Sulphur Dell, the “Goat Man,” the Roxy, and Other Nashville Memories

A reminiscence by Larry D. McClanahan.

As a 1956 graduate of Gallatin High School who lived in Nashville from ages two to eleven, I was raised on Krystals (I had one this afternoon!) and Krispy Kreme doughnuts sold in a shop where the Estes Kefauver Federal Building now stands. I loved the balcony dinette at the Woolworths on 5th Avenue. Their ham sandwiches on grilled toast were never excelled anywhere else.

I remember street car rides, the old car barn where the Municipal Auditorium now stands, the peddlers’ carts and horses stabled there after the street cars left. I also remember Gilbert’s Men’s Clothing Store on the square, where the money was sent via cable car to the cashiers on the mezzanine. There my dad traded for his clothes, and my parents bought my first suit with long pants. It wasn’t far from the Nashville Court House fountains, with their colored lights under the water.

Early in the morning the street peddlers loaded their carts with produce at the market that is now the Ben West Building. They spread out across town and through the residential streets where they sold ears of corn by the dozen, pole beans by the pound (weighed on a scale on the back corner of the cart), and ice-cold watermelons. They also carried bread and snacks for the kids. I can still hear the call of the drivers as they broadcast their wares.

The paddlewheeler Idlewild

Then there was the annual thrill of driving down to Broad and First to watch the docking of the steamboat Idlewild and hear the calliope. I always wanted to ride on the paddlewheeler but never had the chance. And, of course, I loved Sulphur Dell, where ‘Bama Ray, Buster Boguski, Buckshot Tommy Brown, and Carl Sawatski thrilled us in person or through the radio voice of Larry Munson as we lay in bed on those hot summer nights with the lights out and the windows open, hoping for a breeze to calm the heat. We had an occasional opportunity to see the “Goat Man” when he came through on his endless journey. He rode on a little wagon pulled by a team of goats, trailed by a dog or two and a nanny that was his milk source. It was a true wonder of the world to a youngster.

The original Sulphur Dell (photo used by permission of Skip Nipper)

We had our movie theater, too – the Roxy in East Nashville. On Saturdays at noon, we rushed home, washed up, grabbed a sandwich, and took off on our bikes to get in line for the movies. Note the plural: there were two movies, three or more cartoons, and a serial starring Whip Wilson or Lash Larue, all for 10 cents. A nickel for popcorn and a nickel for a Coke sustained us for the afternoon until we could go home to reenact the roles of good guys and bad guys. There were no gray guys. We knew who was who and that the good guys always won.

Of course, we all made Red Cross boxes, and collected papers and tin cans, while we took our ration books to the store to buy bread, milk, and sugar. If we lost the book, or if the store was out of what we needed, it was a long week until the next supply came. I don’t know whether it is a bad thing or a good one that later generations did not experience those days, but I am glad that I did.

Hermitage Hotel Memories since 1929

A Reminiscence by Mary B. Williams.

Living a lifetime in Nashville has been a storybook experience in many ways. Memories of the magnificent Hermitage Hotel have certainly played a large part in creating the desire to write my own storybook for my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Photograph courtesy of the author

My first visits to the Hotel were by invitation when my uncle, an attorney in Louisville, Kentucky, came here frequently to visit my family. He usually stayed at the Hermitage and my brother and I, though quite young, were always included in his invitation for dinner at the Hotel. What a splendid occasion that was!

In those days of early childhood I had a vivid imagination, so on those evenings I became the beautiful princess who lived in this wonderful castle right out of the storybooks my parents had read so often to me – it was much more than a mere hotel!

My mother often went to the beauty salon that was located on the mezzanine at the Hermitage. Daddy would drive us there and, while waiting, would sometimes get a shoe shine just off the lobby, somewhere in the vicinity of the men’s restroom, as I recall. I could always be found nestled in one of the big comfortable chairs in the lobby, reading a book. Even at that young age I enjoyed pausing to enjoy my surroundings and observe the beautiful carvings that were an important part of the architectural design.

Later, as a teenager, I enjoyed the Hotel in a different fashion when I attended sorority meetings there on Saturday mornings.  I felt so sophisticated as I mimicked the movie stars like Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and Loretta Young, and smoked along with the older sorority girls. My mother and daddy would have killed me!  So they wouldn’t know, I hid my cigarettes among the potted plants in the beautiful urns, ready for my next party at the Hermitage!

Sorority and fraternity dances were held in the Grand Ballroom with its exquisitely rich wood paneling. All the brass features throughout the Hotel shone with a mirror finish. I remember being a little reluctant to use the handrails as I was fearful of leaving fingerprints.

On one particular evening I was waiting for my handsome date, who was going to drive me to the Hotel for his fraternity dance. I was in a panic before leaving the house, rushing around to find Daddy’s tool chest, using any tool that I could find to pry the high heels off my new evening sandals, specially dyed to match my evening dress. Of course, to my horror, the heels came off, but the nails were left intact. I had no choice but to take them to my daddy and say sweetly, “Please do something.” He actually laughed when I explained that my date was probably about my height and those heels would make me look taller than he was. I knew my daddy was still laughing when I walked awkwardly out the front door.

When the two of us arrived at the Hotel, the doorman, dressed in his beautifully tailored clothes and top hat, was even more elegantly dressed than my date, who was probably wearing a rented tuxedo. Bellboys, doormen, every person employed by the Hotel, male or female, were all sharply dressed, with excellent posture and manners. The band was playing – I’m wondering whether it might have been Frances Craig, everybody’s favorite. The huge vases were filled with fresh flowers, and I danced away the night, never giving my damaged shoes another thought.

Beautiful evenings like this came to an abrupt end when World War II was declared.  The next memorable event would be the day my handsome Army-Air Force Lieutenant and I were married at West End Methodist Church, located just a few blocks out of downtown. Our wedding dinner was held at the Hermitage Hotel, and the beautiful wedding suite with a large arrangement of fresh flowers on the table and chocolate on the pillows was ours for the night. Just as when I was a small child, I felt like a princess in my castle, which was, of course, my beloved Hermitage Hotel.

After my husband and I returned to live out our lives in Nashville, the Hermitage Hotel memories would continue. My mother was still a patron of the Hotel beauty salon when one morning, with my baby boy in tow, I found myself back in that familiar area. Wanting all the hairdressers to see my beautiful little boy, we stepped inside, where I nearly burst with pride!  As we were walking to the lobby, my sweet son tugged on my coat sleeve, asking, “What were those women doing with those big buckets on their heads?” Well, those old hair dryers really did look like big buckets!  On that day, sitting in the big comfortable chair with a book in my hand, reading to my child as I waited for my mother, I was overwhelmed by a wave of nostalgia. I shared with my son stories of myself as a little girl, sitting in the same beautiful Hotel lobby waiting for his grandmother all those years before.

 Except for an occasional lunch with friends or a very special dinner, I did not spend a great deal of time at the Hermitage while we were raising our family of five children. Our youngest child, a daughter, would be the one to bring the Hotel back in my life when her wedding reception was held there in June 1991. The wedding took place just a few blocks down the street in the historic Downtown Presbyterian Church at Fifth and Church. Many guests walked the short distance to the Hotel, while others rode the trolley, which was not difficult to spot, with a large wedding wreath on the front, its white ribbons flowing lightly in the breeze. All the wonderful people employed by the Hotel seemed to get into the spirit of the evening, as we had become good friends during the weeks of planning. They also enjoyed my loving memories of the Hotel, which I was eager to share.

Leaving the ballroom at midnight, we watched the bride and groom being whisked away in their limousine, and I cried. I walked back inside just for a moment, glanced around the lobby, said “Good night!” to two young couples on the verandah, and then walked down the steps and out those handsome doors with an ache of sadness: an era in my life was now closed.

Just a few years ago, this same daughter’s children, my grandchildren, had become old enough to appreciate a tour of downtown Nashville. I took them to the lovely old church where their parents were married, and to the Hermitage Hotel where the family celebrated afterwards. Of all they saw and loved, they were most impressed by the Hotel.

Photograph courtesy of the author

I could see their excitement when we first walked through the doors. They didn’t know which direction they wanted to go first! We covered it all – every nook and cranny. They kept saying, “Nunny, I’ve never seen anything this beautiful.” Those children could understand how, when I was even younger than they were, I viewed it as my castle! I’m sure the Hermitage Hotel has never hosted more appreciative young visitors.

Just recently, when a group of younger friends asked where they could take me for lunch to celebrate my 85th birthday, my choice, of course, was the Hermitage Hotel. What a treat! As I stepped out of my car, that rush of nostalgia engulfed me once again, and I had to keep myself from dominating the conversation, as I yearned to share every memory.  Just this morning, one of those precious young women said she hadn’t gotten to see it all on that day, so she and I will return in the near future. I can hardly wait. One more time I will have a captive audience to share the grandeur and my unforgettable memories of the Hermitage Hotel.

My Hermitage Experience

A Reminiscence by Houston Seat.

My first visit to The Hermitage, at the age of five years, was with my grandfather in a borrowed Model A Ford. I had to remain in the car and be good, and I didn’t get to go into this big brick house even though I really wanted to see what was inside. Perhaps I should explain.

My grandfather, Samuel H. Seat, was a blacksmith adept at working with iron and fashioning hand-wrought objects. The quality of his work was well known and he was often occupied in some special project. It was 1935 at the time, and The Ladies’ Hermitage Association had contacted my grandfather about reproducing the latch assembly on the window shutters of the mansion since time had taken a toll on the original iron pieces. I had to remain in the Ford while he was inside meeting with the ladies in charge of the restoration. Memory brings back the wasp that came through the open car window, buzzing around me for a few moments and then flying on toward the big house with the loose, sagging shutters.

As time passed, I learned that this was the home of Andrew Jackson and his wife Rachel, who died suddenly on December 22, 1828, the year Andrew was elected President of our country. Rachel is quoted as saying, “I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than to live in that palace at Washington.” Was her wish granted?

On a return visit thirty years later, I had a five-year-old with me – my son. We toured The Hermitage together. The Model A Ford is past history, along with the grandparent who let me tag along. Memories can last a lifetime and those with whom we experience special occasions live on, too.

Jacob McGavock Dickinson Sr.

A Reminiscence by Peggy Dickinson Fleming.

Throughout my life I have been a very lucky person. I am thinking of the luck that brought me to be one of the grandchildren of Jacob McGavock Dickinson Sr. Specifically, this meant that I was the heiress to all sorts of good things connected with him: namely, the many great names that brought about the cities of Nashville, Memphis, and other places in Tennessee. Perhaps I inherited a small portion of his greatness and love of life.

Jacob McGavock Dickinson (front row, center) with family, 1923 (photo courtesy of the author)

When I was born, my father, Captain Jacob McGavock Dickinson Jr., was fighting in the trenches in France, specifically in the Battle of Champagne during World War I. When he received the news of my arrival, he had the chaplain of his regiment christen me in absentia with a small vial of holy water that he had saved for the purpose, using his helmet for the basin. When the 42nd Rainbow Division was reactivated in 1943, he took his family with him to Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of the reactivation. Upon hearing the news of my “activation” in the Rainbow, the General of the Regiment, Colonel Harry J. Collins, officially designated me “The Rainbow Girl.” I have attended many reunions of the 42nd Division since that time, basking in the recognition and praise for “The Rainbow Girl.”

After the death of my grandfather, my father and mother moved our family back to Nashville. This was in the late 1920s. They purchased my father’s ancestral home, Travellers Rest, where his mother, Martha Maxwell Overton, had been born and raised. I spent many happy years at Travellers Rest as well as at Antrim in Columbia, where I moved after my marriage to Stuart Swope Fleming.

My life has indeed been a happy one, and I like to think that perhaps some of that happiness is due to my close association with and love of my grandfather, Jacob McGavock Dickinson, Sr.

Travellers Rest, Nashville, Tennessee (photo from NHN collection)

Grandfather loved his family very much. He bought Belle Meade with the idea of using it both as a place to entertain and as a retreat. When business called him elsewhere, his eldest son, Overton, and family lived there. After a very unfortunate tragedy occurred — both Overton and his wife died from complications of influenza — Grandfather sold Belle Meade, and, as far as I know, never went there again. Overton’s two little girls were entrusted to the care of his sister-in-law, but Grandfather was very attentive to their education and took them on many wonderful trips.

All of this occurred before I was born. Grandfather moved to Chicago to serve as counsel for the Illinois Central Railroad. After he established law offices there, my father, mother, and family moved to Chicago, also, settling in Winnetka, Illinois. Grandfather was a most loving grandfather. He came out on the train on Sundays for lunch, armed always with Hershey chocolates that I, being of a saving nature, squirreled away in my closet. I remember sitting on his lap, when he would run his finger up my spine and admonish me always to hold my back straight.

Grandfather was very fond of my mother. When he sometimes invited her to have lunch with him, he would order only the best. On one memorable occasion, “the best” included raw oysters. Mother was dismayed but gamely resolved to eat them. When he glanced across the table and discovered her actually trying to cut them up, Grandfather sternly admonished her to “Stop murdering those oysters!”

When Grandfather was Secretary of War under President Taft, who was a great friend of his, he was in great demand as a dinner guest. However, I don’t think he was particularly interested in the constant dinner parties. One persistent hostess kept after him, starting with an invitation for Monday night, which he declined. She progressed through the week, day by day, and when she reached the weekend, Grandfather replied, “Dammit, madam, I’ll just come Monday!”

We went into Chicago on occasion to have lunch with him in his apartment. The chairs for the dining table were upholstered in a very dark green horsehair, a very scratchy material at best. He had an elegant bedroom set consisting of bed, armoire, dresser, and night stand. I am fortunate enough to have that now here in my house. When he was taken ill, he of course was propped up in that big bed. I can see him now.

After his death, we all traveled to Nashville on the train to accompany his body, which lay in state in the Tennessee State Capitol.

The Move to Nashville: An Oral History, as told by Dewey Richardson to Dale Richardson, ca. 1967

Submitted by JoAnn Turner.

Once upon a time there wuz a family that lived at Gainesboro, Tennessee, Jackson County, four, three miles north of Gainesboro. So they decided to come to Nashville. An Dad come down an rented a farm that a fellar told him he’d get rich. Rented a four-hundred-acre farm. So then he come back and he told em that, oh, how much a barrel of corn would bring. It’us bringin bout three dollars at home, them time. So then, that wuz in August 1911.

So we got ready to come, we had a watermelon patch on the hill there. An Dad got some watermelon to come along with us, an . . . so me an Willie, we went up on the hill, an course we busted one open an eat it, and throwed it over in the bushes.

Dewey Richardson, the narrator of this story. Photo used by permission of the author.

So we . . . the way we’uz comin down here, me an uncle, us three boys, Willie, an myself, Carlie, Comer, Bedford, and Zinnie. We had, uh . . . four mules, five mules. Uncle Jim had three or four. We’uz gonna ride on the mules an in the wagon, an change around an drive our cows too. Gonna come thru all the way in a covered wagon. So that mornin, that . . . we had made a deal with an ole man, that’s a raft man that pilot rafts thru to Nashville, on the water, Cumberland River. So, he had made up a little raft to come to Nashville, an so we put all of our household goods on the raft, including our meat, an eggs, an flour. All things like that . . . chickens. So anyway, we got ready to move after he’d got done pulled away, why, we got ready to go, that mornin it wuz pourin the rain. An Mother an them had cooked fried chicken, an a whole basket full of teacakes. Aw, we’uz gonna have a glorious time on our way. Jus tickled to death

 So Dad an em went to the store an there’s a fella that used to haul products of all kinds, an goods, from West Point, plum on to Gainesboro. An he’d pick up stuff an bring it to West Point, stuff that wuz shipped. So he had a deal, with . . . he could make a deal with the boat people. An he made a deal then, it’uz rainin and everthing. We decided to jus go on the boat then. We goes on to West Point, got there jus fore dark, put our cattle and mules up, everthing.

So, we’uz aimin to lay down in the warehouse til the boat come. It’uz sposed to come in the early part of the night sometime. So then, bout that time, why, the cows got . . . one cow got out. An so Uncle Jim an Dad went to git it, while they ‘uz gone, me an Comer, prowlin around lookin into everthing, so we saw some bananas, and so we stole some bananas. Eat them. Then we laid down . . . to go to sleep and bout that time Uncle Jim an Dad come with the cow and put em in the stall with the others.

An then, it wudn’t too long til . . . Mother an the chilern an Aunt Mattie an her chilern came. Some one brought um, I don’t know who. Someone brought um to there in a surrey.

So we wuz waitin for the boat, and finally the boat come around a curve. An . . . when it come around that curve and throwed that big bright light on the stock pin, one ole mule went plum overboard. An out he went. So Dad an Uncle Jim had to go an git em. Finally they got em, brought em back. And put em back in the stall, an they got a ropes on em. An all the men that worked on the boat, the crew, they had to put ropes around his front feet, to make em step. An then some would get behind em an push em.

So we loaded all of that stuff, an Aunt Mattie, an them commenced comin on the boat. She’s kindly shy, scared of everthing she saw. But she wudn’t too crazy bout the crew. But anyway, we went on, we pulled up the river just a little piece up there an loaded wheat bout all night. An then pulled out. We come along towards Nashville. Now then, we’d go down a piece, load up wheat, corn, cattle, hogs, sheep, anything that wuz to be shipped, why, we’d load up there. An I’d seen the time that it’d jus be pourin the rain and they’d git out there in that mud a tryin to drive cattle. Some of em they’d jus have to catch em by the tail, to keep em from runnin away. An all of that. But they had a good time when they went from one landing to another.

But we soon learnt, that how many times it blowed for a lock an how many times it blowed for a landin. Evertime it blowed for a lock, we’d go, even if it’uz in the night we’d git up. But anyway, the first lock we come to, why, we’d never seen a lock before, so we wondered what it’d look like. When you’d go in, why, you could see everthing, but then when you’d leave out, you’d have to look up to see the top of it. So we’uz way down, couldn’t even talk to people on the lock. So then one night, it blowed for a lock, an Willie heard it an he got up. Someone had sold our dog to em, to a man. He wuz fixin to get off at that lock, an he told him, says, “Hey, where you goin with my dog.” He says, “I bought this dog.” “He’s my dog anyway” says “I’m gonna have em.” So he got em, went an tied em up again. But he watched that dog all the time.

So then we come around down to Carthage, which wudn’t bout 30 miles from where we got on. An we saw a train. We’d never saw a train before. It’s jus bout daylight. So we jumps right out of the bed, jus flies out. Don’t pay no tension to what we got on. Saw that train and boy we thought that thang wuz awful. So then, we run back to bed.

Then comin on, we had bout two locks to go thru before we got to the farm that we had rented. So before we had got . . .uh . . . our journey, course they’d milk the cows an . . . uh . . . they’d churn right on the boat, right with the crowd, just like they’s at home. An I don’t know whether they put the butter on the table or milk, or what they done. But anyway, jus made theirself at home, there in the big hallway. An then we’d get ready to eat, why, they’d set the tables up right there in the middle, then everbody’d eat around.

Well, if you’uz wantin to jus get outside, why, you’d go right out on the bow there, or deck. The deck’s what it’d be. Go out there an you could sit there an watch . . . look on each side of the river as you go along an different landins. When it’d land if you’uz gonna be there several hours, why, we’d get off an walk around. We’s all over that boat, everwhere, and Olene an em, it’d jus kill em cause Mother wouldn’t let em jus go, like we did. We’d go plum to the pilot house, an everwhere. Anyway, we come on, last lock we jus got thru breakfast. They tried to, tried to put us off before breakfast. They tried to put the breakfast off, but they couldn’t do it. We got our breakfast anyway. So here we come, when they put the stage down, course we had to be the first ones off. Me and Bedford, an Comer, an Zinney, Willie, an Carlie. An Bedford, as quick as he hit the ground he reached down and says, “Boy” says “Too much sand down here”, says “I don’t like it”.

But anyway, we got all our stuff off, moved em up there to our tenant house that Uncle Oliver was supposed to move in there. The main house wudn’t empty, wouldn’t be empty first of the year. An Uncle Oliver and em wudn’t supposed to come down til first of the year, so that gave us that house to live in. An then we moved up there in the main house. Anyway we stayed there one year. But then, . . . it took bout three or four days to make the trip.


So . . . uh . . . we decided, Dad an em decided, to carry us to town one day. We’d never been to Nashville. We didn’t know what it looked like. So we’uz walkin an the streetcar wuz jus goin out, out of town. Zinnie says “Look a’there at that thing”, says “What’s that thing on top?” “That big rod up there.” An that’uz the trolley ware. The one that run the thang. But we didn’t know it that time, but we knowed it fore we got back home. So it come back, an we went to town, all big eyes, you know, an lookin at everthang, countrified as it ever got.


So then, later on, then school started. Well, when we’uz in Jackson County, we’d . . . uh . . . Jackson County, why, we had a big stairway to put our lunch buckets in, or dinner buckets what we called it. We didn’t know what a lunch wuz. Dinner bucket in. We’d go out at dinnertime and sit down on a rock, the whole family sit around an eat, jus like you’uz at home, only we had flat rocks to eat on, and everbody done the same. But anyway, we went an we carried our dinner bucket with us, an everthing in it, you know. So we got there an we didn’t have nowhere to put our buckets: we couldn’t find no place to put our buckets. Nobody else had no buckets, we didn’t know what to do. Finally we put em under our desk. Well then, when dinner time come we taken our buckets out there, an . . . uh . . . to sit down an eat. We didn’t have no rock to sit on. We sat out on the ground. So, anyway we spread it out there, an we wuz eatin, an noticed all the children jus comin round, standin round, lookin at us, callin us Hillbillys, an everthing else. So I guess we wuz a Hillbilly anyway. But that wound the buckets up. From then on we carried a, a little individual lunch. Jus what we wanted to eat.

Before that time, why, there’s another family moved from up there, the Cantrells. I don’t know . . . there’uz four or five of them. An went to that same school. Course they lived across the river, but they went to that school. So they, got the . . . why, when they carried their lunch, why, then the boys they didn’t have nowhere to put their buckets and they kept lookin and nobody had no buckets, but them. So he told all of em, went around to all of em, told em, said now, “We’re not gonna have no dinner today. Ain’t nobody got no buckets.” So they listened to him, but on the way home when school wuz out, they’s a little patch of woods there, and they went in them woods an eat their lunch, their dinner.


But anyway, durin that summer we had picnics there on the farm. It’uz a picnic ground there for boats to bring people up. They’d bring from one, two, three, or four, I noticed as high as four boat loads would come up there at one time. So anyway, we got the rent outa that. An that help pay on the farm. We kept it all cleaned off, with the mowers. So then, the first picnic come, why, we went down there. We didn’t have nothing to do, us six boys, Uncle Jim, an Dad. Course the fella’uz down there that told us bout the farm when we lived in Jackson, why he wuz there, eatin somethin. I said some’en to Comer, or some of em, I says, “That man must like butter.” He says, “That ain’t butter”, says “that’s ice cream.” So then, we decided to go to Uncle Jim and Dad, an get us a nickel apiece. It wudn’t but a nickel. A great big bowl full for a nickel. So we went an they gave us a nickel apiece. We begged um out of it. Course we’uz like all boys, didn’t have a penny to our name. But we got us a bowl of ice cream apiece. So we enjoyed that picnic. Evertime they’d have one, if we could go, we’d go up there. Sometimes we couldn’t go.


But anyway, then later on, we come to town again. So we jus alookin around an someone said something other bout some elevators. So anyway, we went to the Stahlman Buildin, which was 12 stories, the biggest building in Nashville at that time. So we went in alookin around, so we jus ride up to the top. An we looked around a little while an we’uz ready to go, all six of us. So we decided to go back, an we’uz waitin for the elevator, an happened that both of um come up there at the same time. So they said something to each other. I don’t know what they said. But we knew later on after we got down, because when he put us on, he didn’t stop. The other feller was to catch the traffic as he went down. But we didn’t know it, an we went all the way without stoppin. We didn’t know what’uz gonna take place, because seem like we’uz going back to the top, and it’uz jus settin there. So we got off, and I know they had a big laugh out of us.