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.