Three miles north of Nashville International Airport, five miles south of Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center and less than 10 miles east of downtown Nashville is Donelson, a section of our city that is growing ever hipper by the day. Bound by the Cumberland River, Stewarts Ferry Pike, Stones River and I-40, Donelson — or “Hip Donelson” as many have come to call the neighborhood — is characterized by its active city center as much as it is its quiet neighborhoods. Until recently, Donelson was in search of widespread neighborhood pride and a breath of fresh air. Buzz surrounding the area has been rising, and it seems as if “hip,” as a descriptive for Donelson, is on everyone’s tongues. Nowadays, thanks in large part to Hip Donelson (a not-for-profit, public charitable organization that connects the residents of Donelson) and other community initiatives, the pride is radiating all the way across the river, and the area and demographics are growing in unexpected ways.
Aside from a nickname, Hip Donelson is an organization built to serve the Donelson community. Three guys started a Facebook group, dubbing Donelson as “Unapologetically Nashville’s Hippest Community.” Quickly, this group grew from an unorganized communication platform into an organized not for profit with five programs, and now, the rest of town can’t help but call Donelson hip. Let us take you on a journey of Donelson: from hip to unhip and back again.
From Hip to Unhip: Where Donelson Began
Prior to its resurgence in 2009, Donelson was no stranger to growth spurts and change before and after its post-World War II development. Some 80 years ago (1929 to be exact), while it was still a rural area, Donelson’s oldest subdivision, Bluefields, rose under the direction of Bransford Realty Company, the company responsible for Belle Meade Links and additional Green Hills neighborhoods, and 50 to 60 homes were completed by 1938. That same year, Stanford Realty took charge and continued developing the neighborhood into the 1970s. Today, more than 200 homes populate Bluefields, which holds court on the National Register of Historic Places. This was only one factor (another being the close proximity to the airport) that kickstarted early growth in Donelson and began to define it as a suburban area dotted with affordable, ranch-style homes with roomy yards.
In 2009, post recession, Frank Trew, founding member of Hip Donelson, president of the Hip Donelson board and lifelong Donelson resident, describes neighborhood activity and growth as stagnant. Donelson Plaza was no longer the hustling, bustling spot it once had been; neighborhoods were not seeing much growth; and the level of pride — and hipness — was low. Frank, Andrew Bradley and Jeff Syracuse were brought together by the apparent need — and desire — for community engagement, causing them to turn to Facebook as a communication mechanism, and Hip Donelson was born.
And Hip Again
Donelson and Hip Donelson (the organization) have grown alongside each other. “Growth in the area stemmed from Hip Donelson, but Hip Donelson didn’t cause the growth,” Frank says. “There was a need for community engagement, and we saw Facebook as a communication mechanism. Initially, it was intentionally unorganized. We had a our first board meetings at Phatbites,” he recalls with laughter.
“Facebook was our virtual front porch,” shares Jeff, Donelson resident, former member of the Donelson-Hermitage chamber and NashvilleNext, Metro Council member and founding board member of Hip Donelson. What began as a Facebook page begging the questions, “What do you want to see in Donelson?” and “How can we make Donelson better?” to its 123 followers in the first year, has organically grown into an organized platform that lends a hand to Donelson’s people, pets, neighborhoods, and community and nonprofit organizations. Today, the group’s following is rapidly approaching 25,000. The Hip Donelson Facebook page states the vision of the organization as such: “Hip Donelson will be the conduit for community development, enrichment, safety and education for all who call Donelson home.”
Today, there are five programs under the Hip Donelson umbrella made possible thanks to 150+ volunteers. “We have the same volunteers today as we did in the beginning; it is a true testament to the community,” Frank says with pride. Pets, people and community are all covered in Hip Donelson’s five programs, Donelson Neighborhood Watch, Hip Donelson Outdoors, Hip Donelson Community Farmers Market, Hip Donelson Lost & Found Pets and Red Cross Community Partners Program, each of which stemmed from needs expressed on the Facebook page. (The farmers market income funds these programs.) “We have changed and will continue to change based on what the community requires; we will adapt, add programs and continue to support local businesses,” Frank shares.
Donelson’s Hippest Areas: Downtown
Believe it or not, hipness doesn’t happen overnight. Many residents and community members have been working hard to bring Donelson to its full glory.
Historic Bluefields and other Donelson neighborhoods were developed in a post-World War II era of automobile-oriented traffic, meaning the community has had to exert continued efforts to make it a more walkable area, doing so by ramping up the neighborhood watch efforts for safety and committing to the building of more sidewalks for accessibility. And with sidewalks as only one piece of the puzzle, Donelson is slowly, but steadily, transitioning from suburban to urban. While Jeff doesn’t foresee substantial overhauls of the single-family homes and high-valued neighborhoods, he is actively working to instill change in downtown Donelson and sees this as a strategic move for Donelson’s continued success.
The Downtown Donelson Urban Design Overlay, prepared by the Metropolitan Nashville Planning Department in 2009 (and later amended in 2011), details the planning and vision for “the redevelopment of an aging community center into a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use downtown for the Donelson community.” The downtown in reference is defined as the Lebanon Pike corridor between Briley Parkway and Stewarts Ferry Pike. Seven years later, these standards and community initiatives to revive the area remain, and one location acts as a primary focus: Donelson Plaza (which was developed in the early ’60s) and the surrounding walkable areas from the Donelson Music City Star Station.
There are six Music City Star stations: Riverfront, Donelson, Hermitage, Mt. Juliet, Martha and Lebanon. This commuter rail service began in 2006, and although it did not see the immediate success anticipated by the region, Jeff sees it as a sustainable regional transit solution in which to invest. With a rough average of 1,000 riders per day, the Music City Star acts as a commuter rail bringing folks to and from the Donelson area. Since 2012, on Friday nights from May to October, these numbers rise as people of all ages travel from across the city to Donelson for the Hip Donelson Farmers Market. During these Fridays, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., the corner of Lebanon Road and Old Lebanon Road comes alive with vendors traveling from within 150 miles of Donelson with locally grown and made products, live music and food trucks. The energy from the Ace Hardware parking lot, where the market is held, is palpable, and one quickly grasps the excitement about Donelson.
SB TIP: If you park at the Music City Star Station and take the free shuttle to the farmers market, you receive a $1 off coupon to use at any vendor. If you take the train to the market, show the shuttle driver your ticket and receive a $2 off coupon!
The Farmers Market, Local Businesses, the Arts and the Outdoors: A Few Things People (of Any Age) Can Enjoy
Within walking distance from the farmers market and the Music City Star are local businesses worth visiting, many of which have been around for years. “It takes these mom-and-pop businesses taking risks for us to see growth,” shares Frank. “In order to attract other businesses, we must support the ones rooted here,” Jeff says, echoing the importance of local support. One Donelson mainstay is McNamara’s Irish Pub & Restaurant. This traditional Irish pub brings a bit of the the Emerald Isle to Tennessee. Now in its sixth year in business, McNamara’s acts as a neighborhood joint and destination for live music. Around the corner, Homegrown Taproom & Marketplace is serving dishes with locally and regionally sourced products and craft beers. And still another block down, you will find Phatbites, a go-to spot for breakfast, lunch, dinner, bar food, beer and live music.
If you head toward the Briley Parkway side of downtown, you will run into Treasures, a consignment and antique store that opened in 2007 and has continued offering unique furniture, antiques, collectables and glassware ever since. Co-owner of Treasures, Mark Dickerson, is quoted on Treasures’ Facebook page saying, “Treasures fills a need in the Donelson area with the recent and past closing of shops like Old Character, Two Sisters and the Antique Emporium.” And finally, down a bit farther, Vittles offers a taste of days gone by with Southern diner food, such as meat-and-three dishes, country-fried steak, lima beans and banana pudding.
When searching for barbecue, Mexican, Italian, more Southern fixins’, ice cream or donuts, you won’t have to look far to satisfy your cravings.
As Donelson sees an influx of younger families, it’s not forgetting those longtime residents. FiftyForward Donelson provides supportive care, volunteer opportunities, arts and education with the mission to enrich the lives of adults 50+. Moreover, FiftyForward is home to The Larry Keeton Theatre, which ranks third on list of local theaters with the highest attendance. This theater brings art and arts education to the community at a price point most can afford. Shows and concerts are held at the theater, and between now and the end of June, you have 11 opportunities to see a spectacular performance while enjoying dinner (BYOB). And if you are looking for an entertaining night out with the kiddos, hit the Donelson Strike & Spare.
If you want to get outdoors, simply travel mere miles from the traffic and lines of businesses found on Donelson’s main strip; you might be surprised to find solitude in miles of greenways and river access. The Stones River Greenway offers 10 miles of paved trails that run from Shelby Bottoms to Percy Priest Lake and link to the YMCA on Lebanon Road, Heartland Park and Two Rivers Park along the way. While traveling the greenway, you will also encounter parks, Stones River and Percy Priest Lake access, Two Rivers Skate Park, Two Rivers Golf Course, Two Rivers Dog Park and Two Rivers Mansion.
What Makes Donelson, Donelson?
“Sense of community,” Jeff affirms. “It is family-friendly; the community is loyal, warmhearted. There are generational changes, but one group is not pushing the other out. We are all co-mingling … there are gradual generational changes happening in Donelson, which you can primarily see at the farmers market, but you won’t see fundamental structural changes. We are not experiencing hypergentrification … slow and steady wins the race, as they say,” says Jeff. “Our future is bright.”
While you might have a hard time laying your head down in Donelson, (“The days homes spend on the market are in single digits,” Frank shares.) you can always pay this neighborhood a visit and check out all it has to offer. As a result of Hip Donelson’s continued efforts, this hip-again neighborhood is continuing to thrive. Whether you hop in your car or take the Music City Star, we suggest you head to Donelson and see for yourself Nashville’s hippest community.
A special thanks to Frank Trew and Jeff Syracuse for sharing the ins and outs of Donelson, Hip Donelson and development in the area. We are excited to see how you continue to propel the neighborhood forward!
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