Thursday, January 19, 2012

McFerrin Park and The Bryan-McFerrin-Scales house

McFerrin Park Comuunity Center ca 1955

The land where McFerrin Park is situated, was granted to Evan Baker in 1781 and transferred by Baker to David McGavock in 1785. McGavock's grant was 640 acres, covering most of what is now Northeast Nashville.  In 1816 he divided the tract between his two sons, James and John. McFerrin Park is located on the portion of land that went to James. The original 640 acres ran from Foster St. on the south to Douglas Ave/Mile End to the north. North 1st St. [now called Dickerson Road] was the west boundary and the east boundary was McFerrin Ave. After the division James owned the land west of Lischey Ave. and John, the land east of Lischey Ave. James McGavock built a house on a hill overlooking the river, near the middle of his land. About 1840 a second house was built adjacent to his first house. It is believed this house was built for his daughter Lucinda McGavock Harris. This house is still standing at 908 Meridian Street.

Another of James McGavock's daughters, Margaret, married Hardy Bryan in 1833. James H. Bryan, their only child, was born March 17, 1835. Margaret died four days later. A home was built, on the southern portion of James McGavock's property, for the Bryan family. When James McGavock died in 1841, James H. Bryan was allotted his mother's portion of the James McGavock land. He was only six years old at the time. The Bryan's spent much of their time in Louisiana and Mississippi, and young James died in Concordia Parish, LA on September 1, 1845. Hardy Bryan remarried, to his cousin Mary Bryan and they were parents to three children. One, a son named John W. Bryan, inherited from his brother's estate the land that had been left to James by his grandfather McGavock.

In the 1860's, John W. Bryan subdivided his land and began to sell lots, the first few on Foster Street.  John was married to Cornelia Treutlen on January 9, 1866 on Barbour Co., Alabama.  Though John continued to sell lots in Edgefield, he moved his family to Mississippi for awhile and their first child, Annie was born there in 1867.  Soon after Annie was born, the Bryan's moved to Davidson County and built a house on the south side of Treutlen Street, named to honor Cornelia and her family.  In 1869 a second child, Hardy William Bryan was born. 

In 1866, John B. McFerrin purchased from John W. Bryan, a house and lot, of two and a half acres, for twelve thousand dollars, at the corner of Berry and Meridian Streets. The deed stated that a brick house, "the residence of the late Hardy Bryan," stood on the lot. In the biography of John B. McFerrin, is a mention of McFerrin preaching Hardy Bryan's funeral , saying that Bryan "died at the house in which I now live." It has been reported that Berry Street was named for McFerrin but the name may have another origin. The street was already named Berry when McFerrin bought property there. John Berry McFerrin was a well-known and popular Methodist minister. He was for many years, editor of the Methodist "Christian Advocate" publication. As book agent, he managed the operations of the Methodist Publishing House in Nashville for 18 years.

John Berry McFerrin

In 1849, McFerrin, and his first wife Almyra, bought land and a house near Main Street on McFerrin Avenue. Almyra died in 1854 and McFerrin was married a second time, in 1855, to Miss Cynthia Tennessee McGavock. Cynthia's father, John McGavock, owned the adjoining farm to the McFerrins. When the U. S. Civil War reached Nashville, John B. McFerrin, a Southern sympathizer and slave owner, went south. He had been told that he might be arrested, by U. S. government officials, if he remained in Nashville. During the war, he traveled as a missionary with the Confederate Army. McFerrin returned to Nashville after the war. His house in Nashville had been used as a hospital during the war and was, on his return, held by the Federal Government as abandoned property. Soon after McFerrin returned, the house on McFerrin Avenue was destroyed by fire. He began to look for a new home and in 1866 purchased the Hardy Bryan house on Berry Street.

The David C. and Grace Hillman Scales family purchased the property, including the McFerrin home, in 1887, from Cynthia McGavock McFerrin, widow of John Berry McFerrin. Grace Street was named for Mrs. Grace Scales. Grace Street had earlier been known as McGavock Avenue and then Josephine Street. A daughter, Anne, married Andrew Bell Benedict, Sr. her childhood friend and Meridian Street neighbor. The Scales and Benedict families were prominent citizens of Nashville.

The Bryan, MeFerrin, Scales House.

McFerrin Park was named in honor of John Berry McFerrin. The park began as a playground in 1909, when the Park Board purchased two lots on Meridian on the opposite side of the street from today's McFerrin Park. In 1920, the Park Board purchased the Scales property, across Meridian Street from the playground, for $17,065. The property, about two and one half acres, was bound by Meridian Street on the west, Grace Street on the north, Stewart Street/North 3rd Street to the east and Berry Street to the south. The Greek Revival style home on the property had been lived in by the Hardy Bryan family, the McFerrin family and the Scales family. The Park Board used the house as the first McFerrin Park Community Center. By the early 1950's the house had been demolished and a Quonset hut was in use as a community center.

The Quonset hut community center building ca 1950.

McFerrin Park served a neighborhood full of children who spent their summers out of doors and looking for something to do.  The park swimming pool was full of youngsters every day.

The pool was at the back of the park at North Third near Grace St.
That's Grace Avenue Church of Christ in the background. 

By the mid 1960's the pool had been closed, the old Quonset hut was gone and a new brick building had been erected for a community center. 

McFerrin Park Community Center ca 1980.

Metro Nashville Government purchased additional acreage, in 1977, from Grace Avenue Church of Christ. Grace Avenue Church of Christ was built in the 1920's and was designed to hold one thousand worshipers. The church was disbanded in 1977 and the property sold to Metro Nashville Government.

Grace Avenue Church of Christ 
was on the site of the present community center.

The church building was demolished, and the size of the park was increased to 11 and one half acres, extending the east boundary to Lischey Avenue. Today a modern community center has been built, about where the church building stood. North 3rd street that once ran between the park property and the church has been closed and now serves as a drive into the park. There are new tennis courts in the at the corner of Meridian and Grace. There's a playground with brightly painted equipment. The area behind the old church, now the new community center is empty. Fifty years ago both Grace and Berry Streets were lined with houses on the park side of the street, between Grace Avenue Church of Christ and Lischey Avenue. There were houses along Lischey as well, on what is now park property. Lots of changes in the old neighborhood, this one for the good.

McFerrin Park Community Center, 2011

See the The McGavock House for more history of the surrounding land and the McGavock family in Northeast Nashville.

All photos courtesy of Metro Nashville Archives, with the exception of the portrait of John B. McFerrin which belongs to the author.

Creative Commons License
McFerrin Park and The Bryan-McFerrin-Scales house by Debie Oeser Cox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


  1. Sherron Green WakefieldJanuary 20, 2012 at 12:28 PM

    This is so interesting. I roamed that park for years in the 60's. Lived on Berry St and Meridian St. For some reason we all called the park Meridian Street Park. Thank you for this information.

  2. Sherron, we called it Meridian Park also. The official name is McFerrin Park but I think when it was just the playground the park board did call it Meridian Park.

  3. Thanks for the info. The Annie Bryan you mention above, daughter of John W. Bryan and Cornelia Treutlen, was my great-grandmother. Lovely to learn that I've got a connection to Tennessee. I'll have to come visit the house sometime.

  4. Thanks for you input. Unfortunately the old house is no longer standing.

    1. I noticed that after I posted. Pity. But I'm still pleased to know about the Nashville connection. Thanks for posting all this.


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