down the present Elm Hill Pike. Although the McCrory family played a major role in the early development of the Davidson County area now known as Forest Hills, there are very few McCrorys remaining in the county today.

McCrory’s Creek (photo from NHN collection)

It’s nearly impossible for me to think of McCrory’s Creek without remembering the venerable Miss Jane Thomas. Her father settled along the creek in 1809 when Miss Thomas was nine years old. Later she helped establish a Methodist church nearby, raising money for a log building. When she was in her 90s, she wrote reminiscences in a series of newspaper articles, which were collected into a delightful, gossipy volume titled Old Days in Nashville. The important little sourcebook was first published in 1897, and reprints are still available today.

Virtually every Nashville historian is acquainted with Miss Thomas and her book, yet no one knows the precise location on McCrory’s Creek of either the Thomas home place or the Methodist church she helped found. If an enterprising researcher cannot pinpoint at least one of these and place an appropriate historical marker there, then perhaps a marker to the memory of the grand old lady could be erected on Hurt Drive, offering walkers something to read and contemplate.

At Elm Hill Pike, Hurt Drive is sandwiched between McCrory’s Creek to the east and the Buchanan Log House to the west, giving visitors a triple treat in a single geographical spot. The landmark house, owned by the non-profit Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities (APTA), has in its front lawn a new Metro historical marker that describes the home and its circa 1807 origins. Branches of the local Buchanan family, however, stretch back even further than that, all the way to the very beginnings of Nashville. Two Buchanans signed the 1780 Cumberland Compact, and another died in the 1781 “Battle of the Bluffs” at Fort Nashborough. In addition, Maj. John Buchanan fought along with Thomas McCrory at the “Battle of Buchanan’s Station,” mentioned above. 

Buchanan Log House (photo from NHN collection)

The log house marker also records the circa 1820 addition to the structure. It’s satisfying to imagine that, in addition to Buchanans, the enlargement project may have been watched or joined by members of the Thomas (perhaps by Miss Jane Thomas herself!), Hurt, and even McCrory families.

For lack of space the marker does not relate the important second ownership of the Buchanan House. After Buchanans had lived here for over fifty years, the place was purchased by Thomas Neal Frazier, an area judge. His son, who grew up here on the banks of McCrory’s Creek, was James B. Frazier. You might recognize that name, for he became governor of Tennessee in 1903 and a U.S. senator after that.

Hurt Drive, flanked by the Buchanan House and McCrory’s Creek, well illustrates the richness of Nashville history. Chapters of our heritage abound on every river, on every creek, and on almost every street or farm in the county . . . and all across Tennessee. Citizens who seek historical edification will likely find it right under their feet.

Source Note: A variety of written sources were consulted in the preparation of this article, but none were more helpful than two fonts of living knowledge: Debie Cox of the Metro Nashville Archives and Lu Whitworth of the Buchanan Log House.

This article was first published in the July 2009 issue of The Nashville Retrospect. We thank publisher Allen Forkum for his permission to republish it here.

Nashville’s City Hotel

by Debie Oeser Cox, author of Nashville History blog.

The first hotel on the east side of the Public Square was Talbot’s Hotel and Tavern, established about 1800. Although a deed was not filed until 1804, a subsequent document filed in Davidson County deed book F indicates that Talbot actually purchased the property in 1800.

In the 1820s Talbot sold his hotel property to the Nashville Bank. The first proprietor of the new City Hotel was James Edmondson, notice of which appeared in the National Banner and Nashville Whig, Saturday, January 12, 1828:

City Hotel, Nashville — The subscriber has the pleasure of informing his friends and the public, that he has taken that splendid Tavern lately built by the Nashville Bank. This house being planned and erected for the express purpose of a Tavern comprises advantages rarely found in such establishments . . .. Surrounding the back front [sic] are spacious balconies communicating and on a level with each story, forming airy, sheltered and delightful promenades, the whole three stories high. The private part of the house, intended for families, is entirely separated from the public establishment and ladies therefore can be free from observation and as secluded as in any private house.

The City Hotel was offered for sale in an advertisement that appeared in the National Banner and Nashville Whig, Saturday, February 2, 1828:

The Nashville Bank offers for sale, that large and commodious building on the Public Square in the town of Nashville, known by the name of the City Hotel. As any person inclining to purchase would wish to examine the premises, a minute description is unnecessary. I suffer it to say, that the whole establishment is of brick, and entirely new, having been erected during the last year. The building is three stories high; it fronts on the public square one hundred feet, with one wing extending back one hundred and thirty feet, and another about seventy feet. In the principal wing, on the first floor is a spacious dining room, 70 by 30 feet, but which can be extended as occasion may require, by means of folding doors, the whole length of the wing, or 130 feet. On the second floor is a ball room of the same dimensions. The building is so constructed as that exclusive of numerous bed chambers, a convenient portion of it may be set apart for the convenience of families, or private parties. The whole of the building on the back front, which commands a fine view of the Cumberland river, and the adjacent country, is surrounded with spacious piazzas, communicating with each story. Attached to it are all the necessary buildings for a tavern.

The City Hotel Company purchased the property from the Nashville Bank for a sum of $20,000. The deed described the property as being parts of lots 171 and 172, which had been conveyed to the Nashville Bank by Thomas Talbot in two parcels, one in 1821 and the other in 1828.

Miss Jane Thomas wrote of Edmondson and the City Hotel in her book, Old Days In Nashville. Miss Jane said that in 1837 Edmondson was managing the hotel.

In the spring of 1845 Joseph Marshall and Samuel M. Scott entered a contract to manage the City Hotel as a hotel and tavern. Joseph Marshall died soon after. As a consequence of a suit filed in Chancery Court concerning Mr. Marshall’s estate, an inventory of the contents of the City Hotel was made and filed with the court. This inventory detailed the furnishings of fifty-seven guest rooms and a garret room. Most of the guest rooms were furnished with one or two bedsteads and feather beds, mattresses and bedding, a washstand, pitcher and bowl. Many of the rooms had a table, several chairs, a looking glass, and fireplace accessories.

Other rooms included in the inventory were north and south parlors, two dining rooms, a kitchen, a pantry room, and a bar room. The south parlor had two sofas, a side board, a dozen cane-back chairs, and a pier glass (a tall, narrow mirror fitted between two windows). There were four pictures and frames, a carpet, a mantel ornament, and a brass fender for the fireplace. The north parlor featured one sofa, a pair of side tables, ten hair-seat chairs (mahogany), and one rocking chair. Other furnishings included a mantle clock, two mantle ornaments, one pair of convex reflectors, one large pier glass, one astral lamp, one center table with cover, one carpet, and one brass fender. There were both public and private dining rooms. The public room had nineteen tables and eighty-eight Windsor chairs, three side boards, a coffee urn, and a tea urn. There were eleven dozen white dinner plates and six dozen sets of knives, forks and teaspoons. Glassware included forty-four tumblers and twenty-four wine glasses. There were nearly five dozen cups and saucers, along with salt stands, celery stands, sugar tongs, ladles, tureens, molasses jugs, and a gong. The private dining room was similarly furnished but on a smaller scale, with only nine tables and thirty chairs listed.

In the kitchen was a cook stove, a coffee boiler, a tea boiler, four small boilers, a large iron grill for the fireplace, twenty-three pans, eight steamers, and three sinks. In the pantry room were kettles, cake pans, and shape pans. The bar room had a sideboard, some writing desks, an iron chest, eleven chairs, and four settees, along with a map of the world, two lamps, a looking glass, and nine decanters.

In 1859 Enoch Ensley became the principal owner of the City Hotel. From Memucan H. Howard, the largest shareholder, he acquired 135 shares. He bought 119 shares from Lizinka Brown and, from several others, smaller amounts of stock. In October of 1859, Ensley owned 313 shares of stock with 79 shares remaining in other hands.

James R. Winbourn and his mother Mary B. Winbourn leased the City Hotel in December of 1861 from Enoch Ensley. In February of 1866 the Winbourns sold their interests in the City Hotel to Hare and Roberts. During their proprietorship at the City Hotel, Mary Winbourn managed the hotel while her son James took care of a farm the Winbourns had purchased in order to supply vegetables and milk for the hotel.

Enoch Ensley died in 1866 and the property was bequeathed to his son Enoch Ensley, Jr. Sometime in the 1870s the City Hotel was torn down. Enoch Ensley, Jr., sold the former City Hotel property in 1879 for the sum of $82,500 to William Watkins of Todd County, KY. Today that site is between the Woodland Street and Victory Memorial Bridges, east of the present courthouse, overlooking the Gay Street Connector and the Cumberland River.