This week in Nashville history: Turning on the waterworks

This week in 1930, the Nashville Banner‘s resident sage Marmaduke Morton offered up another installment of his memoir about life in Nashville 50 years earlier.

The seventh column in his series “The Colorful Eighties in Nashville” starts off with a disquisition on the competitive military drilling craze of the 1870s and 1880s. It illustrates a sentiment among men too young to have fought in the Late Unpleasantness that roughly parallels recent popular reverence for the “Greatest Generation” of WWII vets — but in all honesty, it’s way more info than most readers will care to take in on the subject.

Don’t give up on the old man, though. Skip to the bottom of page three and check out what he has to say about the 1889 inauguration of the city reservoir that still provides our water from a hill above 8th Ave. South.

1 Nov. 1930: “Military Spirit and May Drills — Porter Rifles and Other Crack Companies — New Waterworks and Bursting Pipes — Hermitage Club Organized”

The pressure from the new reservoir was much greater than that from the old. There was one startling result. The old water pipes had not been constructed to stand this additional pressure, and besides, many were rusty and dilapidated. When the water was turned into them from the new reservoir many of them burst — not all at one time, but from day to day. Geysers spouted at various points over the city. One was especially notable. The main on Seventh Avenue in front of the First Christian Church burst, and the water spouted fifty or sixty feet high, carrying with it rocks, dirt and other wreckage. The church and an adjoining residence were badly damaged. Holes were knocked in the roofs by the falling stones, and the interior of the buildings drenched with water, destroying plastering and furnishings. It was said that a live catfish eighteen inches long was thrown out upon the street. This fish was supposed to have got into the main when a baby.

For a 2007 column dealing with this episode and others in the surprisingly lively history of Nashville’s public plumbing, I spoke with Ron Taylor, resident historian at Metro Water Services. I had to ask his opinion of Marmaduke’s fish story. Ron allowed as how a fish truly might have found its way into the then-uncovered reservoir. But an 18-incher in the water mains? “A bit implausible,” he opined.


Here’s an entertaining little discovery I made over the weekend: a 1907 Nashville society directory that Google has made available through its book-digitization initiative. If you’re familiar with “old Nashville,” you will see a lot of familiar surnames in there.

This pair of ads in the directory particularly jumped out at me:

Lockeland Springs, now an East Nashville neighborhood, had just been incorporated into Nashville’s city limits in 1905, according to this writeup at the neighborhood association’s blog. In Nashville: Yesterday & Today (published earlier this year), my wife Nicki Pendleton Wood described the waters that gave the area its name:

The springs on the Lockeland property were full of dissolved lithium salts. Mineral waters were the wellness fad of the day, and when businessman James Richardson bought the old Lockeland mansion and eight of its acres in 1900, the estate became a business as well as a home. He bottled the lithium water and sold it as a remedy for bladder, kidney, stomach, dyspepsia and rheumatic afflictions, growing very rich as a result.

Stief Jewelry was a well-known presence locally for generations. I asked my friend David A. Fox (co-founder of and former chair of the Metro Nashville Board of Education) to provide the lowdown on his family’s involvement with the business:

B.H. Stief was a repairman of fine watches and retailer of jewelry who started his company in the late 1800s. My great-grandfather, George Fox in Cincinnati, was a supplier of diamonds to his store. When Stief fell far behind on his bills, George Fox bought out the company in 1916 or 1917 and sent his son, Gilbert Fox, to run the company. Since Gilbert didn’t know anything about the business, George took in James Cayce as a partner to run it. It was located then on Union Street, but later moved to the corner of Capitol Boulevard and Church, and then to 6th Avenue. (Mr. Cayce was very involved in city life, served on the State Fair Board, and is the namesake of the James Cayce Homes.) Mr. Cayce died in 1940. Gilbert Fox died in 1942. The wives of the two men briefly ran the company, but Natelle Fox sold her interest to Mrs. Cayce a few years later. In the 1960s, E. Jaccard Jewelry Co. of St. Louis bought the company, renamed it Stief-Jaccard’s and relocated to 100 Oaks. It ceased operating some years later.

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I’m going to start adding a list of online resources for Nashville h

istory to the blog in coming weeks. Part of my inspiration to do so comes from the discovery of a 1907 Nashville society directory that Google has made available through its book-digitization initiative. You’ll see a lot of familiar surnames in there!

About Tom

I'm an old news man, any way you look at me. Not as old in years as some local journos I much admire, but committed to bringing old news from Nashville's deeper past back to life.
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3 Responses to This week in Nashville history: Turning on the waterworks

  1. Clyde Wallace says:

    I recently discovered a crock jug with the advertising title of Lockeland Spring Co. Nashville, Tenn.
    I appreciate the information in the ad but would like to know more about the jug and its history. It is in excellent condition and I am assuming this was how James Richardson sold his water and made his fortune. I am also assuming that this wonderful blue/white jug was made around 1900. As a collector of whiskey advertising jugs ….this is the first one I have come across advertising spring water….Any information about this jug would be greatly appreciated.

    • Jim Polk says:

      Its many years later, but wondering if you might still have this jug. Water was bottled in the Lockeland Springs area of East Nashville from springs in the valley between Holly and Woodland streets in the 1800 block. The springs property is now a small Metro Nashville Park. The original road beds and pathways which led to the bottling area are still apparent, along with the remains of a springhouse, stone retainer walls along the streambed below the springs, and concrete water tanks. Water was sold in the white and blue and crockery jugs and glass jugs around the city. Photos of the “medicine wagon” used to distribute the water, the Lockeland mansion, springhouse, and other related are available, along with other photos of the immediate area.
      The ‘Lockeland” name comes from the plantation and mansion which included the springs. The mansion was owned by the Weakley family; Mrs. Weakley’s maiden name was Locke. The mansion sat at the intersection of Woodland and 16th streets at the current location of Lockeland Design Center (an elementary school). Much more info is available. Jim Polk

  2. Carolyn Swanson says:

    Glad to run across this brief info about Stief Jewelers, Nashville. About 25 years back we retrieved an old wall clock from the attic of my husband’s grandfather’s home. Printed in gold letters was “Stief Jewelers, Nashville, TN”. We found someone who could get it working and it hangs on the wall of our kitchen today keeping near perfect time. I had previously tried to find info about the jewelers history and only today found this article. My husband’s grandfather lived in Grundy County, TN before relocating to MS. He was involved in the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly where he owned a summer home that remained in the family until the 1960’s.

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