1884 story on new Sulphur Dell

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1940 census discoveries: Red Grooms, age 2

Here is my mother Nancy Bowers Wood’s Hillsboro High classmate Red Grooms as a baby, right on the edge of Sevier Park. To the end of her life, Mom regretted not saving the textbooks of hers in which Red had doodled caricatures.

Hey, 12 South: You can get a historical marker put up for a couple grand. Don’t miss the opportunity!


I’m sure some readers here can reach Mr. Grooms. Do pass this link along to the artist.

This blog is still pretty much dormant, but I’m finding a few bits in the 1940 Nashville census that I have to share. I’ll put them up here as I keep finding them.

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Paper losses

What follows began as a comment I meant to post on this Scene blog post. It growed, and I decided instead to send a rough version to Scene Editor Jim Ridley with the idea of maybe making it a post unto itself on the news blog, Pith in the Wind. But it growed some more, and it may have become something more interesting to a few of my fellow refugees from journalism than to the rest of the world. So I’m posting it on my long-dormant Old News blog just to put it out somewhere. If you care about the issues it raises, then you’re probably, like me, a fan of the engaged, hyper-local, community-focused journalism of the old coots who inspired me to create this blog. Have a look around. — Tom

The Tennessean is bleeding the patient once again. This time, as in 2007, employees will be offered buyouts to get them off the payroll. Leaving one’s job – and, probably, the journalism trade itself – may be marginally more palatable with a buyout than through a layoff of the sort 1100 Broadway’s people endured in June 2011July 2009, and August 2008. Whatever form “workforce reduction” takes, there is plenty of pain to go around. Almost all my old friends are gone from the paper, where I worked in the early 1990s, but I wish only the best to those stepping off the crazy train at this stop. Continue reading

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History on hold

To all who have enjoyed reading Old News in its first few months, Happy New Year.

A hectic holiday season kept me from rolling out the weekly posts after mid-December, and now I am about to embark on a project that will absorb all of my energies for some time to come. So, with regrets, I have to put Old News on mothballs until my schedule becomes more manageable.

Best wishes to all,

Tom Wood

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This week in Nashville history: Goodbye, hello

Departures and arrivals figure prominently in this week of Nashville history.

December 13 was the date of at least three notable Nashville demises in the first half of the 20th century, as noted in this NashvillePost.com history item from 2005:

December 13, 1907 — Arthur St. Clair Colyar dies at age 90. He served in the Confederate Congress, led a successful effort to place Nashville in financial receivership in 1879 on the grounds of alleged public corruption, served as publisher of the Nashville Daily American, and co-founded the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Co. — a prime mover in the development of the steel industry in Birmingham, Ala., and a company included in the first Dow Jones Industrial Index in 1896.

December 13, 1928 — Jacob McGavock Dickinson, a Nashville lawyer who became Secretary of War under President W. H. Taft and president of the American Bar Association, dies at 77.

December 13, 1935 — Joel Owsley Cheek dies at the age of 83, seven years after the Nashville-based coffee business that he co-founded was sold for a reported $40 million. As detailed in newspaper obituaries, the roster of Cheek’s honorary pallbearers was truly a who’s who of Nashville civic life at the time, with the likes of C.A. Craig, C. Runcie Clements, Dr. Rufus E. Fort and Ridley Wills of National Life & Accident Insurance Co., emerging grocery magnate H.G. Hill Sr., telecom entrepreneur Leland Hume, Gov. Hill McAlister, Mayor Hilary E. Howse, American National Bank honcho P.D. Houston Jr. and Vanderbilt Chancellor J.H. Kirkland.

In more recent history, Nashville said buh-bye to its status as a national air travel hub on December 14, 1995. That’s the day American Airlines ceased to operate flights from Nashville to Austin, Denver, Newark and Philadelphia, with a spokesman conceding that BNA could no longer be considered an American hub.

On the other hand, two longstanding Nashville religious congregations have celebrated new milestones during this week in years past:

December 16, 1894 — Christ Church, Episcopal moves into its new building at the corner of Ninth and Broadway.

December 19, 1930 — The Nashville Tennessean spreads word that the three-year-old Hillsboro Church of Christ has set out to build a fine new church building at the corner of 21st Ave. S. and Ashwood Ave. The church would meet there until it outgrew the facility in the 1970s and constructed a new home at the corner of Tyne and Hillsboro in Forest Hills. Hillsboro is now in the midst of a major expansion at that campus.

Just next to Hillsboro’s news is the announcement of a significant moment in the history of the arts locally. James M. Cowan, a little-known former resident of Nashville, was revealed to be the donor who left an art collection and $10,000 in support funding to the Parthenon.

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In other news: Vandy turns down Orange Bowl invite

3 December 1935: Red O’Donnell of the Evening Tennessean reports that Vanderbilt’s football program has rejected a “feeler bid” to play in the second annual Orange Bowl at Miami on New Year’s Day 1936.

The Commodores have just wrapped up their season with a 7-3 record, including wins over Georgia Tech, Alabama and Tennessee. But times are hard, as Coach Ray Morrison explains:

“It would be a fine vacation for the boys, who deserve it, but little or no profit could be realized. And since we can’t afford to lose any more money on athletics, I’d say that Vandy be counted out.”

The Orange Bowl ultimately chose Catholic University and Ole Miss for the game. Catholic won, 20-19.

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This week in Nashville history: News of the military and the ministry

This week, millions of Americans will remember Pearl Harbor, the calamitous Japanese attack that brought our country into the Second World War — even though only a few thousand survivors of the raid on the U.S. Pacific Fleet remain to carry forward the living memory of it.

As Honolulu’s Star-Advertiser reported last week, actuarial realities are working against the remaining veterans of the 1941 surprise attack. For example, one Medal of Honor winner from the fateful Sunday died this year at 100. After 69 years, those who lived through the battle are considering disbanding the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.

If you have seen and heard the elegiac press coverage that went along with the last reunion of Civil War soldiers in 1938, you’ll see something familiar in the unavoidable pathos surrounding the Pearl Harbor vets’ situation.

Last year, the Nashville Scene‘s news blog ran a post that focused on Nashville’s experience of the war’s first days, as chronicled in the Banner. On December 8, as the nation declared war against Japan, the afternoon paper ran a full page of photos and information on Nashville people known to be in the area of the hostilities.

One photo was of was Miss Cornelia Fort, a local socialite who had become a flight instructor in Hawaii:

In her last letter, Miss Fort recounted that “the streets of Honolulu were teeming with Army and Navy men and were lined with defense workers.” She did not indicate, however, that any disturbance was pending in that area and commented only on the “peaceful and beautiful country and the enjoyable American gatherings that were frequent at the Pearl Harbor Officers’ Club.”

Only later would her family learn that Fort had been in the air near Pearl Harbor as the Japanese attack began. She had to grab the controls from her student and swerve to avoid an oncoming enemy bomber. She then landed the aircraft under fire.

Fort went on to join the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, flying military aircraft to bases around the country. On March 21, 1943, when the airplane she was ferrying went down after a mid-air collision over Texas, Cornelia Fort became the country’s first female military pilot to be killed in the line of duty.

Before the week ended, the paper would carry the first news of a local service member killed in combat:

BEN EDWARD HOLT, 21, Negro mess attendant, was listed today as the first Nashville man to give his life for his country in the war against Japan. Holt’s sister, Inez Stewart, received a letter from Honolulu last Saturday in which the boy said he had ordered two tons of coal for his mother and father for Christmas. Yesterday Elder R. E. Holt, Sr., minister of the Negro Church of Christ in Springfield, received a telegram from Rear Admiral C. W. Munitz [sic – Nimitz] saying that Ben was “lost in action in the performance of his duty and in the services of his country.” The boy’s mother and father, four brothers, Mack, R. E., Jr., Homer Cleoplus, and Hawthorne, and two sisters, Mary and Juanita Holt, all live at 508 Fourteenth Avenue, North. His grandmother, Missouri Oliver, also survives. Holt graduated from Pearl High School of Nashville and then attended A&I State College here for one year.

The newspaper would go on to report that Seaman First Class James Dewey Wauford and Radioman Robert H. Bennett, both from Nashville and both 20 years of age, had also died at Pearl Harbor.

Curiously, the names of Holt, Wauford and Bennett are missing from an official list of Navy dead from Nashville that was compiled after the war. They are also not included in the National Park Service’s lists of those who perished aboard the USS Arizona and elsewhere at Pearl Harbor.


Our encounter with the 80-year-old reminiscences of Nashville Banner Managing Editor Markmaduke Morton ends this week with a final installment that may have more going for it than first appearances indicate. The old fella chose to conclude his memories of life in the 1880s with a somewhat rambling recollection of Nashville’s clergymen from that decade. But he does drop some interesting names from the city’s ecclesiastical history, such as:

  • David Lipscomb, E.G. Sewell and Phillip Fall — three 19th-century ministers who did much to popularize the revivalist theological approach of Rev. Alexander Campbell in the Nashville area. Campbell’s ideas provided the foundation for the Church of Christ movement, which remains influential in Nashville today, not least through the university that bears Lipscomb’s name.
  • Brothers R. Lin Cave and Robert C. Cave, who were both early leaders of what became Vine Street Christian Church. Robert Cave went on to become a highly controversial figure after preaching that the Bible was not divinely inspired and that Jesus was not raised from the dead.
  • Catholic priests John A. Floersh and Samuel Stritch. Floersh went on from Nashville to become Archbishop of Louisville for thirty years and founder of Bellarmine College (now University). Stritch was elevated to the College of Cardinals in 1946. In 1958, shortly before his death, he became the first American cardinal to be placed in charge of a congregation in the Roman Curia.


Also this week, a little sports item: Vandy turns down Orange Bowl invite.

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This week in Nashville history: You gonna eat that?

As we close in on the end of Nashville Banner scribe Marmaduke Morton’s 1930 serialized memoir of the city he covered in the 1880s, the tale of a long-ago dining contest awaits…

30 Nov. 1930: “Achievement of Nat Baxter, Jr., and Col. A.M. Shook — Duncan R. Dorris — The First Nashville Press Club”

In those days of the long ago the perennial crop of country boys who flooded to the urban Utopia “to make a fortune,” slept in garrets, over stores and in various cubby holes, and ate at cheap rate hotels and cheaper boarding houses. The railroads were then growing young industrial giants, and all the boys, who could not get to sweep out somebody’s store, sought a job with the railroads, all expecting soon to become magnates of large dimensions. Quite a bunch of these young countrymen were handling freight at the N. C. & St. L. freight depot on Church Street, and they were in the habit of going to the St. Cloud Hotel for dinner, where they could get cabbage, beans, potatoes, country ham, fried chicken, milk, coffee and pie, dumpling or pudding, all for 25 cents.

Three of these promising youngsters were Bill Huggins, Bill Napier and Jake Stevenson, the latter’s nickname springing from the fact that he had recently emerged from the Mud River Bottoms in Logan County, Kentucky. All three are now prosperous and well-known elderly gentlemen, known to the public as Mr. W. T. Huggins, Mr. W. W. Napier and Mr. E. B. Stevenson, Sr.

New theories were being advanced even at that early date and one day, as the boys were getting ready to leave the freighthouse for dinner a hot argument developed over the theory that no matter how much a man might eat, he weighed the same after eating as he did before. Jake took the affirmative and Bill Napier the negative side. Bill Huggins was umpire. Bill Napier asserted that sometimes he weighed five pounds more after eating a hearty meal than he did before. Notwithstanding he was considered a gastronomic marvel, this seemed impossible, and so Jake proposed to bet him $5.00 that he would not weigh five pounds more when they returned from the St. Cloud.

The boys put up the money, and Bill Huggins was appointed weighmaster and stakeholder. Arriving at the hotel Napier drank buttermilk and sweet-milk, ate raw tomatoes as an appetizer, and then proceeded to eat everything else he could lay his hands on. Returning to the railroad, Bill Huggins weighed him, and he tipped the beam at just six pounds more than when he left.

Mr. Napier says that Mr. Stevenson has been unsuccessfully trying to get that five dollars back ever since.

If Eldon Stevenson’s name rings a bell, you may know him as the father of Eldon B. Stevenson Jr., a top exec at National Life & Accident Insurance Co. and benefactor of Vanderbilt University, where a building bears his name.


Young Mr. Lytle

Eighty-five years ago today, the Sunday Tennessean carried its usual book page, curated by Vanderbilt Professor of English Donald Davidson. The page, viewable in full here, was densely packed with high-minded reviews of serious literature. Davidson was moonlighting not only for the newspaper but also for a poetry journal, The Fugitive, which would publish its final issue the following month.

Fugitives Davidson, Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom and Robert Penn Warren would all go on to become prominent men of letters in the ensuing decades. Joining them as a co-author of the Agrarian manifesto I’ll Take My Stand in 1930 would be Middle Tennessee native Andrew Nelson Lytle.

For the November 29th book page, Lytle took on the breakthrough second novel of Norwegian-Canadian Martha Ostenso, Wild Geese. The future Agrarian found much to like in Ostenso’s tale, set amid the fertile fields of Manitoba:

With Knut Hamsun, Johan Bojer, and now with Miss Ostenso, it is the soil itself that grasps the attention. The characters as they speak, eat, act and think, speak, act and think for the soil. The acrid odor of manure permeates the pages, and when the author digs into the hearts of Amelia, Ellen, Martin and particularly Judge, the analogy to a plow throwing back the rich, black loam is irresistible.

This country has long hungered for a literature of the soil. Miss Ostenso is to be hailed as the first vigorous pioneer. Our eyes shall follow with enthusiasm the paths she blazes.

Six decades on, one fine afternoon in September 1986, a carload of young men ascended Monteagle Mountain to pay a call on Mr. Lytle at his log cabin in the Assembly. Fortified by a solid-silver julep cup full of W.L. Weller Special Reserve (“Don’t bring me Jack Daniel’s,” the sage had instructed. “They’ve ruined that stuff.”), Lytle held forth at length about history, culture, symbolism and much else. Here are a couple of snippets recorded that day:

[Audio.] “That’s why soldiers polish their shoes. You cannot confront the last great experience with shoes like I’ve got on now…. So you confront these things ceremonially. They’ve forgotten the meaning of it, and the moment it turns into the industrial — in the First World War, you see, they dug holes in the ground and crawled in ’em like rats, and were all killed — ignominiously…. This was an ignoble way to fight. And the generals took no risk. They were back there like boards of directors meetings. All of our proletarian world, this servile world we live in now, is just that, because you’ve lost ceremony.”

[Audio.] “What is divine in man, don’t you see — I’m saying that the creator, for whatever reason, he became an artist…. That’s what is divine in man: he wants to make things…. ‘Progress’ means, finally, the perfectibility of man — which is both a heresy and an impossibility.”

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This week in Nashville history: Educators, coppers, insurance men and more

Our time with Banner Managing Editor Marmaduke B. Morton is drawing to a close, as only two more installments of his serialized memoir from autumn 1930 remain after this week’s column.

If you have been reading the episodes posted in recent weeks, you know by now that the old gentleman goes on in a more-or-less stream-of-consciousness manner, sometimes leaving modern readers scratching their heads, but that there are moments of discovery in his ramblings.

23 Nov. 1930: “Nashville Becomes a Great Center of Education — Some Great Teachers — Old Metropolitan Police Force — John L. Sullivan’s Arrest and Trial — ‘The Headless Horror’”

There was a number of others, from time to time, who served on the detective force, among them, Alex Bolton, popularly known among his associates, when he was not present, as “Horsehead.” He was one out of a number on the force who were friends of Frank James, when he lived in Nashville under the name of Mr. Woodson. Every once in a while the force was given a tip to look out for some member of the James Gang, but it never occurred to them that its chief was their friend Mr. Woodson.


A.M. Burton’s best-laid plans

As detailed in a Nashville Scene blog post a year ago, The Nashville Tennessean led off the business section of its Sunday paper for Thanksgiving week 1925 with a photo of Life & Casualty insurance honcho A.M. Burton, accompanied on page 2 by a fawning profile of Burton and his business and on page 3 by a photo of the new office building at 159 Fourth Ave. N. that the insurance company would occupy until it moved nextdoor, 32 years later, into the L&C tower — the South’s tallest skyscraper at the time it opened in 1957.

Why all the ink? Maybe it had something to do with the double-truck L&C ad spread that appears later in the section.

A.M. Burton died in 1966, but he planned on L&C lasting forever. He established a series of trusts under which his heirs could never sell the L&C stock he bequeathed to them. L&C paid an ample dividend, which he deemed sufficient to keep the coming generations of Burton progeny well-endowed. Problem was, American General bought L&C in 1969, so the heirs became involuntary shareholders of that Houston-based insurer. Still, the dividends remained OK.

Then AIG bought American General in 2001. AIG historically paid only a tiny dividend, far less per share than L&C or American General had doled out. By now there were scores of Burton heirs in Nashville and around the country, and they had varying opinions over whether they wanted to have major parts of their nest eggs tied up in AIG stock. SunTrust Bank, as trustee, sued to ask a court to decide whether it still had to enforce the restriction in the old man’s will.

Chancellor Carol McCoy eventually presided over a settlement that provided for the gradual diversification of the trusts so that by 2012, AIG stock would make up between 10 and 20 percent of their holdings. Court documents show that by January 2007, the trusts had a total value of $36.75 million. The court file does not reveal how much of the AIG stock was sold off by then or in the 19 months afterward, but the rules of the settlement indicate that it must have still owned a substantial amount when AIG imploded amid the financial crisis in late 2008.

Two years on, the best estimate I can come up with is that the trust corpus value may well have shrunken to between $1 million and $2 million — an amount several dozen heirs across the country would share in owning. Scheduled Chancery proceedings in 2012 should provide an update on the remaining assets.


Bring on the Sesquicentennial spectacle

If the word sesquicentennial sounds a little exotic to you now, you’ll be sick to your back teeth of it by May 2015. It means 150th anniversary, and American society has now embarked on a sesquicentenary commemoration of all that transpired in the Late Unpleasantness from 1861 through 1865.

(See, if you call it the L.U., you can steer clear of zealots who insist, rightly, that there was nothing “Civil” about the war, along with those Foghorn Leghorn-wannabes who — with more justification than you may find it comfortable to contemplate — cling to wording such as the “War Between the States” and the “War of Northern Aggression.”)

Odds are that if you know the word, you are a confirmed numismatist. The commemorative half-dollars issued for the 1926 sesquicentennial of American independence haven’t held their value especially well but are known to many coin collectors.

Some of our readers will also remember the media phenomenon that was the nation’s Civil War centennial in the 1960s. I was born halfway through those years, but I have read many of the reflections published for the occasion — which coincided, in Nashville anyway, with major steps toward ameliorating the consequences of slavery that still impacted the descendants of slaves and free persons of color.

So far, The New York Times is doing a fine job cataloging the run-up to war in late 1860 with blog posts that draw on its archives, stretching back into the 1850s. But outside the dreaded mainstream media, a crowdsourcing effort is also underway in Tennessee.

The State Library & Archives is now on the hunt for family memorabilia related to the War. They will send teams out to capture digital images of artifacts, photos and documents in family hands. They are interested only in original materials. Here’s hoping plenty of good stuff comes out of the attic for this TSLA effort.

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This week in Nashville history: Murder at the courthouse

This week in 1894, a murder-suicide and its aftermath shook elite Nashville to its core.

Davidson County Chancellor Andrew Allison cut a national profile as a legal thinker and jurist. He had been vice-president of the Harvard Law School Alumni Association and served on the executive committee of the American Bar Association. He had served under Stonewall Jackson in the Confederate Army, rising from corporal to 1st lieutenant in Company H, 7th Tennessee Infantry Regiment. His father had been Nashville’s mayor in the 1840s. Allison was a consummate Nashville insider with a reputation of strong integrity.

George K. Whitworth, son of a judge-turned-banker, had served as the county’s trustee and tax collector. He was part-owner of the Nashville Union and American newspaper. In 1884 and again in 1892, he had managed Allison’s successful bids for a seat on the Chancery bench. Allison had named him Clerk and Master, putting him in charge of the administration of the court.

In November 1894, however, Allison announced plans to replace Whitworth with his son, Granville Allison. On November 14th, Whitworth accosted Allison in a corridor at the courthouse. Leveling a shotgun at the judge, Whitworth emptied both barrels into his face and chest. Allison perished immediately. Whitworth then took out a pistol and shot himself twice in the chest. Those bullets missed his heart, and he remained conscious.

Newspapers across the country carried dispatches on the shocking event, initially speculating that Whitworth had acted out of revenge at his dismissal. But as The New York Times reported on November 16th, word soon emerged that Whitworth had serious financial troubles — and that he blamed them on Allison. Whitworth was expected to die soon of his self-inflicted wounds, although he would ultimately linger eight days before passing away.

On the 17th, Knoxville’s Daily Journal let the other shoe drop. It published in full a deathbed statement Whitworth had dictated to his father. The assassin claimed Allison had required him to kick back half of his more than $18,000 in annual salary as a condition for getting the clerkship, and he said he had check stubs to prove it. Whitworth also claimed Allison had taken out thousands of dollars in illegal loans from court funds, money for which Whitworth was on the hook. In all, Whitworth asserted, Allison owed him more than $26,000.

“Allison had bled me from the first and I could bear it no longer,” Whitworth said in the statement. “I did not kill Allison because he hadn’t appointed me clerk and master, but because he was willing to let me be behind in the office on account of the money he had gotten…. To humiliate me this way when I believed I had elected him both times was more than I could bear.”

In Nashville in the 1890s (Vanderbilt University Press, 1970), attorney William Waller writes that the ensuing investigation and litigation revealed more improprieties at the clerk’s office than just the Allison dealings. The funds missing from court accounts “largely exceeded the amount which Whitworth claimed the Chancellor owed him,” Waller states.


16 Nov. 1930: Marmaduke B. Morton’s reminiscences of the 1880s continue in the Nashville Banner. This week’s topics: “Decade of Political Events — ‘Bob’ Taylor’s Star Arises — A Republican Filibuster — Negro Office Holders in Nashville — Many Unusual Incidents.”

With the passage of the Dortch law in the late eighties the Negroes were practically eliminated from politics. Prior to that time they were active and aggressive. They entered into every campaign and their speakers canvassed the town. One of their “rabble rousers” was Henderson Young. He claimed that Hannibal, the Pharaohs, the Queen of Sheba and most of the heroes of antiquity were Negroes. All the older citizens of Nashville will remember him as well as John Cochran, “The Buzzard Orator.” The Negro orators were frequently the targets for eggs and tomatoes, but they paid little attention to such slight interruptions.

[note added 16 Nov. 2010: Further research indicates that the “Buzzard Orator” was named John Cockrill, not Cochran. He stood trial with Joe Banks for the Littleton killing, as Banks allegedly accosted Littleton after hiding in Cockrill’s rented room. Both were acquitted. I would welcome hearing from anyone with further info on the African-American branch of the Nashville Cockrill family.]

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