Shannon Pollard, partner at Armistead Arnold Pollard Real Estate Services in Brentwood, grew up kicking around on his family’s land located on Granny White Pike between Richland Country Club and Radnor Lake. But despite his family owning this land for nearly 70 years, no one knew the property was keeping a very big, historically significant secret. That is, until the land was being cleared to make a new access road into what is now Você, a high-end residential community. It was during that work that a shocking discovery was made.
“I got a call from Jonathan Cummings, who was cutting in the road, and he said ‘You need to get over here. We hit a casket with the backhoe,’” Shannon recalls. “I got there, and sure enough there was a corpse inside a casket that was splintered from where it had been hit. I am not accustomed to seeing people who have been dead for 100 years, but we could tell from the casket it had to have been turn-of-the-century.”
Shannon could also tell that the person buried was of some wealth due to the elaborate detail on the casket and the clothes that had been fairly well preserved over time.
After filing a police report, Shannon called TRC Environmental Corporation to come in and carefully see if their historic resident had any family members nearby. Sure enough, the land that is now Você was a final resting place for seven members of the Cox family, who owned the land from the 1700s until the 1900s. The unmarked, unmapped family cemetery went undetected for generations.
“My grandparents were the last people to live on the property,” Shannon says. “They bought it in 1950. My mom used to play out there in that rock garden and never had any idea what it was hiding.”
Shannon’s grandfather, who bought the land in 1950, was country music legend Eddy Arnold. He lived there with his wife Sally until their deaths in 2008. Their children JoAnn Pollard and Richard Arnold both grew up on the land as did their grandchildren, Shannon and his sister Michelle, who both lived in the cabin adjacent to the unknown cemetery at separate points in their lives.
Digging Up the Details
After conducting research with the Tennessee Division of Archaeology, the Tennessee Historical Commission, and the Tennessee State Library and Archives, TRC was able to piece together historical data to determine the bodies discovered were relatives of Thomas Cox, who came to Middle Tennessee as one of the first Euro-American settlers in the late 1770s.
Thomas was one of the signers of the Cumberland Compact, a document signed in May of 1780, which “established a provisional government for the isolated colony, provided for the election of twelve representatives from the eight stations, a Sheriff, a Clerk, a Militia, and for the adjudication of causes, the administration of estates, and the awarding of executions. Power was vested in a tribunal of Judges or other members of a General Committee.”
Thomas had acquired some 600 acres — including the land that is now Você — shortly after he arrived in Nashville. Records showed a number of other Cox family members having owned the property. “There is another cemetery close by on Granny White Pike, and at first we thought maybe they were relatives, but they aren’t,” Shannon says. “It is a totally different family. I do believe it’s members of the Cox family that we found, so we have decendents of one of the founding fathers of Nashville buried here.”
In researching the land’s history, TRC also uncovered what could be a possible explanation of why graves of a wealthy, prominent family would have been unmarked and forgotten. Their summary of the project states that after the Cox family sold the land in 1910, it transferred ownership eight times in a 30-year span. “At some point in this frequent and quick turnover from one owner to the next, someone may have decided that erasing the cemetery from the records as well as the landscape itself might make future land transactions a little less complicated,” the report states.
No records of a cemetery being on the land and no grave markers or headstones have been found, despite the fact that these graves date back to a period when headstones were mass-produced and easily obtained, TRC writes. “Through the twentieth century, as the land changed hands, the presence of the cemetery was simply erased from memory,” the report says. “The accidental discovery of the graves on the Você development property suggests that even the cemeteries of well-off and prominent families can be, and have been, lost and forgotten in a relatively short period of time.”
Worth the Wait
Thanks to developers who appreciated the significance of the discovery, they willingly halted the project’s construction for several months until the site could be thoroughly scanned for any other potential graves and a plan could be devised and agreed upon for how to move forward. “We never had any intention other than doing something respectful,” Shannon explains.
Armistead Arnold Pollard footed tens of thousands of dollars to fund the proper excavation, preservation and relocation of the graves. “We didn’t want to move them because there was no reason to disturb them any more than we already did,” Shannon shares. “But as we looked into it, we realized we couldn’t move the road. The whole mission with Você was not to disturb the land or the trees. We even got an ordinance to keep a more narrow road width because we were following what was a driveway at the time and it didn’t require us to cut down any trees.”
So developers ended up creating a small area about 60 to 70 feet away and carefully re-buried each family member and the artifacts that were found during excavation. This time, their final resting place will be marked and mapped so that future generations will know the whereabouts of these seven members of the Cox family.
To learn more about Você, visit vocenashville.com.
This article is sponsored by Você.