Do you ever wonder why some of our neighborhoods have their names? Do you know where Nashville’s name came from? Nashville is named after Francis Nash, a general in the Revolutionary War, who was from North Carolina (of which Tennessee was once a part). James Robertson, an American explorer and soldier, traveled by land to settle the banks of the Cumberland River on December 25, 1779. Nashville co-founder John Donelson arrived a few months later, traveling by water with approximately 30 boats and more than 100 settlers. They built Fort Nashborough, which was the first permanent settlement of the area and was named after Francis Nash. In 1784, the community name was changed to “Nashville.” (source; source)
With that same curiosity, here are 10 Nashville neighborhoods, some with very obvious names and others for which the origins were actually hard to track down!
(Of note, we limited this to just 10 neighborhoods, but we intend to be back with the history of more Nashville neighborhoods in the future!)
Belle Meade means “beautiful meadow,” and that is what Belle Meade Plantation’s original owner, John Harding, called his home and the 200 acres it sits on. This land, Belle Meade, eventually extended to include more than 3,500 acres, and more than 136 enslaved people were needed to work the plantation. Several streets in the Belle Meade neighborhood, including Enquirer, Harding and Jackson, are all names associated with Belle Meade Plantation. (source)
Most people realize that this neighborhood is named for the Belmont Mansion, now a part of Belmont University. What many may not know is that this mansion was built for the Acklen family and had 177 acres! And, unlike other large, Southern homes, the family had no need for money-producing lands, but wanted to have a home that would be an entertaining oasis. Thus, much of the land was beautifully landscaped, and there was a small working farm to provide food for the family and staff. The name Belmont comes from the fact that the house sits on one of the highest hills in Nashville and was called “Belle Monte,” which means “beautiful mountain” in Italian. (source; source)
The two men credited with settling Nashville are James Robertson and John Donelson. It’s from John Donelson that this part of Nashville takes its name. He was also the father-in-law of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States. This area of town really grew after World War II and then again with its proximity to Nashville’s airport. Of note, the oldest neighborhood in Donelson is Bluefields, developed by the Bransford Realty Company in the 1930s. Bransford also developed Belle Meade Links and sections of Green Hills during this same time period (source; source)
Known as Nashville’s first suburb, Germantown is now considered urban living. As Nashville’s first planned neighborhood, these 18 square blocks were the center of the local German community (thus, “Germantown”) in the 1800s and officially incorporated into the city of Nashville in 1865. One of the first German families to put down roots in Nashville, John H. Buddeke and his wife, Mary Ratterman, were quite successful and built a large house in the late 1830s that still stands in Germantown today. This success led to friends and family moving to the city. Between the years 1845 to 1855, more than a million Germans moved to America to escape economic and political turmoil in their country, some of whom made their way to Nashville. Another wave of Germans came to Nashville after 1865, knowing that a strong community existed here. They came during a surge of migration to Nashville with the city’s population soaring from 16,988 in 1860 to 80,865 by 1900. (source; other references: source, source)
In 1939, this area was filled with pastureland, and A. Roy Green and Roy T. Primm opened up a small market at 3909 Hillsboro Road, where Trader Joe’s is now. It was considered to be out in the country, and the land was $5,000. They bought the pharmacy next door and renamed it “The Green Hills Pharmacy,” and when a movie theater was built in the area, it was called “The Green Hills Theatre.” Soon, the entire area was simply referred to as “Green Hills.” (source)
It’s called The Gulch because that’s exactly what it is, a gulch! In the 1800s, you would find rows of railroad tracks, as that was the hub of all rail transportation in town. As a manufacturing center, the railroad was closely tied to Nashville’s economic growth. As the first Confederate capital to fall into Union hands, Nashville was important and strategic because of these rail lines. The Union Station Hotel was built in 1898, when train travel was still the primary way to get around the country. “Construction for the railway station began on August 1, 1898, and it was officially opened on October 9, 1900, to great fanfare. The building’s imposing Gothic design — featuring lofty turrets and towers — was a testament to U.S. ingenuity and energy. The Train Shed was once the largest unsupported span in America, housing up to 10 full trains at once. During railroading’s glory years, the station saw characters such as movie starlet Mae West and Mafia kingpin Al Capone – who was escorted through the station on his way to a Georgia penitentiary. At one time, the track level also held two alligator ponds.” — Union Station Hotel website
Once part of the Belmont Mansion land, Hillsboro Village started to grow in the 1920s to answer the needs of the growing neighborhood surrounding it. It was built next to the trolley line that ran down what was once Hillsboro Road, which became Hillsboro Pike with the tolls (which ended in 1903), and is now 21st Avenue which ran to Hillsboro, TN, which is now Leiper’s Fork! Most of the neighborhood surrounding Hillsboro Village is on a grid as it was built as a street car district. From what we were able to find, Francis Nash, for whom Nashville was named, was raised in the Hillsborough, NC, region, later shortened to Hillsboro, and served as judge in the Hillsboro district in 1775. We are assuming that Hillsboro is named in honor of Francis Nash, but we aren’t certain. (source)
Lockeland Springs is an historic neighborhood located in East Nashville. It’s named for Lockeland Mansion, the first large home built in the area in the early 1800s by Col. Robert Weakley and his wife, Jane Locke. Thus, the mansion was named after Jane. The spring on the property was rumored to have curative properties and even won a prize at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904 for its mineral composition and “salubrious quality.” Like the other large plots of land, the area eventually was subdivided, and much of its housing growth came after the street car was introduced in the 1890s. (source; source)
This neighborhood, just north of Sylvan Park, has many streets named after states, not countries, so where did the name come from? One theory sources its name after the Chickasaw Nations Native American tribe who lived in the area in the 1700s (source) but other theories exist and no one seems to have the definitive answer!
The area now known as Sylvan Park was once a popular place to escape city life in the late 1800s, as during this time of extreme growth for the city of Nashville, downtown was polluted and congested. The word “sylvan” means pleasantly rural and wooded, and this area was sought after for picnic escapes from city life. Developers looked to capitalize on this area’s popularity (sounds sort of like today), and in 1887 opened a new community dubbed New Town. The first homes built in this neighborhood were larger houses hoping to attract business owners, doctors and attorneys, and the state-named streets replaced old street names in an effort to attract people moving from those states to New Town (which at this time was not a part of Nashville). With the economic downturn of 1893, a new set of investors stepped up to save the area. By the early 1900s, many of the area homes were built by Sylvan Park Land Company and the area was now an official suburb of Nashville. One of the owners of this company, James A. Bowling, named his own neighborhood home “Sylvan Park,” and the area has been known as that ever since. (source, source) Of additional historic interest, Charlotte Avenue, Sylvan Park’s busiest street that connects it to downtown, was named after one of the Nashville founders, James Robertson’s, wife — Charlotte. This route was originally the trail he traveled between his home and the early Nashville settlement. (source)
There you have it! A little bit of history behind some of the names we hear every day in Nashville!
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