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.
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.