Tenant family, the Mortons, crucial to Nashville Zoo’s presence

Nashville Zoo

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — While Nashville Zoo is still a relatively young attraction – only 24-years-old – the history of the Grassmere property dates back to the 1780s.

There’s a new exhibit that highlights a family that was crucial in keeping the Grassmere farm a success.

“The building behind me is our cabin,” Tori Mason points over her shoulder. “The building was actually apart of the original structure for the slave individuals that were here. We know the family did own slaves up until the time of emancipation. After the civil war, the family decided to relocate this cabin to where it is now for tenant farmers.” It was moved sometime in the 1870s.

Mason, the zoo’s interpretive programs manager, shares the history of one of Nashville Zoo’s newest exhibits: The Morton Cabin.

Frank Morton and his family were tenant farmers for the Croft family who owned the Grassmere property.

“This exhibit is really unique in that not a lot of history places that I know of talk about the Black tenant families that worked on properties in Middle Tennessee.” She says, “We’re not a unique story, but we’re one of the few telling that story, and it’s really important for us to tell our complete story.”

Mason adds she wants people to know about the zoo’s foundation, “We have the zoo here because of Margaret and Elise Croft, the last of the five generations that lived here, but it’s equally important for people to know Grassmere wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for the Mortons.”

Mason says the zoo worked with Morton’s relatives for two years to create the exhibit that features archival photos, quotes, oral histories and much more.

“The exhibit allows you to walk into the cabin. We have done very little to repair the cabin,” Mason adds with the exception of making it structurally sound. “It’s not going to be all shiny and pretty and new. It’s exactly what it may’ve looked like when Frank and his family lived here. There’s still newspaper scraps and wallpaper on the walls. The paint is still the same color.”

The Mortons took care of the farm from 1919 to 1973.

“We talk about their contributions; what Frank did; What Albert [Frank’s son] did; what Maude [Frank’s daughter] did,” Mason continues, “We talk about how important their work was here, and why Grassmere still exits from them taking care of the cattle and crops.”

After two years of research and design, in June, the zoo unveiled the Morton Cabin Exhibit with more than 100 descendants representing four generations of Mortons in attendance.

  • Morton Family
  • Nashville Zoo Morton Cabin
  • Nashville Zoo Morton Cabin
  • Nashville Zoo Morton Cabin
  • Nashville Zoo Morton Cabin
  • Nashville Zoo Morton Cabin
  • Nashville Zoo Morton Cabin
  • Nashville Zoo Morton Cabin
  • Nashville Zoo Morton Cabin
  • Nashville Zoo Morton Cabin
  • Nashville Zoo Morton Cabin
  • Nashville Zoo Morton Cabin
  • Nashville Zoo Morton Cabin
  • Nashville Zoo Morton Cabin
  • Nashville Zoo Morton Cabin
  • Nashville Zoo Morton Cabin
  • Nashville Zoo Morton Cabin
  • Nashville Zoo Morton Cabin

There is no extra cost to visit the cabin. It’s included in your zoo ticket.

News 2 has partnered with Nashville Zoo to bring you weekly segments of Zoopalooza. You can watch them on News 2 on Good Morning Nashville on Saturday and right here on WKRN.com.

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