I wrote this article for a local newspaper, "The Nashville Retrospect." It was published in the September 2011 issue. The following is the final draft of the story and may differ from the published article. - Debie Cox
by Debie Oeser Cox
Riverside Drive is familiar to all who live on the east side of Nashville but unknown to many who reside in other parts of Davidson County. The wide boulevard seems almost out of place, meandering about three miles, through a mostly residential section from Shelby Park in East Nashville to the Inglewood community, where it merges with Greenfield Avenue.
A decision to research the story of Riverside Drive, came after reading the following embellished description in a book titled, All About Nashville, published in 1912, and written by Ida Clyde Clarke.
"Riverside Drive, a boulevard extending from Belle Meade, five miles west, to the National Cemetery, six miles north, is one of the most beautiful drives in the world. The Harding Road, from Belle Meade to the city, is an already notable and popular highway of great beauty. This leads direct to the great Broadway Bridge, on the east side of which the new boulevard extends up the river to Shelby Park, thence through a fine section of the country to Inglewood, one of the handsomest residence subdivisions in the environs of Nashville, through the center of which it passes to the Gallatin Pike and thence to the National Cemetery."
As an historical researcher, and an employee of Metro Nashville Government Archives, I had at hand a wealth of historical records in which to begin my search. Metro Archives is the repository for historical government records of Davidson County and the old City of Nashville and also houses, published material and a large newspaper clipping collection. I found resources such as the Davidson County Board of Parks minute books, Quarterly Court minutes, subdivision and road plats filed with the Register of Deeds, and historical newspaper accounts of city and county business.
An idea for building the road may have resulted from a combination of two different plans for a National Cemetery Road in the county. A 1904 editorial in a local newspaper complained about the lack of a Riverside Drive in Davidson County. A suggested route would begin at Shelby Avenue, run south to the river, then going east, follow the river bank to a point opposite the National Cemetery on Gallatin Pike. The route would then turn west and continue to the cemetery entrance. Also in 1904, Davidson County petitioned the United State Congress to provide funds to turn Gallatin Pike into a National Cemetery Boulevard from the beginning of Gallatin Pike (now Main Street) near the river in East Nashville out to the National Cemetery. Neither plan was successful. Several early 20th century maps give two names for the roadway, Riverside Drive and National Cemetery Boulevard. The road, when constructed, passed through farmland, with large tracts on the west, and undeveloped countryside to the east. Riverside Drive provided access to this farmland, raising the value of the property and allowing for subdividing the properties into residential developments.
The construction of Riverside Drive by Davidson County, coincided with the purchase by the Board of Parks of what had been a private amusement park called Shelby Park. A lawsuit against Edgefield Land Company resulted in an award of a 151 acre tract to the complainant. This 151 acre tract became the first acquisition by the Board of Parks for Shelby Park. There was a push to rename the park, with the popular choice being Riverside. The Board of Parks decided to retain the original name. Perhaps naming the planned boulevard Riverside, which would run along the river from the vicinity of the Shelby Avenue Bridge and through the park, was to placate those who favored that name for the park.
Subdivision plats filed in 1910 show sections of Riverside Drive. One plat, of Sharpe and Horn's 6th Addition, surveyed May 19th 1910, had the road name as "Boulevard from New Bridge to National Cemetery." A survey plan of the roadway filed, in 1911, with the Davidson County Register of Deeds, calls the road "Riverside Drive, Extended from Shelby Park to Gallatin Pike." The new 80 foot wide road was to begin on the Rufus Fort farm, near the Cumberland River, east of the Shelby Park and run out into Inglewood and over to Gallatin Pike. The original plan, calling for the road to run through Kirkland Avenue, was soon altered, with the road merging into the existing Greenfield Avenue. The plan called for two driving lanes, each 20 feet wide, with a center grass plot, also 20 feet wide. On each side of the roadway was to be a 10 foot walkway for a total width of 80 feet. The cost of grading and paving the road was estimated to be $20,000. Workhouse inmates provided the labor under the supervision of George Hobson. The November, 1912 issue of Municipal Journal, reported that about 3 miles of the roadway had been macadamized and that the project should be completed within 5 or 6 months. The road from Shelby Park to its merger with Greenfield is about 3 miles so it is probable that the county project also included that part of the drive that ran through the park. There was about five miles of roads through the park, including an entrance at 19th and Lillian Streets. The park section began at Pugsley's Branch, at the end of what is now Davidson Street. The drive ran along the river to Sycamore Lodge before turning up the hill, and winding around towards the railroad underpass, to the beginning of the county section of the road. A rock quarry located in the park was used to supply crushed stone to pave the roadways. At the time the road was built a railroad was also being built between the park and the new road. The section of the railroad where the underpass is located was on Dr. Rufus E. Fort's farm. The Board of Parks worked with Dr. Fort and the railroad company so that the underpass could be built to connect the park road with continuance of Riverside Drive.
The 1910 census for Davidson County, lists the families owning property and living in the vicinity where the county section of the road would soon be built. Dr. Fort, previously mentioned, owned a large estate, which he called Fortland, east of Shelby Park. Robert M. Dudley was a hardware merchant in Nashville and he lived on Rosebank Avenue, a little east of the new road. He was president of the Pioneer Water Company, which sold bottled water from Pioneer Springs. The location of the springs today would be along the east side of Riverside Drive, just north of Rosebank Avenue. The Gasser family and the Neiderhausers, immigrants from Switzerland, operated dairy farms in the neighborhood. Dr. G. N. Tillman lived on Porter Road and his property backed up to the new drive. Others impacted by the boulevard were the Ashworth, Handley, Waters, Shinkle, and Turney families.
Another section of Riverside Drive was to be constructed by the City of Nashville, along the river from the new bridge to the edge of the park. The area, which was along today's Davidson Street, was undeveloped and then known as Shelby Bottoms. It was not until the summer of 1914, that Mayor Hilary Howse announced that the city would begin construction. Mayor Howse suggested leaving the Sparkman Street Bridge approach and traveling along South First Street to the river and on to the park. One of the Aldermen thought a better route would be from the bridge, down Shelby Avenue, then out South Fifth to the river. Murrey's 1925 Atlas of Nashville shows Riverside Drive beginning at Crutcher Street at South Seventh Street. The street then runs along the river to Shelby Park. A deed from J.P. Meredith to the City of Nashville filed July 27, 1914, describes the road to begin at Shelby Park and continue along the river and connecting with Crutcher Street 130 feet west of South Seventh Street. Park Board Minutes, from May of 1914, also give the route from Crutcher to the park entrance. The name Riverside for this portion of the road was short lived and was soon changed to Davidson.
In the spring of 1930 and succeeding years, American Legion Post #5, successfully petitioned county highway commission asking that the median strip be cleared of weeds and stumps and for permission to plant poppies, irises and trees in the median of the drive. In the winter of 1932, Dr. Rufus E. Fort asked, and was granted, permission by the commission to beautify the plot between the two lanes, in front of his property. In May of 1938 the Nashville Iris Association bulletin announced tours of public plantings of irises at the Municipal Iris Gardens in Shelby Park and of Riverside Drive.
In May of 1959, garden clubs in the Inglewood area erected a plaque on Riverside Drive, dedicating the roadway to American servicemen who fought in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. The effort to plant flowers and trees along the double drive was started anew and for many years, Nashville residents enjoyed the beauty of the Riverside Drive. A plaque in the median of the drive read:
DEDICATED TO OUR AMERICAN SERVICEMEN
WHO FOUGHT IN WORLD WARS I & II
AND THE KOREAN WAR
RELANDSCAPED AND REDEDICATED
MAY 30, 1959
CLUBS OF INGLEWOOD
Today, Anthony Viglietti, an Inglewood resident, is leading a community project to restore Riverside Drive to the beautiful boulevard it once was. Mr. Viglietti and volunteers from the community have planted Cherry trees along the median and plan to plant poppies and irises in the future. The memorial plaque was damaged by a hit and run driver recently. Through the efforts of Mr. Viglietti the plaque has been repaired and will soon be rededicated.
Note – The Shelby Avenue Bridge has also been called the Broad Street Bridge, the Sparkman Street Bridge and the McGavock Street Bridge and may be referred to by any or all of those names in this article.