All it takes is a quick tour through the Country Music Hall of Fame or the Ryman Auditorium to know that Nashville is steeped in history. It’s that same history that draws millions of visitors to the city each year, as well as a good number of folks who never leave, but Music City is about more than just music. There were larger-than-life politicians, business leaders and philanthropists who called Middle Tennessee home well before some famous country crooners. And while there may not be entire museums erected in their honor, a cruise down some of Nashville’s most popular and well-traversed roadways provides a history lesson in itself.
Today we’re taking a look at some of the most widely recognized street names (in alphabetical order) and the history behind them. There’s always a lesson to be learned!
12 Nashville Streets With Historic Backgrounds
Belle Meade Boulevard
In 1807, John Harding purchased a log cabin and 250 acres of land on the Natchez Trace trail. He then named the plantation Belle Meade — French for “beautiful meadow.” Interestingly, the land was never actually used for farming. Harding boarded the horses of his prestigious neighbors (which included President Andrew Jackson) and also bred Thoroughbred horses. In the 1820s Harding also built the original home on the property. It has since been expanded and restored and is now the Belle Meade Plantation historic mansion and museum. A visitor’s center and winery have also been added to the property, which continues to be one of Nashville’s most well-known tourist destinations for both locals and visitors alike.
Belmont Boulevard is named for the Belmont mansion, an historic building that was built beginning in 1849 (it took four years to complete) by Adelicia Hayes (Franklin) Acklen and her husband, Alexander Smith Acklen. At the time, Mrs. Acklen was the wealthiest woman in the state of Tennessee, as she had inherited nearly 60,000 acres of land, plus stocks and bonds and 750 slaves after the death of her first husband, Isaac Franklin. Months before her death, Acklen sold the mansion and the surrounding land to Lewis Baker, who used it to open a women’s academy and junior college — the earliest iteration of today’s Belmont University. And the Belmont neighborhood, through which Belmont Boulevard runs, became a National Register Historic District in 1980.
Briley Parkway, which encircles nearly the entire city of Nashville, is named for famed politician Clifton Beverly Briley. After attending Vanderbilt University and Cumberland School of Law, Briley became the youngest Tennessean ever admitted to the bar at the age of 18. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II before being elected County Judge of Davidson County in 1950, a position he held until 1963. Then, once the governments of Nashville and Davidson County were merged in 1963, Briley became the first mayor of what is now known as Metro Nashville.
Before it became Centennial Park, the 132-acre plot just west of Downtown Nashville was farmland owned by Anne Robertson Johnson Cockrill, Tennessee’s first teacher. From 1884 to 1897 the site was known as West Side Park before being renamed Centennial Park in honor of the 100th anniversary of Tennessee’s entry into the union. (Incidentally, the 1897 Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition was a year late, as Tennessee actually became a state in 1796.) The new name remained even after the festivities — as did the world’s only exact-sized replica of Greece’s Parthenon that was built in the park — and Centennial Boulevard was named in its honor.
The bustling corridor of Charlotte Avenue is enjoying the rise in popularity, with endless food options, newly built condos and great new businesses to explore. But lest we forget the woman behind the name, Charlotte Avenue is named after the town of Charlotte, TN, which is in Dickson County. And Charlotte, TN, is named after Charlotte Robertson, wife of Nashville’s founding father, James Robertson. (The name James Robertson may ring a bell too … James Robertson Parkway?!)
Timothy Demonbreun, a French-Canadian fur trader and officer of the American Revolution, is unofficially known as the “first citizen of Nashville.” He migrated to the United States from his native Canada in 1759 to begin trading fur. While hunting near the Cumberland River in a region called the French Lick, he noticed a larger number of deer and buffalo in the area, attracted by the salt lick. Demonbreun lived in a cave in the area, which is simply a crack in the rock that lines the Cumberland and is still visible today. That was where he called home until he was able to build a cabin on the river to use as his fur-trapping headquarters, and that cabin is considered Nashville’s earliest settlement. An interesting aside: the French Lick became known as Sulphur Dell because the area also had a natural sulphur spring. Sulphur Dell was where Nashville’s first baseball park was located before moving to Greer Stadium in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood. And the Sounds just wrapped their second season at First Tennessee Park, their new home that is located — you guessed it — right back at the same site as Sulphur Dell. How’s that for full-circle?
Donelson Pike is named after Colonel John Donelson, a land speculator who, along with James Robertson, was called to settle the Cumberland River region of Middle Tennessee. Donelson and his traveling party of 30 other families embarked from Virginia in December 1779 before reaching his destination, Big Salt Lick (now Nashville), in 1780. Interesting fact: His daughter, Rachel, who was 13 years old during the 1,000-mile journey, would later become the wife of President Andrew Jackson.
Long before it was home to Father Ryan, and well before Exit/In made it a destination, and way, way back before the crop of new restaurants and housing options could even be fathomed, Elliston Place was … Richland! And 23rd Avenue North was Elliston Street. Yes, back in 1881, Ed Buford built a house on Richland, and he called it “By Ma,” because it was quite literally next door to Burlington, the home where his mother in law, Elizabeth Boddie Elliston, lived. (Get it? His home was “by Ma”?) Anyway, in 1904, the street names changed, and Richland became what is today known as Elliston Place. In one more interesting tidbit, Burlington was torn down in 1930, and the original Father Ryan High School was erected on that land, where it stayed until it moved to its current location on Norwood Drive just south of Nashville.
Granny White Pike
Representing one of the more colorful examples of Nashville street history, Granny White Pike is named for Lucinda “Granny” White, a widow who traveled from North Carolina to Tennessee in 1800, with two grandkids in tow. Determined to make a new life for her family, Lucinda made the most of an opportunity when she was granted approximately 50 acres of land from a man named Thomas McCrory. She opened a tavern and inn on the property and was able to establish considerable wealth, thanks in part to her proximity to the Natchez Trace and its many travelers. She was especially known for her drinks, including an “apple jack cider” made from apples grown in her own orchard. Presidents Jackson and Polk are among the dignitaries said to have frequented Granny White’s business. You can still visit the grave of Granny White, which is found at the entry of The Inns of Granny White subdivision.
Old Hickory Boulevard
Andrew Jackson is to Tennessee what Napoleon Bonaparte is to France, so it’s no surprise that there are numerous landmarks in the state’s capital named after him. Jackson, a recognized military leader who also became the seventh POTUS, earned the nickname “Old Hickory” because of his determination and steadfastness. While leading the 2nd Division Tennessee Regiment in Mississippi in 1813, Jackson was forced to disband his troops. But instead of abandoning them to find a way home on their own, he took the journey with them, walking alongside them and paying for the supplies needed for the trip himself. This made him popular among his troops, who said that he was as tough as “old hickory” wood on the battlefield.
Tyne Boulevard runs south from Belle Meade Boulevard and is named in honor of Thomas J. Tyne, a native Nashvillian who was a prominent business leader. Tyne graduated from Vanderbilt’s Law School before founding and becoming general counsel for National Life and Accident Insurance Company, one of the country’s largest life insurance companies at the time. Tyne was also elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1893, at just 25 years of age.
Woodmont Boulevard gets its name from the Woodlawn mansion, which, like the Belmont Mansion and Belle Meade Plantation, was as an antebellum manor built to display the great wealth of its owner. Woodlawn was built by John Nichols in 1822, and the home was passed through generations of his family until it was ransacked in 1864 during the Civil War. After being sold to new owners in 1900, Henry Richardson purchased Woodlawn in 1916. He then had the eastern wing and pavilion destroyed to make room for the building of Woodmont Boulevard.
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