Nashville Zoo: Exploring the history of the Grassmere property

Tennessee 225
The Croft house at Grassmere

View of the Croft house at Grassmere, looking from the front drive.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — You can trace Nashville Zoo’s roots all the way back 235 years.

It all started before Tennessee ever became a state of the Union. From the original 1786 land grant to today, the Grassmere property has witnessed more than two centuries of changes.

26 Historical Facts and Milestones


  • Grassmere historic home, second oldest residence in Davidson Co. open to the public
  • Five generations of same family lived at Grassmere Farm
  • Home built by Col. Michael C. Dunn, completed in 1810
  • Purchased by Dunn’s son-in-law, Lee Shute, in 1846
  • Shute gifted his son, William and his wife Lavinia, the 346-acre property at $5
  • Sweet potatoes, corn, wheat and hay were primary crops
  • Swine and cattle raised
  • Flowers and apples sold
  • Served as family farm for 175 years
  • Granddaughter’s of Shute, Margaret and Elise Croft born in 1889 and 1894
  • Col. Michael C. Dunn
  • William Dickson Shute
  • Lavinia Hilliard Shute
  • Grandfather Shute and Uncle Will
  • Kate Shute in mourning
  • Photograph of William Croft with cat
  • Portrait of Kate, Margaret, and Elise Croft
  • Members of the Croft family
  • Ann Elise Croft
  • Margaret and Elise Croft


  • Croft family moved to Cuba in 1902, but the girls returned every summer
  • Morton family tenants 1919 to 1972
  • 1931 Margaret and Elise returned to Grassmere permanently
  • 1964 entered agreement with Children’s Museum of Nashville (Adventure Science Center) that upon deaths museum would own property and buildings
  • Agreement included the property would be used as a “nature study center”
  • Margaret passes away in 1974, Elise in 1985
  • Snapshot postcard of Margaret and Elise Croft
  • The Croft house at Grassmere
  • Elise Croft with horse and foal
  • Margaret Croft with mule
  • Photograph of Leila Shute Tigert in field at Grassmere
  • Leila Shute Tigert letter of dying wishes
  • Elise and Margaret Croft with parrot
  • Resolution between Croft sisters and Children's Museum
  • Handwritten history of Grassmere property
  • Frank Morton standing in front of hay
  • Albert Morton in the kitchen
  • Maude in the kitchen at Grassmere

Tennessee 225: Dive into the history of the Volunteer State.


  • 1990 Grassmere Wildlife Park opened
  • 1995 property closed for financial reasons, becoming Nashville Metro property
  • City bound by the sister’s agreement so the Nashville Zoo was invited to move from Joelton to Grassmere
  • 1997 Nashville Zoo took over management of property
  • 1998 Croft historic home opened to visitors
  • 1999 Grassmere Historic Farm opened
  • 2000 Critter Encounters, first interactive exhibit opens
  • 2001 officially becomes Nashville Zoo at Grassmere
  • 2004 receives accreditation from Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)
  • 2019 HCA Healthcare Veterinary Center opens

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

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