Thursday, August 17, 2017

Gee's Tavern, Davidson County, Tennessee

written by Debie Oeser Cox
research by Debie Oeser Cox and Ronnie W. Ragan

The words ordinary, tavern, and inn were interchangeable, in describing a place where a traveler could find food, drink and board in the 19th century. In Davidson County, taverns were licensed by the County Court beginning in 1784.  The court set fees for food, drink, and bed and for the boarding and feeding of horses. A drink of hard liquor, wine or ale, could be had.  A home cooked meal was served several times a day. If needed, a bed would be available for the night.  Locals also visited for a glass of beer, or something stronger, after a hard day of work.  A tavern was a gathering place for neighbors to exchange area news and a place of entertainment. Political rallies were held by candidates of the region. Dances were held there and traveling and local musicians often played in the taverns.  

Foster's map, 1871, showing the Gee family locations in relation to Old Hickory Blvd. (OHB)

One of the better known taverns in northern Davidson County was Gee's Tavern.  In January of 1838, George W. Sevier sold "the well known tavern and farm" known as White Hall, to brothers, Joseph C. Gee and Samuel M. Gee.  

The Tennessean, January 8, 1838

The purchase was a tract of 179 acres on the road between Nashville and Gallatin, about eight miles from Nashville. In 1839 Joseph C. Gee purchased an additional 120 acres of land along the south side of Dry Creek. Joseph C. Gee and his wife Sarah and Samuel M. Gee and his wife Hannah lived on the farm and together managed the tavern.  

No image of Gee's Tavern has been found. It has been described as a wooden structure, on the west side of Gallatin Pike, near the place where the railroad crossed the road. It likely was clapboard but part of it may have been log. It was probably two stories with a cellar.  Many of the old stage coach taverns had a long covered front porch and often back porches as well. The tavern had enough furniture to sleep more than thirty people. There were tables, chairs and plates, enough to accommodate fifty.  The architecture may have been similar to the home of John Maxey, a near neighbor.

Dr. John Maxey home, Gallatin Pike, Davidson County, Tennessee

The road on which the tavern was located was the route of three stagecoach lines coming from Kentucky to Nashville. One line from Louisville came into Goodlettsville and then crossed over about where two mile pike is now located to the road from Gallatin.  The other two lines, from Franklin and Lexington Kentucky, merged at Harrodsburg and came through Gallatin on toward Nashville. This same road would have been the route traveled by those on horseback, on in wagons, from Kentucky to Nashville in the early 19th century. Some visitors stopped only for a meal and to rest and water their horses.  In November of 1838 Joseph C. Gee was appointed as one of the Directors of the Gallatin Turnpike Company.  In 1839 the Gallatin Turnpike opened between  Nashville and Gallatin, bringing more guests to the Gee Tavern.

Republican Banner, November 1, 1838

Joseph C. Gee was one of seven brothers, all born in Virginia.  They were sons of Joshua Gee and Rosa Porter of Madison County, Virginia. Joshua came to Davidson County in the 1830's and bought a farm in Neely's Bend. Six of the brothers moved to Tennessee at different times during the 1830's.  Other than Joseph C. and Samuel M., the others who came were, William W., Norville P., John P., and Smith H. Gee. 

In 1839, William W. Gee, a carpenter died in Nashville, leaving his wife Mary and five children. The oldest was seven.  Soon afterward, Mary died.  The children went to the country to live with their uncle Joseph at Gee's Tavern.  Joseph and Sarah may have lived with the children, in a separate house on the tavern property. Descriptions of the property indicate that there was a two story dwelling on the property as well as the tavern.  In 1840, Samuel Gee died, leaving his interest in the tavern property to his widow, Hannah.  In 1846, Joseph C. Gee purchased the interest of Hannah Gee, widow of Samuel M. Gee, in the White Hall tract.  There would be legal conflict between Joseph Gee for many years with Hannah. 

The community in which the tavern was located was known as Pleasant Hill, from at least the 1840's through the 1860's, and there was a post office and a private academy, of that name.  Joseph C. Gee was postmaster at Pleasant Hill for a time. The post office may have been located in Gee's Tavern.

October 1856

On October 20, 1847, Joseph Gee died. Having no children, he left his estate to his widow Sarah A. B. (Newman) Gee.  The inventory filed by Sarah, on March 24, 1848, of Joseph's estate, is typical of an inn keeper.  In part, Gee's belongings, at his death, consisted of seventeen bedsteads and seventeen set of beds & clothing. Bedsteads refer to the bed, beds to the mattresses, and clothing to the bed linens. There were ninety pictures and frames, ten maps, and two hundred and forty volumes of books. For dining there were four dozen plates, two dozen cups and saucers, one dozen cups and plates, eight tables and four dozen chairs.  In the sitting areas there were a lounge and three settees, a bureau, a Jackson Press, and a sugar chest. Gee's stock included sheep, hogs, cattle and horses.  He had an estimated five hundred barrels of corn on hand. Three hundred acres of land and eight hundred dollars in cash was listed in the inventory.  Gee actually owned about four hundred acres.  Listed in the inventory were ten slaves, Bob, Andrew, Lewis, John, Dink, Tom, Lydia, Courtney, Charlotte and Mary. The inventory was not complete.  No kitchen items or personal items were included. 

After the death of Joseph, Sarah continued to operate Gee's Tavern.  In 1850, Sarah and her late husband's brother Smith H. Gee were living in adjacent households, and he was likely assisting Sarah in running the tavern. She was busy raising the children of her late brother in law and surely needed help with the tavern. 

In January of 1856 Mrs. Gee's Tavern, along with most of the contents, burned. At that time, her late husband's brother Norville P. Gee was in charge of the tavern. Shortly after the fire Norville Gee took charge of another tavern a half mile closer to the city. It was just south of the Maxey place, which was located on the east side of Gallatin Pike at what is now Anderson Lane.

Daily Nashville Patriot, January 17, 1856

By August of 1858, Sarah Gee had rebuilt her tavern and offered it, along with 410 acres for sale.  She offered for sale, her farm of 410 acres, on the Gallatin Turnpike, 8 and ½ miles from Nashville.  The advertisement stated that 320 acres were on the west side of the road and 90 acres on the east side of the road and included, "the stand well known as Gee's Tavern, which lies at the intersection of the turnpike and railroad." 

Republican August 22, 1858

In September of 1859, Sarah A. B. Gee entered into an agreement with M. W. Wetmore and others to sell her property, but the deal apparently fell through. And then Sarah seemed to disappear.  She is not found in the 1860 census. Norville P. Gee's location in the 1860 census records indicate he is living back at the old tavern. There is a source that states that Gee's Tavern was burned by Union soldiers during the Civil War. In the late 1860's Norville Gee and his family bought land from the Scruggs family.  Theopolus Scruggs had a tavern near what is now the intersection of Old Hickory Boulevard and Gallatin Pike. Norville may have bought Scruggs old tavern but in 1870 he is listed as a farmer.

In 1867, Sarah had returned to the area and she filed a lawsuit against Thomas Bransford and others.  As a result of the case, an auction sale was advertised by the Clerk and Master of Chancery Court, of Sarah's property. It has not been determine if any of the property was sold at auction. The ads do not mention the tavern.  The ad does say there is a "commodious two story residence on the property. In 1868, Sarah sold the parcel on the east side of Gallatin Pike, which adjoined the Maxey property to her nephew Reuben Faulconer.  

 In 1871, she sold several other parcels.  Sarah died in Davidson County in May of 1874 and left all of her remaining property to Reuben Faulconer.

By the time of Sarah's death the old tavern's along the turnpikes leading into Nashville were gone. Trains took the place of stage coaches as a means of transportation.  After the American  Civil War, there was no longer much need for rural taverns.  The community of Pleasant Hill was gone.  Nearby was Sunny Point and Edgefield Junction.

1876 Gazetteer of Tennessee, Sunny Point was actually about 8 miles from Nashville

1876 Gazetteer of Tennessee, Edgefield Junction was actually about 9 miles from Nashville

There will be an additional post added soon about the Gee family.

Dedicated to the memory of George W. Massey, who passed away on May 6, 2017.  Though we never met in person, George was a facebook friend and a fellow history buff. We are grateful that he shared so many memories of the Madison area with us. 


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Grand Central Market, Northeast Nashville

I saw a notice this morning that the Piggly Wiggly Store at 921 North First along with the adjacent lots at 917 and 907 has been sold to developers by owners Gallatin Food Valu. I know they call it Dickerson now, but I am old and sticking with what I know.

921 North First Street, Metro Nashville Assessor, ca 2016

Those who lived in the neighborhood in the 1940's and 50's remember the store as Grand Central Market.  Bertie C. Webb, was a local real estate developer He purchased the three parcels now numbered 907, 917 and 921, separately between in 1939 and 1946. Webb had been in the grocery business since he moved to Nashville as a young man  Soon after buying the first lot, Webb opened Grand Central Fruit Market, managed by John Dorris.  After he bought the third tract in 1946, Webb built a new fully stocked grocery store and kept the Grand Central name. John Dorris continued as manager.  Grand Central Food Market was a traditional neighborhood grocery on a larger scale. Groceries were sold for cash or credit. It was said to have the first self serve meat counter in a Nashville grocery store. Mr. Webb entered into a partnership with his son James Webb and together they developed a grocery store chain that at one time owned 20 stores. In the mid 1960's Webb sold the Grand Central Market to Jerry Rittenberry. It was renamed as Jerry's Bi-Rite.

Old Grand Central Market building, 921 North First Street, Metro Nashville Assessor, ca 1980

  There has been a grocery store in the building for over 70 years. Mr. Webb died in 1973, at his home at 912 Joseph Avenue in Northeast Nashville, very near the old Grand Central location. At his death Mr. Webb and his family still owned much of the real estate purchased by him and other family members, over the years.  In 1992, Webb family descendants incorporated as Gallatin Food Valu.  The Grand Central, North First Street property was  quit claimed by the Webb family, to the new business.

An interesting note about this self contained neighborhood in 1947, where one could find most anything one needed, close to home.  On North First Street from Hancock to Evanston, there were four gas stations, four restaurants, three groceries, a dry cleaner, a barber, a drug store, and Last Chance Liquors (still going in 2017).  Many of the other lots along those blocks contained residences in 1947.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Frank Sutton, East Nashville.

Frank Spencer Sutton, better known to most as Sergeant Carter, from the Gomer Pyle televisions series, lived in and did most of his growing up in East Nashville.   

Stock photo, 1965

Sutton was born in Clarksville TN on October 23, 1923, to Frank Sims Sutton and Thelma Spencer Sutton.  Sutton's father worked for a local newspaper in Clarksville.  In a 1968 interview with Tennessean Staff Writer Jim Andrews, Frank Sutton said that because of his father's bad temper, the family moved around a lot, when he was a small child.  His father didn't stay with a job very long, moving his family to Evansville, Ind., Elkton, Ky., Paris Tn. and finally to Nashville in the mid-1930's. His father had taken a job at the Tennessean as a linotype operator. They moved into an apartment house at 940 Russell Street.  The family attended Tulip Street Methodist Church.  Frank became an active member and acted as the scribe of Boy Scout Troop 34, which met at the Tulip Street Church. He very likely attended Warner School, located a few blocks from the family's home.  

The Tennessean, September 30, 1984

In the fall of 1937, Frank entered the 8th grade at the brand new East Nashville Junior High School.  It was at East Junior where Frank caught the acting bug.  In an interview about his teen years in Nashville, Sutton recalled that his first role was at East Junior in the play, Romance in a Boarding House. In March of 1938, Frank's father died suddenly. Frank and his mother continued to live at 940 Russell Street.  His mother went to work at The Tennessean as a proofreader. 

Public high schools in Nashville started with the 10th grade back in those days. Frank was a sophomore at the beginning of the school year in the fall of 1939 when he entered East High School. He tried out for the football team and was injured in the first scrimmage of the season.  In November he was back in the game and it was reported in the newspaper, that he "gave a commendable performance."    Frank joined the Spanish Club.

Spanish Club, East Nashville High School, Frank Sutton front row, 4th from left side.

By the middle of his sophomore year, Frank was involved with the drama club at East High.  He landed a role in the play, The Life of Mary Kellar.  He also appeared in the East High production of, The Valiant.

The Tennessean, September 14, 1939
In the fall of 1940, Frank, now a high school junior, became a member of the Delta chapter of Phi Alpha Pi, a high school fraternity.  Though frowned on by administrators, high school fraternities and sororities were very popular in the 1930's and 40's.  The fraternity held a winter banquet and dance for members at the Hermitage Hotel.  Frank Sutton attended with his date, Miss Amelia Whitsitt of East Nashville.  In December Frank had a role in, You Can't Take It With You. The play was presented by the drama club under the direction of Miss Carolyn Binkley. In the spring semester, Frank began acting with the Community Playhouse, appearing in The Pursuit of Happiness and Toad of Toad Hall. In June just after the end of the school year, Frank was cast in a play called Male Animal.  Another cast member was Miss Ophelia Colley, who would later marry Henry Cannon and become known the world over as Minnie Pearl.

The Tennessean, December 6, 1940

During the summer of 1941, Frank and his mother left the apartment at 940 Russell Street, where they had lived for seven years. Frank lived on Russell Street for a longer time than he had lived anywhere in his young life.  The Suttons took an apartment in a building at 101 19th Avenue South, the corner of 19th and West End. Frank began his senior year of high school at Peabody Demonstration School.  Frank continued his acting career starring a number of plays with the Children's Theater and the Community Playhouse, as well as the Peabody Players.  Some of his fellow cast members during his senior year were Bettie Page, who would become known as the "Queen of Pinups," and Delbert Mann, who would become a widely known, stage, television, and movie director and producer.  Frank was a member of the yearbook staff and co-editor of the Volunteer, the student newspaper at Peabody Demonstration School.  

Frank graduated from Peabody Demonstration School in the spring of 1942.  He continued to act in local theater.  He had a radio show on Saturday mornings on WSIX, where he played multiple roles of the announcer, Philip the Frog, The Wise Old Owl, Miss Forsynthia, and Teaberry.  In a 1964 interview Frank said that after graduation from high school, he briefly went to work for Neuhoff Packing Company. He said that he also worked for a short time as a radio announcer in Clarksville.
Sutton had tried to join both the Marines and the Navy.  They turned him down because he was color blind.  In March of 1943, Frank was inducted into the Army, where he served in the Signal Corp.  A website called army together we served, gave details of his service.  

"He was assigned to a Joint Assault Signal Company (JASCO), composed of Army and Navy men. Within 18 months he took part in 14 landings in the Pacific, including Leyte, Luzon, Bataan and Corregidor. When the war ended, he was sent to join the occupation forces in Korea, where he wrote, directed and produced ''The Military Government Hour,'' a radio propaganda program."

Sergeant Frank Sutton returned to Nashville on his discharge from the Army in January of 1946.  He jumped back on the stage his first month home. He was cast as Nick, in The Time of Your Life. The play opened on February 4, at the Community Playhouse, after a couple of weeks of rehearsal. From January until September Frank continued to act, and design and build sets for community playhouse.  In the fall of 1946, Frank enrolled at Columbia University to study dramatics and speech.  He came home for the summer of 1947 and once again took to the stage with Community Playhouse in a summer production of, Love for Love.  Frank returned to Columbia University in New York in the fall.  Frank spent the summers of 1948 and 1949 with John Kenley's Deer Lake Theater Company. It was also in 1948 that Frank played his first role in television.  In August of 1949, he was married to Toby Igler. The couple met at Columbia University.

Frank returned to the stage in Nashville, in December of 1949.  John Kenley's Deer Lake Theater Company brought to the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, a production of The Barrett's of Wimpole Street. Frank played the role of Dr. Chambers.

The Leaf-Chronicle, October 27, 2015

In October of 1950, Frank landed a role in the Nash Airflyte Theater television production of, O. Henry. The show was broadcast from New York on the CBS network. Frank and Toby lived in New York and he continued to act on the stage and in television.  In 1955 Frank was cast, by his friend and former Nashvillian Delbert Mann, in the Academy-Award winning movie, Marty. Frank played many television and movie roles, including a long run in 1959, in a soap opera, The Secret Storm.  In 1961, he was in a leading role in the movie, Town Without Pity. In 1964, Frank and family moved to Hollywood, where he was to have a supporting role in a new television show, Gomer Pyle, USMC, starring Jim Nabors.  Frank took the character of Sergeant Vince Carter and made it his own.  Sergeant Carter's role in the show moved from being supportive to being a starring role, equal to Nabors.

Frank Sutton spent his life as an actor, beginning his career on the stage at East Nashville Junior High and continuing on Broadway, in Hollywood, and around the world.  Frank died of a heart attack, on June 28, 1974, in Shreveport, Louisiana, at the Beverly Barn Theater.  He was just moments away from going on stage. Earlier in the week, he had told a co-star, that "if an actor has to die, a theater is the place for him to die." Frank was survived by his wife Toby, his children Joey and Amanda, and his mother and stepfather, Thelma and L. B. Shepard.

The information in the story was compiled from many news articles published in the Tennessean and other newspapers. 

The military information came from this website.