Sunday, August 14, 2016

Louisville & Nashville Railroad Bridge

 Across the Cumberland River at Nashville

Railroad Bridge from 1st Avenue North, google view, 2016

The subject came up, in a facebook group, of bridges across the Cumberland River, at Nashville.  A good bit of information can be easily found on all of the auto and pedestrian bridges across the river.  I have devoted a couple of blog posts to those bridges in the past.  This post is a work in progress and will be updated if more documentation is found.

Curiosity about the railroad bridge at Nashville, set off on a search for information.  A quick google search brought up some very conflicting information, some from websites devoted to railroading and/or bridge history.  No easy answers on this one, so I decide to start at the beginning.

Stories of the first railroad bridge, built 1857-1859, can be found in multiple sources. Most every history book devoted to Nashville, makes mention of it.  Newspaper articles show that the bridge, built by the Louisville and Nashville railroad company,  was started in 1857, and was nearly completed in 1858. 

Daily Nashville Patriot, Aug. 10, 1859

For unexplained reasons work was halted, but picked up again in late 1859.  The bridge was opened for use at the end of October, 1859.  Major Wilbur Foster superintended the building of the bridge.

Nashville Union and American, Oct. 29, 1859
In the April 7, 1860 issue of Harper's Weekly, an engraving of the railroad bridge at Nashville was published.  The span was very impressive, with an extra pier out from the center, to accommodate the draw span, when it opened.  Two years later, Nashville was taken by Union Troops and occupied by the Federal Army for the remainder of the Civil War.  As the Confederates soldiers made a hasty retreat from Nashville, in February of 1862, they set fire to the pedestrian bridge and the railroad bridge. 

The first railroad bridge at Nashville, Harper's Weekly, 1860, The Lincoln Foundation Collection.

It was reported that the railroad bridge was not badly damaged. The Union Army quickly rebuilt the wooden railroad bridge.  There are several images of the bridge after it was repaired.  An engraving appeared in Harper's Weekly of the bridge.  It was pleasing to the eye, a covered bridge in part a center draw.

Harper's Weekly, 1864, Library of Congress

It looks as if the piers and the end sections are original.  The middle section of the bridge is different.  Both bridges were constructed so that the middle section could swing around sideways, to allow boats to pass.  In this photograph from 1864, the bridge has been fortified by the Union Army, to protect from an advancement by Confederate troops.

The second Railroad Bridge at Nashville, 1864, Library of Congress

The war time bridge served Nashville until 1867.  The Louisville & Nashville railroad began construction on a new bridge in early 1867. The bridge was erected on the same piers as the old bridge.  The wood was removed and replaced with the Fink iron truss.  Albert Fink, the inventor of the truss, was the General Superintendent of the Louisville & Nashville railroad and he oversaw the construction of the bridge.

Nashville Union and American, June, 21, 1867

 The bridge was completed in November, 1867. News accounts report that the bridge provided transport for more than train cars.  It apparently had been the habit of the residents of North Edgefield to use the bridge, to cross on foot, from one side of the river to the other.  A petition was presented to the railroad, asking that this practice be allowed to continue, with the opening of the new bridge.

The third railroad bridge at Nashville, Nashville Union and American, Nov. 8, 1867

After thirty years of service it was decided that a new bridge was needed to carry the increasing weight load.  Early in 1897, a notice appeared in a trade magazine. "It is understood that the Louisville & Nashville will soon begin the work of rebuilding the bridge over the Cumberland river at Nashville, Tenn., replacing the present structure with a steel truss bridge of two fixed spans and one draw span."  This would be the fourth railway bridge to cross the Cumberland at Nashville.

The Railway Age, volume 24, 1897

 A lengthy article appeared in the Nashville American, in late 1897 about the new bridge, outlining the reasons a new bridge was necessary.  The first was to increase the weight load that the structure could carry.  The weight of engines had greatly increased since the bridge was built and some cars were in excess of three times the weight of an average car in 1867. The second reason was to place a double track on the bridge.  Though only one train could be on the bridge at one time, there would be four rails, overlapping, to make bridge traffic move through more quickly and easily.

Nashville American, Nov. 14, 1897

The piers were reinforced to bear the weight of the new of the new steel structure. Granite used in the piers was taken from the Salem-Bedford quarries.  The Pennsylvania Steel Company was awarded the contract for building and placing the new steel superstructure.  The bridge was in use during the rebuilding.  J. L. Armstrong was the superintendent of the bridge project. The cost was about $60,000 and after the upgrades the bridge was appraised at around $300,000 dollars.

I found many mentions in print, of the bridge after 1897, but no evidence of another bridge ever being constructed.  In 1899, there was a warehouse fire near the East Nashville of the bridge.  The warehouse and train cars nearby were loaded with nitrate and there were many explosions, felt as far away as Gallatin.  The bridge caught fire and had to be repaired.

Nashville American, Nov. 26. 1899

I found sad stories.  The river was accessible near the bridge, as there had once been a wharf there.  It was a popular area for swimming and there drownings in the area of the bridge.

I found stories that could have been tragic but ended up being funny.  Once, in 1905, the draw was opened to allow a steam boat to pass.   The wind was up, and a sudden gust caught the draw span and spun it completely around, damaging the smokestack on the boat. The three men in the control tower jumped from the draw span onto the bridge as they went around. The headlines likened the draw span to a merry-go-round.

Nashville American, March 30, 1905

The Tennessean, Nov. 23, 1907

In a 1909 image of the Woodland Street bridge the railroad bridge can be seen in the background.

Tennessean, July 4, 1909

I found a story of remarkable loyalty, not uncommon among that generation of men.  Mr. Madison White, started working for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad on June 8, 1857, at the beginning of the construction of the railway bridge at Nashville.  In 1907, Mr. White was awarded a gold pin, in honor of 50 years of service to the railroad. When the news article was published in 1910, Mr. White, still working, had been with the railroad for 53 years.  Only one man had longer service and that was Major Geddes, assistant general manager of the L & N railroad.

Nashville Globe, Sept 9, 1910

 In 1921 the draw span was closed for a period of time, so that repairs could be made on the bridge.

The Tennessean, June 28, 1921

There were stories, and photos, of flood waters reaching high up on the piers, which were marked as a gauge, to measure the river's height.

Tennessean, Jan. 2, 1945

Is the current bridge, the same bridge that was built in 1897?  If you follow the timeline of the bridge, through 1897, the piers are the same as the ones built in 1859 for the first bridge, with some reinforcement and additional stone.  Each time a new bridge was built, it was stated that the old piers were used.  A new bridge was in erected in 1867 on those piers.  In 1897, the bridge was not entirely new, because trains passed over the structure during the rebuilding.  The bridge was widened to accommodate 4 rails and the wood was replaced. The1867 steel truss was removed and a new steel superstructure was built and placed on the bridge.  The cost of rebuilding was about 60,000 dollars and increased the value of the bridge to an estimated 300,000 dollars.

There are a couple of websites that contain information that the latest bridge was built in 1916.  I could find nothing in the newspapers, that indicated a bridge was built at Nashville over the Cumberland in 1916.  There is a photo of a stamped plate on the bridge, that says Fort Pitt Bridge Works, 1916.  Yet news stories from 1916 and 1919 refer to the bridge as old. Is the Fort Pitt steel plate, on this bridge? Is there any sort of documentation of a bridge in 1916 or anytime after the 1897 bridge? I hope someone will share some documentation with me.

 UPDATE, Aug. 18, 2016 - After additional research, I can find no source that the bridge was built in 1916. The date seems to be based on the photo of a plaque posted by Calvin Sneed. But that plaque is on a different bridge, adjacent to this one. The plaque is on the CSX, 1st Ave. North Overpass. The last documented bridge was built in 1897 and 1898. This image, from the Tennessean, Feb. 11, 1898, states that work on the bridge began on Oct. 6, 1897. The official completion date was  February 10, 1898.

Tennessean, Feb. 11, 1898

The references in the article make it clear that this is the bridge across the Cumberland from East Nashville to downtown Nashville. The blog contains further documentation on the bridge.

 If what has been discovered is correct, the CSX bridge that crosses the Cumberland river at Nashville is almost 120 years old.  And the piers, with new masonry added, may be much older, nearly 160 years old.  They don't build them like that anymore!

These two news articles from 1916 and 1919, inform readers that the bridge is an old one.
Tennessean, June 16, 1916

Tennessean, Feb. 9. 1919

UPDATE Aug. 18, 2016 - I found three articles that show that the current bridge was under construction, in 1931.  I believe the bridge was finished sometime in 1932, but have not yet discovered a date. Watch for updates.

The Tennessean, May 5, 1931

The Tennessean, July 31, 1931

The Tennessean, Oct. 9, 1931

CSX Railroad Bridge over the Cumberland at Nashville, 2010, MNA

Click for VIDEO, showing closing of draw span, railroad bridge over the Cumberland. Jeremy Fountain.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Methodist Publishing House South

This is a pictorial history of buildings occupied by the Methodist Publishing House.  Some were gone long before we can remember, others are very familiar.  Only the building at 810 Broadway and the current location in Metro Center are still in existence.

Nashville City and Business Directory, 1860-1861, front.

In May of 1854, Nashville was chosen to be the site of a publishing house, by the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church South.  In April of 1855, the building was opened to the public, "to survey the House and its operations." (Republican Banner, April 14, 1855.)  In February of 1872 a fire caused considerable damage to the publishing house building.

Nashville City and Business Directory, 1860-1861, rear.

It was soon decided to erect a new building to replace the fire damaged structure.  The architect was John L. Smith.  The building of cut stone, was to have four stories at the front.  The business offices and storefront were to be located on the first floor and the remaining floors were rented, before construction began.  At the rear of the building, on the river bank, would be three basement floors. The new building was completed and occupied by the end of January, 1973.
Republican Banner, May 21, 1872

Methodist Publishing House ca 1874, TSLA

Note the difference in color of the new building in the photo above and of same building about 20 years later.  Coal soot and smoke caused all of the downtown building to turn gray with a few years after the were built.

Methodist Publishing House, Public Square, east side, ca 1890. TSLA

Hopkins Atlas of Nashville, 1908

The 1908 atlas, above, shows the location of the publishing house, in regard to the court house.  By the time the map was published,  the publishing house had moved from the square, and the building had been sold to P. A. Shelton.  The building with the number 170 and P. A. Shelton printed across, was built for the publishing house in 1872-73.  

In early 1905, plans for a new publishing house were submitted to the building inspector of Nashville and a building permit was issued.  In October of 1906, the business had moved from the old location, on the public square, to the new building on Broadway at Ninth Ave. North.

Advertisement 1930, Nashville Then and Now, 1780-1930

United Methodist Publishing House, 810 Broadway, ca 1937. UMPH history.
In 1957, Methodist Publishing House left the building on Broadway for the move to 8th Ave. So.  The building on Broadway was sold in July of 1957, to the University of Tennessee, for $450,000. 

Methodist Publishing House building as it looks today, 810 Broadway,

Methodist Publishing House, 210 8th Ave, So., The Tennessean, Sept. 30, 1057

In January of 1955 Methodist Publishing House announced plans for a new administration building at 8th and Demonbreun.  The new building would be adjacent to the printing plant, located on Demonbreun Street.  In late September of 1957, the move from 810 Broadway to the building at 8th and Demonbreun (210 8th Ave, So.) had been completed and the new building was opened to the public for inspection.

Methodist Publishing House, 8th and Demonbreun, 2015, By Michael Rivera (Own work)

In July 2014, the Methodist Publishing House, purchased property in Metro Center, on Rosa Parks Blvd. The 125,000 square foot building, was completely renovated and the publishing house moved into the new headquarters in July of 2015.

The current home of the Methodist Publishing House, Metro Center, 2016, google images  

May, 1854, Nashville was chosen to be the site of a publishing house, by the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church South.  

April, 1855, the building was completed, occupied and opened to the public, for inspection.

February, 1872, a fire caused considerable damage to the publishing house building.

May, 1872, plans submitted for new publishing house building to be erected.

January, 1873, new publishing house building competed and occupied.

In early 1905, plans for a new publishing house were submitted to the building inspector of Nashville.

October, 1906, the publishing house moved to the new building on Broadway.

January, 1955. Plans announced for new building, at 8th and Demonbreun. 

July, 1957, Broadway building sold to the University of Tennessee.

July 2014, property was purchased on Rosa Parks Blvd, for new administrative offices.

July, 2015, the publishing house moved into the newly renovated building in Metro Center.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Nashville Polar Bears

Polar Bear Plaza, Mutual Contractors, LLC

The Nashville Polar Bears have often been the subject of curious conversation and local news articles.  In the day of social media, questions and stories about the bears turn up on Facebook pages about Nashville's past. 

The bears origin is traced to the shop of Giovacchino Mattei, once located at 4th Avenue and Elm Street.  Mattei, born in Coreglia, Italy in 1889, came to the United States in 1906 and first lived in Louisville, Ky. He joined other members of his family, already living in Louisville.  The Mattei family operated a company that made plaster figurines for home decoration, in Louisville and supplied large departments stores. The Mattei family had been in the plaster relief business for many generations.

I began collecting news articles about the bears, in the late 1980's after I became a volunteer at Metro Nashville Archives.  The first news clipping that stirred my interest in the bears was an old clipping in a file at the archives.  It was a photo of the two of the bears in front of a frozen custard shop, on West End Avenue. 

Polar Bears 1932, Metro Archives Clippings - Unknown Newspaper

The caption reads, "Frozen custard is the stock in trade of the establishment which the two cement polar bears above are tossing imitation snowballs over.  The plant, located on West End Avenue opposite Centennial Park, is one of two established here within the last year, the other being located on the Gallatin Road." 

The West End store was the first to open, in May of 1931.
The Tennessean, May 2, 1931

The Gallatin Road shop opened soon after, in June of 1931.  It was located at the corner of Gallatin Road and Calvin Avenue. 

The Tennessean, June 6, 1931

An ad in the Tennessean, shows the menu and prices in Oct. of 1932.

The Great Depression was not kind to the frozen custard business in Nashville.  The stores were  closed at some point, but both reopened in April of 1933 as George's Place, advertising Polar Bear frozen custard, at both locations.

The Tennessean, April 6, 1933.

 Another ad appeared in late June, advertising frozen custard by the quart and pint.

The Tennessean, June 29, 1933

The unknown George of George's Place apparently didn't last long.  In 1935, the address on Gallatin Road was listed in the city directory as vacant and the West End address listed a gas station.

Not many mentions of the polar bears from 1933 forward, searching through newspaper, directories, and files at the archives.  There was a photo of one of the bears at the South Street location a November 1950 article about cold weather. 

In 1973, one of Edgehill Polar Bears was featured on the album cover of Louden Wainwright, III's, Attempted Mustache, recorded in Nashville.

Attempted Mustache

In 1987, Tennessean staff writer, Lacrisha Butler, tracked down all four bears. That seems to be the first effort to find out where the bears came from, and where they ended up.  Butler knew that two of the bears were located on the front lawn, at 1408 Edgehill Avenue.  The house had previously been the home of Reverend Zema Hill, a Nashville minister and funeral director.  Butler talked to Rev. Hill's son, who said his father bought four bears in the early 40's.  Two were placed at Rev. Hill's home on Edgehill.  The other two were placed in front of his funeral home business, at 1306 South Street.  The funeral home was sold to Patton Brothers in 1952 and the bears out front soon disappeared. 

Butler discovered two more bears in the Germantown neighborhood bordered by Jefferson Street. She and the new owners of those bears believed they were the missing bears from the funeral home on South Street. Michael Emrick and Phil Rush, who were neighbors in the 1200 block of 6th Avenue North, had recently bought the bears. Both men planned to display the bears in front of their homes.  

Polar Bear in side yard of the Emrick home, 2015, Metro Tax Assessor

In 2002, the Edgehill bears were offered for sale.  MDHA bought the bears and placed them in storage. In April of 2003, the Nashville City Paper, announced that the Edgehill bears were going to be permanently placed at the corner of 12th Avenue South and Edgehill, on property belonging to MDHA. In August of 2005, a celebratory unveiling of the bears took place, in the new Polar Bear Plaza. The Plaza was constructed by Mutual Contractors, LLC.

Edgehill Bears at Polar Bear Plaza, Mutual Contractors, LLC

In 2015 one of the Germantown Bears was in the front yard of the Emrick house on 6th Avenue North, near Monell's Restaurant.  I don't know the current location of the Germantown Bear owned by Phil Rush. In 2016, the Edgehill Bears seem to be safe in their little park at 12th Avenue South and Edgehill Avenue.

It has been pointed out by a reader that there are polar bear statues in Memphis. A google search of frozen custard polar bears, finds them in many spots around the USA.  Many of the images show bears identical to the Nashville bears.  Polar Bear Custard was sold all over the country and many of the shops had polar bears as decoration. From the images that I have seen, many of these "out of town" bears are identical to the Nashville polar bears. Giovacchino Mattei, may have used his molds to make and ship polar all over the country.  The website Roadside Architecture has many photos of the polar bear statues, in Nashville, Memphis and other locations. 

Mutual Contractors, LLC
Polar Bears Provide Taste of Artic, Amber North, The Tennessean, August 4, 2005
Edgehill Bears Find New Home, Nashville City Paper, April 10, 2003 
Nashville's Four Polar Bears, Gail Kerr, The Tennessean, January 17, 2001
2nd Pair of Polar Bears Reappears, Lacrisha Butler, The Tennessean, January 4, 1987
Nashville Civic Design Center Report, page 39.
The Encyclopedia of Louisville - Mattei family
Other polar bears:
Roadside Architecture
Historic Indianapolis
Memphis Landmarks
Washington, DC. Beck's Frozen Custard
Wichita, Kansas