researched and written by Debie Oeser Cox
The First Shelby Park, 1892-1905
Edgefield Land Company
(Continued to be used informally as a private park until 1908)
The first Shelby Park was owned by the Edgefield Land Company. A charter was filed for Edgefield Land Company on March 14, 1890. The officers of the company were described as being from Kansas City, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis. The group purchased a large tract of land from Marie Crutcher, and her daughters Fannie Yandell and Bettie Maney. Known as the "Woodlands," the parcel contained 434 acres and sold for $95,000.
A plat was soon filed with the Davidson County Register of Deeds office, for Edgefield Land Company's First Subdivision and would be followed by two more subdivisions within a year. The new subdivision was bordered on the west by 15th Street and on the east by 20th, and ran south to north from Eastside to Lillian Street. In May, an auction was held to boost sales of lots. Edgefield Land Company promised to set aside land for a park. The company partnered with the United Electric Railway Company, to extend street lines, through East Nashville, out to 19th Street. The real estate company leased land to the railway company, so that a park could be established. The park, at the eastern edge of the new neighborhood was a token, to draw people to the outer reaches of the undeveloped area. Payment to the railway company, was in the form of cash, and undeveloped land. United Electric Railway filed a plan for their own subdivision. The new area was slowly growing and the park became a reality. Shelby Park was named for Dr. John Shelby, who once owned much of the land covered by the original Edgefield neighborhood, in lower East Nashville. Though often told as fact, Shelby never owned and where the park was located.
Formally opened in the summer of 1892, Shelby Park, was advertised as a cool respite from the summer heat and humidity. A clearing had been made at the edge of a wooded, shady area, for a place to for families to spend leisure time in the evenings. Wells had been drilled to supply water for visitors. On Saturdays and Sundays, the park was a place for picnics. Lots were sold and new homes built across the area and the popularity of the Shelby Park continued to grow. In the mornings mothers, brought their children to the park, where they could run at will and enjoy the fresh air of the country side. In the evenings, as the men returned home from their jobs in the hot city, families would often bring their supper to the park to picnic, and stay until dark.
By the summer of 1893, a band stand had been built and local musicians and bands would entertain on Sunday afternoons. It was estimated that 1500, to 2,000, people were gathering at the park on Sundays, many for organized Sunday School picnics.
Beginning in the spring and summer of 1894, the size of the park was increased. Entertainment acts were brought into the park. Nearly every Sunday, there was a balloon ascent, followed by a parachute drop. There were jugglers, acrobats, dancers, rope walkers, and musicians, every week. A huge tent was erected, with seating for 1,000 people and large stage for performers. A Cuban acrobatic, dancer named Cyrene, was engaged for two weeks and gave two performances each day. A switch back roller coaster was constructed and in operation by the first of July.
The park continued to be improved and by 1895 boasted of a Flying Jenny, swings, a ten pin bowling alley, a theater, a dance pavilion, a roller coaster, and ball throwing games of every description. Late in the summer of '95, the Edgefield Land Company made a proposal to the committee that was looking for a site on which to hold the Tennessee Centennial Celebration. "If your committee decide to locate at Shelby park, as an extra inducement to both your committee and also the city, if they should want to buy the 100 acres at $10,000, we will make the city a donation of fifty additional acres for park purposes." It was not to be of course.
When the summer began in June of 1896, the park was no longer the lively place it had been just the year before. It was reported that large crowds were taking the street cars out to the park and enjoying the shade and the park grounds. But the attractions that had brought so many people out, were gone and many people were now drawn to Glendale Park.
In August of 1896, a committee formed to plan a Labor Day celebration, selected Shelby Park as the site for the big day. There were complaints that park was too remote, and over grown with weeds. The complainers stated that, the park was "in bad repair and entirely without shelter if it should rain on Labor Day." Apparently the large tent was gone, along with the Flying Jenny. The committee won out however, and went to work preparing the park for the celebration. It was very successful and by noon on Labor Day about 2,500 people were at the park. A dance was held in a grove of shade trees and there a good breeze kept the heat at bay. By late afternoon, there more 6,000 attendees. Many brought picnic suppers, and others had a dinner of barbecue that prepared for the day.
Near the end of 1896, the United Electric Railway was reorganized under the name Nashville Railway. Edgefield Land Company filed suit to make certain that the contract terms they had made with United Electric would be carried out by the Nashville Railway. The land company wanted Nashville Railway to fulfill the obligation of United Electric to run a street car out to 20th Street, every thirty minutes, which had not been done since June. There were also several other suits brought against the railway company. In 1897, the Crutcher sisters, Fannie Crutcher Yandell and Bettie Crutcher Maney, filed suit against the Edgefield Land Company. This litigation put Shelby Park in limbo for the rest of 1896 and most of 1897. In 1898 the suit was settled in favor of the sisters, and Edgefield Land Company was order to settle with them, over the terms of for the park property, in the deed filed in 1890. Edgefield Land Company deeded to the sisters land in the subdivision to satisfy the debt owed to them.
In 1898, the park was cleaned up, and a new focus was brought to the park. It was still a choice location for company outings and Sunday School picnics, but the amusement attractions were gone.
A casino theater was built, near where the community center is now located. The casino, much like its counterpart at Glendale Park would serve as a theater, as shelter for large gatherings and as dance pavilion. Management arranged for a summer slate of theatrical shows, starting with the Peruchi-Beldeni Company. From theatrical productions, with some vaudeville and variety acts thrown in, the group was an absolute hit. A favorite among the crowds that gathered each night was the melodrama, Ten Nights in a Bar Room. The theater was at capacity for every performance and it was claimed that thousands were turned away. The 1899 season was a repeat of the year before, with performances by theatrical companies, orchestras and local musical bands. The balloon ascensions and picnics continued. The park prospered under the hand of manager Yeatman Alley. The debut, in the park, of the Warograph, Edison's moving picture machine, happened in June of 1899, and it remained a popular attraction throughout the summer.
With the new century, the park became a quiet place. There were no more weekly newspaper notices of events at the parks, or reports that thousands had taken the street cars out. Small groups still gathered for picnics and families came to enjoy the cooler air under the shade trees. The casino theater was shuttered. Manager Yeatman Alley had been employed to manage the casino at Glendale Park. In 1902 Edgefield Land Company, offered the park for sale to the City of Nashville. Once again, the city declined and the park remained in private hands.
In 1903 a petition of bankruptcy was filed by several plaintiffs, including Mrs. Yandell and Mrs. Maney, the original sellers of the land, against the Edgefield Land Company. The original suit filed in 1897, with the chancery court was revived, the Crutcher sisters once again asking for the debt owned to them by the land company to be paid. In 1905 the chancellor ruled that the park land owned by the land company must be placed in the hands of a trustee for the benefit of the Fannie Yandell and Bettie Maney. John W. Barr was appointed trustee. For some time, he leased the 150 acres of land to W. D. Moore. Moore used the former park land as a cattle range and to grow crops. He allowed neighborhood residents to have limited use of the park land.
In 1906, the park property was offered, once more, for sale to Nashville for use as a park. There was interest in the part of park board, but the city council did not support the plan.
In January of 1908, the park board appointed Major E. C. Lewis to investigate acquiring the property for the city. In April, an article appeared in the Nashville American, pointing out the assets of the park. The tract was near the city limits and easily accessible by street car. The river frontage was not available in any other park, and could be used for fishing, swimming and boating. The high points of the park were wooded and shady. The lower land could be developed for baseball, tennis and play grounds.
Finally in October of 1909, a deed was made, from trustee John W. Barr, to F. P. McWhirter, Chairman of the Board of Parks, for 151.4 acres of land, in return for $40,000.
This sale ended the private ownership of the first Shelby Park, and was the beginning of the creation of a new Shelby Park, owned by the citizens of Nashville.
Below are some of the news clippings and other items that aided me in putting together this history of the first Shelby Park.
|The Daily American, March 29, 1890|
Edgefield Land Co. 1st Addition, surveyed Apr. 25, 1890 by W. B. Ross. Plat book 57, page 130
|The Daily American, Sunday, July 24, 1892|
|The Daily American, June 18, 1893|
|The Daily American, Sept. 3. 1893|
|The Daily American, July 7, 1894|
|The Nashville American, July 5, 1895|
|The Nashville American, Aug. 17, 1895|
|The Nashville American, Sept. 8, 1896|
|The Nashville American, June 14, 1898|
|The Nashville American,, July 24, 1898|
|The Nashville American, July 22, 1898|
|Ten Nights in a Bar-Room|
|The Nashville American, August 20, 1899|
|The Nashville American,August 23, 1899|
|The Nashville American, May 21, 1899|
|The Nashville American,July 5, 1900|
|The Nashville American, August 21, 1903|
|The Nashville American,June 30, 1904|
|The Nashville American, July 16, 1905|
|The Nashville American, October 4, 1905|
|The Nashville American, August 19, 1906|
|The Nashville American, August 9, 1908|
|The Nashville American, August 9, 1908|
|The Nashville American, September 15, 1909|