NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – People go to the Nashville Zoo to see the animals, but there is a lot of history at Grassmere.
At the zoo, you may have seen the Croft House, built in 1810. The last two family members (of five generations) to live there, Sisters Margaret and Elise croft, donated the Grassmere Farm to be a nature center and that’s how the zoo ended up in its current location.
But there’s a story behind the story. The farm originated before the civil war and had enslaved workers. After the war and emancipation, in 1919 the family hired Frank Morton to manage their property.
“Frank and his family were very instrumental in making sure that the Grassmere Farm was running and operating,” explained Tori Mason, Nashville Zoo’s Historic Site Manager. “They were a black family. They were hired as tenant farmers to work here. And Frank and his son Albert took care of the livestock, grew and harvested all the crops, took care of the gardens. And then Frank’s daughter Maude was also the cook. She took care of the Croft sisters, helped with the meals, butter churning, and taking care of the home.”
Margaret and Elise Croft often noted how instrumental Frank and his family were to the success of the farm. And the Morton family actually lived in one of the former slave quarters on the property.
“This is the cabin where Frank Morton lived,” Mason said. “So, you are able to walk in Frank’s footsteps. You are able to learn a little bit about what happened to the enslaved population after emancipation, how hard it was for some people to find a job, and how Frank was able to get hired. And then, see all sorts of photographs. And we have an oral history from two of Frank’s daughters that you can hear in their words what life was like here growing up.”
The Nashville Zoo wants you to come and learn about the rich history of Grassmere, including the life of Frank Morton and his family.
“The Historic Farm area is kind of our hidden secret up here,” Mason exclaimed. “We want to change that and we are working to change that. But we want everybody to come and hear our story. Not just the reason that there is a zoo here, but the rest of our story, as well.”
The Nashville Zoo was recently recognized by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for the exhibit, receiving top honors for its diversity award.
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.