Nashville Weekend

John Mayall

Rand and I went to Nashville Sunday and Monday for a quick birthdays (both of us this month!) celebration.  John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers were playing our favorite venue, City Winery.  Opener was Tommy Odetto, an ‘artist to watch’ said Guitar Player.  Mayall and the band put on an amazing show following Odetto’s outstanding guitar work, and I will do a proper follow-up salute to them later this week.

As I said, it was a fast trip, and we headed home Monday morning, counting cranes–the ones attached to buildings, not the birds.  We overheard the waiter Sunday say there were more cranes in Nashville than anywhere.

City of cranes

While we cannot verify that, we counted about 10 from the few blocks from our hotel to Interstate, so he well may be right.  There is so much construction going on, that in 2015, someone started the Nashville Crane Watch.  It has recently been revamped because of the growth and the current number (cumulative since 2015 I presume) is 190.

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Allenton Heights, Jackson TN

Allenton Heights 2

Allenton Heights was one of two public housing projects erected in Jackson, Tennessee following the expansion of PWA public housing and the creation of the U. S. Housing Authority.  The 100 unit site was located on landscaped lots on 13 acres, with a good deal of open green space.  The units contained a front yard (larger in the interior facing units) and back yard with clotheslines.  The clotheslines are still present, and on this sunny August day, filled with drying clothes.

Interior courtyardAllenton Heights was the facility constructed for whites, while Merry Lane Court was constructed for black residents.  Although the federal government forbade discrimination, the South still demanded segregation and achieved it, accommodated by the federal programs as a ‘compromise.’

Following clearance of dilapidated housing, the construction began in a staggered process for Allenton Heights and Merry Lane Court.  Construction was headed by Algernon Blair Company and the superintendent projected the estimated employment of 150 on both units.  Allenton Heights was projected to cost $350,000, with 4 additional units more than Merry Lane Court, plus the greater land area and size.  The site remains as part of the Jackson Housing Authority and is currently in use.  Merry Lane Court (cost of $325,000) was demolished following damage by a tornado in 2003.

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Brownsville TN former Carnegie Library



Chamber of Commerce

The one-story Classical Revival former Carnegie Library was funded “under the usual conditions” by Andrew Carnegie after “Mayor John O. Bonner [sic] has been untiring in his efforts to secure the donation from Mr. Carnegie.  He conceived the movement, put it into execution, and to him is due the credit” (The Tennessean, Dec. 18, 1909, p. 1).  “The usual” meant in exchange for the $7, 500 cost of erecting the building, the town provided the lot, $750 per year for maintenance of the library, and free usage.

front elevation

While Mayor J. O. Bomer did indeed write to Carnegie and request funding, others were involved in the development of a public library in Brownsville.  As early as 1903, the Brownsville Book Club had “under consideration a plan for a public library…but has not yet fully matured its plans” (The Tennessean, Mar. 21, 1903, p. 8). In 1936 the library had about 4,000 books, including a “modern encyclopedia” (Jackson Sun, Jul. 23, 1936, p. 4).

But the years have taken a toll on the historic building…basement leaks, some of the bricks are cracked and falling and there’s not enough room for all the books. (Jackson Sun, Apr. 24, 1990, p. 1)

Although at one point after the new library was constructed, demolition was on the discussion agenda–after all, that basement leak was first documented in 1952!–the Save the Carnegie Committee prevailed.  The 3, 873 square-foot Brownsville Carnegie was restored/renovated in 1994 at a cost of $245,000 (Jackson Sun, June 1, 1994).  It is currently in use as home to the Chamber of Commerce.

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Cypress Creek-Davis TN

Cypress Davis-2

In one of those rare instances, nothing shows up in the newspaper archives about this community or this church, nor the Internet.  I located one article that referenced Rev. Henry Sale, reporting in 1846 the marriage of his daughter, Mary Louisa, in Belmont, and identifying him as deceased.


The church is no longer there, but the pleasant little grove was cool and inviting with a breeze blowing through the leaves.  This area is the former Longtown Community, and is near to Braden, where those church members moved.

tree limbs-2

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Hobson Methodist Episcopal Church, Nashville

Hobson Methodist Episcopla Church South

The former Hobson church building sits on the corner of Greenwood and Chapel in East Nashville.  I am always a little sad when I see a beautiful building not in use.  The Hobson saga has a long history with it, and although the congregation moved to a new location several years ago and is still active, what of this building, and the historic sanctuary behind it?

old sanctuary

The old sanctuary, connected to the “new” 1929 sanctuary by a wing joining the structures, was built in 1868.  A news article from 2014 indicated a developer had purchased the property and planned to develop the Eastwood Village on site, with new buildings and reuse of the historic buildings.  In 2019, it still sits, and the website for the development is expired, leading me to believe that the project will not be coming on line any time soon.  Now, what about these buildings?  Several news articles from the last few years claimed various dates for the buildings, including 1924 for the 1929 sanctuary, and 1851 “pre-civil war” original Hobson’s Chapel for the older sanctuary.

side and corner elevation old santuary

While the original Hobson’s Chapel was indeed 1851 and pre-war, this is not that structure.  The original Hobson Church was located on the northeast corner of Main and Tenth street, and was seized by the Union Army and used as a hospital during the war (The Tennessean, Dec. 12, 1909, p. 37).  The 1909 pastor, Rev. W. T. Noland reported the building was in “filthy and dilapidated condition..unfit for a church edifice”.  Using the proceeds of the sale of the building to Hughes & Mims, and private donations, the new Hobson Chapel was constructed beginning in June 1868, and dedicated November 29, 1868.  It was described as “in an architectural sense, one of the handsomest and best  arranged houses of worship in Middle Tennessee” (The Tennessean, Dec. 1, 1868, p. 4).

The church is to be a large and magnificent one, and will take the place of the old Hobson’s Chapel, which was so badly damaged during the war as to make it unfit for future use. (The Tennessean, June 6, 1868, p. 4)

SINCE THE CONFLICT: A Brief Review of the church as it is at the Present Day.

Many of the church members are not yet gray who remember how the Federal troops occupied Nashville in 1862, how the churches were either burned or turned into hospitals, or use by the Northern preachers…Hobson Chapel had been turned into a slaughter-house…The old Hobson Church has been superseded by Hobson Chapel, in one of the most beautiful environs of Nashville.  It is a typical English Chapel, built of brick, and has an exceptionally handsome parsonage(The Tennessean, Jan. 19, 1890, p. 10)


The Tennessean, Dec. 12, 1909.

This 1909 depiction of the new Hobson church shows finials atop the buttresses/engaged columns/pilasters (I cannot clearly determine which it is from the photograph, but it appears to be more substantial than a pilaster) that are no longer extant.  The front door design was altered, as were the tall windows along the side elevation.

The new sanctuary was completed in October 1929.  Contractors included McMurray Structural Steel Company, Dan Leech concrete, Hopton Brothers ornamental and plain plastering, Gowans & Hailey plumbing and heating, L. T. Lewis & Sons brick work, J. O. Kirkpatrick & Sons lumber and mill work, and A. A. Walker painting.  The $75,000 sanctuary was begun in 1928.  The architect designer was Charles A. Ferguson, and completed by C. K. Colley, architect, after the death of Ferguson.

After getting back in the truck following my photographic spree, I remarked, “This is going to be my retirement home.”  As usual, Rand laughed.

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“It’s my cemetery now. It’s my grave marker.”

Billy Tripp's Mindfield

On our way to Nashville for the Charlie Parr show, we made a quick stop in Brownsville for a New Deal building.  This structure caught my eye as we were leaving.  At first, I thought it to be some type of electrical/power facility.  In a way, you might still describe it as that–the mind is the ultimate power facility, and this is Billy Tripp’s Mindfield Cemetery.

The structure

Occupying a spot on Main Street, Tripp’s “vast bricolage” has been described as an outdoor cathedral, a cemetery (Tripp intends to be interred within the structure at his death), and something of an eyesore that irritated the locals (William L. Ellis, Folkart Society of America).  He began the structure in 1989 and has continued to add to it and plans to do so until his death.  He has been described as an artist, although he does not describe himself as one.  He just says he is a person who makes things, and he makes them for himself, but does not mind if others “overhear his conversation.”

…his belief in the inherent beauty of our world, and the importance of tolerance in our communities and government systems. (Roadside America)

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North on the Trace from Natchez

Owens Creek

After I finally finished up my week in Natchez–back in March!–I headed homeward on the Trace again.  After all, it was quiet, calm, beautiful, and hardly any traffic.  It is interesting how the same road can look different from a different perspective.  I pulled off the road at Owens Creek to stretch my legs.  Owens Creek, and the Rocky Springs Trail lead to Rocky Springs–a once populated area.

Rocky springs had people stopping for water before 1800 and shortly after, people began building homes in the area around the spring. Clarion-Ledger, June 13, 1965, p. 69.


Rocky Springs had a post office by the mid 1820s and several hundred population.  Proposals were sought to carry mail from the Jackson-Rocky Springs-Port Gibson-Greenville route in 1826.  In 1837, money was donated to build a church.  By 1840, the area was home to 458 whites and 1,540 enslaved.  The 1878-79 yellow fever epidemic killed much of the area population, and the 1907 boll weevil infestation took a toll the area was unable to overcome.  The Great Depression of the 1930s contributed to the demise of the small community.

In 1934, Congress passed legislation authorizing the survey of the Natchez Trace, and in 1938, construction was authorized, although total construction was not completed until 2005.  In May 2018, portions of the Rocky Springs trail were closed due to hazards in trail erosion and bridge problems.

The trail has more than $250,000 in deferred maintenance needs, and we are working to acquire the needed funding to make those repairs.(Greg Smith, Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail Coordinator, May 18, 2018)

It was still closed in March, 2019.  While searching for information on when this portion of the Trace was completed, I ran across Jack D. Elliott, Jr.’s Paving the Trace on Mississippi History Now.  Go read it, for a more complete (and accurate) view of the origins of the Trace, and the efforts to develop and promote it.  I could not help but nod knowingly when in the section The Prince of Humbug, Elliott wrote,

In the early 1930s, the mercurial Colonel Jim Walton, whose flamboyant rhetoric and disregard for the truth would take the public in thrall, resurrected the Natchez Trace idea. 


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The Natchez Trace

Natchez Trace

Edith Wyatt Moore, Natchez historian and officer of the Natchez Trace Association, was recognized for her civic service January 2, 1935 in promoting the Natchez Trace.  Mrs. Moore presented at a congressional committee hearing regarding the development of the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Help us save and pave the Natchez-Nashville Trace.

Mrs. Moore penned a message “To the stranger within our gates” urging visitors to the city to “straightway advise your senators and congressmen that you endorse the passage of the Natchez-Trace Parkway bill, now pending in Congress” (Natchez Democrat, Mary. 31, 1935, p. 4).

The Natchez Trace was one of the most ancient and important Indian roads leading from the territory in Tennessee around Nashville, crossing the Tennessee river at Colbert Shoals below Muscle Shoals then passing through the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indian lands in what is now Mississippi, in a direct course by Jackson to Natchez. (“Natchez Trace” Bill Approved in Senate, Apr. 25, 1935)

In November 1935, the U.S. Senate approved the measure to construct the parkway, and in August 1937, President Roosevelt signed the bill providing $1,500,000 of federal monies for the construction of the parkway.  States and counties were to bear half of the cost.  The Natchez Trace Parkway extends through parts of 15 Mississippi counties.  The project was funded by New Deal agencies Civil Works Administration, Public Works Administration, and Works Progress Administration.  It is currently maintained by the National Park Service.

Historica Mississippi map

Biloxi Daily Herald, Feb. 16, 1937, p. 7.

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On the Bluff: The Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Depot

south east 2 (1)

In 1907, Brookhaven, Natchez, Vicksburg, and Grenada were all desirous of new depots to accommodate railway travelers on the Illinois Central/Yazoo & Mississippi lines.

Mr. W. L. Smith, of Memphis, general agent of the Illinois Central…stated that the depot matters at Brookhaven, Natchez, Vicksburg and Grenada are in process of adjustment, and satisfactory settlements will probably be reached. (Natchez Democrat, Jan. 10, 1907, p. 2)

Both the community of Natchez and the three railroads centering in Natchez were at odds over the building of the new depot.  The railroad commission order those three railroads to build a union depot (Weekly Clarion-Ledger, Apr. 23, 1908) “some time ago.”  The commission order had not been carried out, complaints were made, and the railroads involved were ordered to Jackson to explain why not.  The reasons for the opposition, by both railroads and some in Natchez, to building the depot was not clear in the item, and the issue was held over for continuance at the next monthly meeting, although I do not find any further follow-up reported in the news, until January 1909.

Depot west elevation

Construction  was “well under way”  with a “large force of men” at the corner of State and Canal streets by Mississippi Central railroad in January 1909, and  “handsome and commodious structure will be completed on contract time–five months from January 1 this year (Jackson Daily News, Jan. 20, 1909, p. 2).   G. B. Swift Company of Chicago was the contractor for the $40,000 depot, with heating plant and “other incidentals” bringing the total to $47,500.

Wait a minute–not so fast!  This depot is not at State and Canal…

For the past four years, Natchez has been trying to secure a brick or stone depot in keeping with the surroundings and “with the rapid growth of the city.”  A few months ago, there was a proposition for a union station, and this was fought hard on both sides for a time, the citizens themselves were divided on the question.  Now that the union depot idea has been abandoned, the request for a new depot for this particular road has been renewed, and a petition of great length has been presented to the commission, following much correspondence…(Natchez Democrat, Feb. 16, 1909, p. 2)

The railroad insisted they could not afford to put out money “except where absolutely necessary” and at the time were in the process of improving the railbed between Natchez and Jackson.

So, wha’ had happened was…

The original clamor was for a union station, which the depot was called when several railways shared the same location.  What station was constructed at State and Canal…and by whom?  In March, the Democrat reported “elaborate plans” were approved for a new Natchez depot for the Mississippi Central.  And, in March, the “tangle” was back in the news again.  Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad were ordered to construct a new passenger depot for Natchez, and to be completed by February 1, 1910.  The city wanted a modern depot, of brick or stone.  The railroad alleged the existing depot was adequate.  June 1909, the Railroad Commission suspended the order for Y & MV to build the Natchez Depot, at the request of the railway, since they had met with the citizens and agreed on terms to construct a new depot.  The structure was to be brick, and plans were underway to obtain an architect to draw plans (Natchez Democrat, Jun. 16, 1909).

The new depot opened April 6, 1910.  Much of the confusion around which news item was which depot and which railway was the use of all railways in the same items, and sometimes not distinguishing which depot was the one in reference.  The Mississippi Central depot was at State and Canal, and the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley depot was on Broadway, at the Bluff.  Passenger service to Natchez ceased after the end of World War II.





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Forks of the Road Historical Site

Forks of the Road former slave market

While the first black slaves were brought to the Natchez area by the French around 1720, it did not take long for the business of trading in the buying and selling of human beings to expand.  By 1810, more than 8,000 slaves lived in Adams County (Ronald L. F. Davis, 1993, The Black Experience in Natchez: 1720-1880).  The number had increased to 14,292 when the Civil War began.  One of the most notorious of the slave traders was Franklin & Armfield.  Armfield was located in Virginia and Franklin oversaw Natchez and New Orleans (Barnett & Burkett, The Forks of the Road Slave Market at Natchez, Mississippi History Now.  Barnett & Burkett quote J. H. Ingraham (1834) who described the market as “occupied a prominent knoll” and one building “straddling the city’s corporation line.”  The two black rectangles below show the approximate locations for where the wooden buildings were located that formed part of the enterprise in 1853, surrounded by a fence and gate. You can see the hand drawn map by a Civil Engineer in 1853 available at the Barnett & Burkett link above.


1886 Sanborn map of the Forks in the Road, courtesy National Archives.,-0.251,2.233,1.318,0

John Law and his Company of the West was in charge of “developing the lower Mississippi River Valley into a profitable component of the French empire in the New World” (Davis, 1993, The Black Experience in Natchez: 1720-1880).  Law’s company plan was to bring 3,000 African slaves to Louisiana to develop the plantation system along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Arkansas.  The plantations were intended for tobacco and indigo.  Other expectations of the plan were slaves would cut timber, build forts, work the river trading network, and “in times of war…provide the Company with an army of enslaved soldiers to be used against opposing Indians and European competitors.”  The French Code Noir  was developed to “systematize slave/master relations.”  By 1763, approximately 6,000 black slaves had been enslaved from Guinea and the French West Indies when France ceded Louisiana to the Spanish.

Although Armfield and Franklin, along with plenty of other ruthless traders in human lives, gained tremendous wealth through their practices (well documented now, and seeing the light of day alongside the “charming antebellum mansions” that profited from the immoral and unethical practice, the ‘trade’ collapsed with the occupancy of Natchez by the Union troops.  Not long after Reconstruction ended and Jim Crow began, the sordid history of this period was mothballed, or as Steven Hoelscher articulated it:

…the process of racialization as an essential aspect of how everyday geographies are made, understood, and challenged.  …a primary root of modern American race relations can be found in the southern past, especially in how that past was imagined, articulated, and performed during a crucial period: the post-Reconstruction era known as “Jim Crow.” (Making Place, Making Race: Performances of Whiteness in the Jim Crow South. 2003. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 93(3), 657-686)

Hoelscher defined the ‘white cultural memory’ that ‘relied on performance, ritualized choreographies of race and place, and gender and class’ that were exemplified in the Natchez Pilgrimage and its expression of ‘cultural hegemony based on white supremacy.’  In those ritualized expressions, the story of enslavement was a mere footnote, like their lives, relegated to an emotionless, speechless, passive role–like a walk-on cameo.

That is changing because of the activism initiated by Ser Seshs Ab Heter-C. M. Boxley, and others.  Boxley’s commitment is to “restoring humanity to his enslaved ancestors.”

This is the next battleground–that the true history goes up there and is not watered down.  We’re not concerned whose toes we step on.  This is sacred ground.  Right here is where all those inhumanities and contrasts operated.  They learn the physical history, but not the human history.  That history is omitted.  It’s not told; it’s not shown.  There’s a human story that has to be told.

 (Matt Volz, Struggling to tell a slave market’s history, Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2004.)

Shackles and chains


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