NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Whether you are new to Nashville or have lived here all your life, you may wonder how Music City’s streets got their names. Is Granny White named after an actual grandmother? Is Bell Road named after Alexander Graham Bell? Who was Dr. D.B. Todd Jr.?
Finding all the answers took nearly as much time as it would take to drive on all those streets during Nashville’s rush hour, but it was definitely worth it.
Adelicia Acklen was once the wealthiest woman in Nashville. Her first husband was a “successful” slave trader and owned several plantations in both Louisiana and Tennessee. When he died, Adelicia controlled the plantations before eventually selling them off. Before it was a college campus, Belmont Mansion had a zoo and an expansive garden area. When she married her second husband, the two of them built Belmont Mansion. Not long after that, she sold the property and it became a college campus.
Once upon a time, George Deaderick was the wealthiest person in Nashville. He gained most of the wealth from banking, but he also worked in real estate. Deaderick established the first bank in Tennessee, the Nashville Bank. That bank had branches all across the state in Murfreesboro, Gallatin, Shelbyville, and Rogersville. Deaderick Street in downtown Nashville is named for him because the city wanted to say “thanks” after he donated the land used to develop Printer’s Alley.
This is a guess, albeit an educated one. Jacob Fassler was a Swiss immigrant who owned a very large farm near where Fesslers Lane is today. His farm supplied several different grocery stores in Nashville during the late 1800s. The spelling of his family’s name likely changed because of how it was pronounced. Fassler spelled his name with an umlaut over the A, and members of the family likely found it easier to just change the spelling.
Elliston Place was named for the Elliston family who lived where the road runs today. The property, now used for Centennial Park and Vanderbilt, used to be a 208-acre plantation. Elliston invested in railroads and real estate and also owned competitive horses. Joseph Elliston was the fourth mayor of Nashville. His son, William, was a member of the House of Representatives for two years in the mid-1800s. William Elliston and his family lived in the “Burlington Mansion,” which was occupied by Union soldiers during the Civil War. Members of the family lived in the mansion until the early 1930s when the building was demolished.
Did you know Woodmont Boulevard was the first concrete road in Tennessee? Woodmont was originally part of Samuel Watkins’s estate, where Woodmont Estates is now. Woodmont Estates is what Watkins names his homeplace. Watkins is most famous for his retelling of the Civil War and is featured in books, songs, and even a Ken Burns documentary. He was also a very charitable man that never forgot where he came from. He was orphaned when he was a small child, and never stopped giving back to the community around him. After his death, many men and women said Watkins allowed them to stay in homes for free until they could make payment. He never wanted to see anyone suffer, one woman said. Watkins eventually founded the Watkins Institute in Nashville which is now known as the Watkins College of Art.
Franklin Pike, Road, etc.
Dr. Hugh Williamson (yes, Williamson County is named for him), actually named Franklin in honor of Benjamin Franklin. They were close friends at the time. Williamson served on the Continental Congress in the early 1780s, shortly after Franklin did in 1776. The two bonded over their love of science. Now, Franklin Pike and Road are indirectly named after Benjamin Franklin because of the toll system that was in Nashville in the early 1900s. Then, Nashville named their Pikes according to where the roads terminated. So, since the road that is Franklin Pike ends in Franklin, it was aptly named Franklin Pike. The same goes for Murfreesboro Pike, Hillsboro Pike (Leiper’s Fork used to be called Hillsboro) and Donelson Pike, etc. The Franklin Turnpike Company was approved by the legislature in 1829, making it the first of its kind. It cost about $75,000 to build.
John Bell, a Davidson County native, was a prominent politician and the leader of Tennessee’s Whig Party. He was also a lawyer and started a law practice in Franklin. Shortly after that he started his political career when he was elected to the state Senate, but chose not to run for re-election. Bell then became a congressman and was a big supporter of Andrew Jackson for many years until near the end of Jackson’s term. After serving many years in the Whig party, including getting Martin Van Buren elected president, Bell went back to practicing law until he was elected to serve in the United States Senate. He eventually became the only southern senator to oppose the Kansas-Nebraska Act which allowed residents of those states to decide the issue of slavery with a vote. He then ran for president for the Constitutional Union Party but finished last among four candidates despite carrying the votes in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia.
James Robertson Parkway
Known as the Father of Tennessee, James Robertson came to Tennessee in the 1770s after growing frustrated with his local government in North Carolina. He had heard about great land just west of the Appalachians and purchased a large tract from the Cherokee tribe. Before building Fort Nashborough, Robertson crossed the frozen Cumberland River with cattle in tow. It was Christmas Day when they finished their journey. A faction of the Cherokee, the Chickamauga, didn’t agree with the purchase of the land and attacked Robertson and his fellow settlers. He lost both of his brothers, two of his sons, and Robertson himself was shot in the foot and both wrists. He was later appointed to brigadier general of the United States Army by George Washington. Eventually, the attacks slowed and the population grew. Once Robertson and his family built a new brick home he assisted the federal government in land and treaty negotiations with different Native American tribes.
Old Hickory Boulevard
We’ll start with probably the longest and most obvious of roads. Old Hickory Boulevard gets its name from President Andrew Jackson. Jackson called Tennessee home and served as a senator and a justice on the state’s Supreme Court. Even though Jackson was known to get angry quickly, he was also known as a strong leader. Jackson lead a group of volunteers and was told to disband his troops. Instead of sending them on their way, he gave up his horses for the men who were unfit to walk. He then walked beside his troops and earned the nickname Old Hickory because his troops said he was “tough as old hickory wood.”
A popular bypass around Nashville, Briley Parkway is not named after former Mayor David Briley. It is, however, named after Metro Nashville’s first-ever mayor, Beverly Briley. He attended Vanderbilt and Cumberland Law School in the 30s and eventually became the youngest Tennessean ever admitted to the Bar. He also served in the Navy in World War II. During his time as mayor from 1963-1975, Nashville saw tremendous growth and received many generous federal grants.
Dr. D.B. Todd Jr. Boulevard
Connecting Clarksville Pike to Charlotte Avenue just west of the downtown loop, Dr. D.B. Todd Jr. Boulevard (formerly 18th Avenue) is named for the first ever black cardiovascular surgeon to work in Nashville. He also performed the first open heart surgery at Meharry Medical College. He served in the Army and was honorably discharged when the Chief of Surgery noticed his eagerness to become a doctor. The street was named for him in 1982, just 10 years after that historic surgery at Meharry.
Harding Pike, which passes by Belle Meade Plantation, is named for John Harding. He was a southern planter that owned more than 1300 acres around the plantation. He also bred and raced thoroughbreds. A blacksmith shop, a grist mill and a sawmill were also run on the plantation’s property. The plantation was turned over to his son, William, after his death. William grew the plantation to more than 5,400 acres.
Colonel John Donelson was one of Nashville’s earliest settlers. He was also a well-known ironmaster, city planner and politician. He, along with James Robertson (more on him later), co-founded Fort Nashborough in the early 1780s. Fort Nashborough later became Nashville. Donelson’s daughter, Rachel, married Andrew Jackson. And, yes, the city of Donelson is named after Col. Donelson as well.
Known as the first settler of Nashville, Timothy Demonbreun, or Jacques-Timothee Boucher, Sieur de Montbrun, was a French-Canadian fur trader. He first came to the Nashville area in his teenage years, about 1760. He had two families, one in Illinois and one in Nashville. By about 1800 he had more than 15 employees at his mercantile business where he sold and traded window glass, paper, cured deer hides, and buffalo tongues. He built his final home where 3rd and Broadway currently intersect. There’s a monument dedicated to him near Fort Nashborough overlooking the Cumberland River.
Both Ellington Park and Ellington Parkway are named for Buford Ellington who served as governor of Tennessee from 1959-1963 and again from 1967-1971. A native Mississippian, Ellington set his Tennessee stakes in Marshall County, where his wife was originally from. He was a political player in the 40s and 50s, even serving as campaign manager for Frank Clement. He was also a longtime friend of Lyndon B. Johnson. During his time as governor, he raised teacher wages, didn’t raise taxes, and consolidated several state departments. His two terms were very different when it came to race relations. During his first term, he said he was an “old-fashioned segregationist.” However, during his second term, he said it was “time to bury the word and practice of segregation.” Ellington appointed the state’s first African American cabinet officer and created the Tennessee Human Relations Commission.
Granny White Pike
Yes, Granny White was an actual grandmother. Lucinda White settled in the Oak Hill area in the early 1800s. She was widowed in the early 1780s after her husband was killed by Native Americans. She was left to raise two children by herself and she was nearly poor. In 1800, she picked up and moved 800 miles with those two kids. They went over the Appalachian Mountains in an ox cart. On the way to Nashville, they stopped two different times and baked ginger cakes and bread to make enough money to get by. After three years of traveling, she finally stopped in Nashville and bought 50 acres of land for $300. She ran a tavern in the area that became known for its good food, comfortable beds, and brandy. It was a common stagecoach stop between Louisville and New Orleans. You can visit her grave, which is just off the pike that bears her name.