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.

Nashville Memories: Take Me Out to the Ball Park

by Carter G. Baker.

It was a warm summer evening back in the early 1950s as three or four ten- or eleven-year-old boys gathered at one of their houses near Blair Boulevard.  The Dad who lived there was taking the boys out to Sulphur Dell to watch the Nashville Vols play baseball. Full of excitement, everybody loaded into the old black ’48 Chevy, and they were on their way.

Photo of Sulphur Dell from the collection of Skip Nipper. Used by permission.

The Dell was back behind the Capitol down beyond where the Bicentennial Mall is now.  Back then, big old brick houses and little wooden ones filled the area right up to the edge of Capitol Hill itself.  By then, the neighborhood was so rundown that no one wanted to go down there.  But Mr. Dad drove right in, as it was a shortcut to the ball park.

The streets were full of kids running around and folks hanging out on their porches talking.  Suddenly, the car full of boys grew silent and their eyes popped wide open as they watched a trim teenage girl without any clothes on run out of a house and right across the street in front of Mr. Dad’s car.  He came to a quick stop to keep from hitting her, and everybody stared as she ran up onto another porch and disappeared behind a ragged old screen door.

No one said a word, but they all stared at that door in the hope that she’d run back out and cross the street again.  As Mr. Dad began driving on down the street to the Dell, he looked over his shoulder at his dumbstruck passengers and said, “You know, boys, you just never know what you’ll see in the quarters!”

With that, the spell was broken and everybody was soon slapping their fists into their gloves in anticipation of the foul ball they just knew they were going to catch. Arriving at the ballpark, each one bought a Coke for a nickel and settled in for some baseball.  None of those boys can remember the score of that game, or even who was playing, but they never forgot what they saw “in the quarters” behind the Capitol on that summer night some sixty years ago.