NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — If you’ve ever driven around the Edgehill neighborhood, seeing polar bears and references to them is quite common, but how did the artic creatures land in the deep south?
More than 2,000 miles away from their typical nesting place, you’ll find four polar bears right here in Music City.
In fact, these residents have called Nashville home longer than most, according to Sarah Arntz, Program Coordinator at the Metro Archives.
“Since Nashville has changed so much in the last I guess 100 years, these bears have lived here and they’ve stayed the same,” Arntz said.
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So, how did these polar bears get here?
In the 1930s, a frozen custard shop sat on West End Avenue and polar bears were the chosen mascot. Another location for the custard shop was in East Nashville on Gallatin Road.
But after a few years, the shops closed, which according to Historic Preservationist Jessica Reeves, was a sign of the times.
“This is during the Great Depression, so luxuries like custard and ice cream, those are not going to be available to everyone at that time, so the stands closed,” Reeves said.
But just because custard wasn’t being served, didn’t necessarily mean the polar bears would melt.
In the 1940s, long-time Edgehill Resident and Funeral Home Director Zima Hill saved them.
Hill would go on to purchase all four polar Bears. Two sat outside his home on Edgehill and the other two were positioned outside his funeral home, located not too far down the street.
“The neighborhood loved them, of course their fun. They’re polar bears in the middle of Nashville, everyone enjoyed them, he enjoyed them as the mascot of his business,” Reeves said.
But their field trip around town was far from over. In 1952, the funeral home was sold and two of the polar bears went missing.
Twenty years later, they were found in a vacant lot in North Nashville.
Now 50 years later, they live on 6th Avenue North in Germantown.
But, how are they still here and what’s made them last so long? Arntz believes it’s sentimental to keep them around.
“There just a consistency, so it’s something that’s nostalgic I think for that community, it’s a consistency that’s lasted so much more,” Arntz said.
For the other two that still reside in Edgehill, Reeves believes it’s largely due to how influential Hill was in the 1940s.
“I think they identified very strongly with Zima Hill, who was one of their own, a very prominent citizen at the time. He embraced them and made them part of the neighborhood, and the neighborhood really held on to that,” said Reeves.
As time goes on, new developments have honored them, well before they even break ground.
“It was really important for us to come in and develop a community that appreciated that history, brought it inside of our community and made it part of our brand,” said Savannah McGowan with Crescent Properties.
With a new apartment building in the Edgehill neighborhood, the developers wanted to make the polar bears a part of their property.
From large polar bear murals keeping an eye on the rooftop pool, to a sweet treat for residents downstairs in the lobby.
“In lieu of a coffee machine, like everyone else has, we have an ice cream machine,” said Tara Nguyen, with Novel Properties.
So even with new growth, many believe it’s nods like these that help everyone remember what this neighborhood is all about.
“This is Edgehill. It’s always been Edgehill, no matter what else changes,” Reeves said.