Thursday, October 25, 2018

Early Ethnic Restaurants in Nashville

Nick Fielder asked on a Facebook page, I Remember Nashville When, about the first pizza, and Mexican restaurants in Nashville. I did some searching in old newspapers and was surprised at how early ethnic restaurants were operating in Nashville. And of course, that made me want to know more. People came from all over the world to Nashville. Naturalization records at Metro Nashville Archives include persons from Italy, Germany, Russia, Bavaria, Ireland, Hungary, Poland, Switzerland, Greece, France, Scotland, Canada, and many other countries.

I am going to start with Faucon's, an early French restaurant in Nashville.

The Tennessean June 15, 1910

Union Street and Faucons about 1918.  TSLA

Xavier Faucon opened his business at 419 Union Street in February of 1896. Faucon was born in France and came to the U.S. when he was 14 years old. He settled in New Orleans where he married Marie Pons. In 1896 he opened a restaurant on Union Street. In 1904, Faucon turned management of the restaurant over to his son Leon and moved to Biloxi, Mississippi. Leon operated Faucon's until his death in 1926. Xavier closed the restaurant soon after saying he was tired and needed to be in Biloxi with his wife. The restaurant was known for it's famous Faucon Salad. My mother told me Faucon's Salad had a Roquefort Cheese dressing. Jimmy Kelly's has the Faucon Salad and what is said to be an authentic recipe on their menu today. Click here for Jimmy Kelly's Steakhouse Menu.


Italian restaurants seemed to have been on almost every corner. Some were chili parlors or cafes and others were full-scale restaurants with varied menus. In the early 20th century there were many Italian families living in Nashville. A good number of them were musicians from the city of Viggiano. After living in Nashville a few years most of them gave up music for the grocery business or opened a restaurant or cafe. Varallo is a name that most every native Nashvillian knows, Frank Varallo, Sr. started out peddling chile from a cart downtown. In 1907 he opened his first restaurant or chili parlor.

 Tony Petrucelli and Frank Varallo Sr. Subway Chili Parlor, operated by Frank Varallo, Sr. TSLA

Nick Melfi had a chili parlor of Church Street. By the 1930's had moved to 21st Avenue and were serving American, Italian, and Chinese fare. Antonio Petrucelli opened his chili parlor on Deaderick Street in 1921 and declared himself Tony the Chili King. Tony's brother Dominick Petrucelli had a cafe on Church Street where he served breakfast lunch and dinner American style but ravioli chili and spaghetti were always on the menu.

Tony's Chili Parlor, 317 Deaderick. Nashville Banner 1956

Various members of the Petrone family was in the restaurant business for many years. There was a restaurant on West End, another on 21st and one in Inglewood on Gallatin road.

Corsini's was the first to advertise the sale of pizza.

The Tennessean, January 28, 1950


Nashville had a Greek community in the early 20th century and some of those citizens were in the restaurant business. Thomas Velaski, John Katsoulis, George Pasayan, George Callis, George Condras, James Douglas (Dubros) and George Douglas (Dubros) were all listed in the 1920 census for Nashville as proprietors of restaurants. Very little mention of these restaurants appeared in newspapers. The best know Greek restaurateurs were the owners and operators of Candyland in downtown Nashville. Angelo Anderson and his brother Sam were born in Greece with the name Theodoropoulous. The brothers along with their nephew Louis Belios founded Candyland in 1923.

Candyland, Church Street. Nashville Public Library.


Though ethnic in name only the first Chinese food served by a Nashville Restaurant may have been at the Midway Grill on 6th Avenue North.

In 1931 Melfi's was serving up Chinese cooking along side Italian cooking.


There was a restaurant on Church Street selling both Mexican and Chinese in 1944, but it does not seem to have been around very long.

The Tennessean, April 14, 1944. 

The first Mexican Restaurant opened in Nashville seems to be El Taco which opened in Nashville in September of 1963. In 1970 Vincente and Ernie Chaires opened an El Taco restaurant on Gallatin Road in Inglewood.

The Tennessean, September 8, 1963.

In 1984 the Charies opened Es Fernando at the same location where he had earlier operated the El Taco franchise.

In 1905 there was a Hungarian restaurant on Union Street.

There were hoards of Germans and Swiss in Nashville but I have not identified an early German restaurant. The famous Gerst House restaurant was opened in Nashville on 2nd Avenue North, in 1955 by W. M. Gerst. His daughter and her husband Gene Ritter later took over the restaurant. They operated the business until it was forced to move in 1970. The Ritters hauled all of the memorabilia across the river to 228 Woodland Street. Patrons followed and it became a favorite watering hole for lawyers and judges after a long day at the courthouse. In 1988 the restaurant was purchased by purchased by Jim and Jerry Chandler. The name was changed from Gerst House to Gerst Haus. When plans were announced to build a stadium for our Tennessee Titans, it was learned that the Gerst Haus would be relocated once again. The restaurant reopened in the summer of 2000. It was across Woodland Street from the old location on Interstate Drive. Sadly in February of 2018, the Gerst Haus was closed after more than 60 years of business.

Gerst House, 2nd Avenue North, Metro Nashville Archives.

Gerst Haus, 2017

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Grubbs Cracker Company, Second Avenue.

Corner of Market and Clark Street, 1887. The Comet, Yearbook of Vanderbilt University.
This is H. B. Grubbs Cracker Company in 1887. At the time this etching was made it was Market Street and Clark Street, Second Avenue North and Bank Street. The building was a part of the Morris-Stratton block. It was on a part of lot 10 and lot 11 of the original plan of the town of Nashville. Both lots were owned by Lardner Clark, an early pioneer who came to Nashville in 1784.  He is credited with opening the first dry goods store in Nashville. Clarks store is believed to have been on the same lot where the H. B. Grubbs Company was located.

Corner of Market and Clark Street, (2nd Avenue North and Bank Street) 2018. Loop
The image of the building caught my attention and brought forth all sorts of questions. The building or at least what remains of it is at the corner of 2nd Avenue North and Bank Street. I did some searching and did not find much information online.  Part of a complex of buildings known as Washington Square and as described by the website 511/Washington Square is "owned by an offshore high net worth individual."

A new building was erected on the site in 1870 and 71 by the Morris & Stratton Company. The company had owned the entire block along Market for some time. A four-story building that housed the companies grocery business was on Market Street, just north of and adjoining the newly proposed building. "The building will front 67 feet, 9 inches on Market and run back 85 feet on Clark. It will be four stories high including a mansard roof...The corner piers will be of cut stone and the front embellished with iron columns."

Article mentions new building at Market and Clark. Nashville Union and American, June 25, 1870
I don't know if this is the same building that exists today, but I have not found any information that the building was destroyed between 1870 and 1887. Nor have I found evidence that a newer building was erected there. 1887 was the year an image of the building appears in several publications. There is no mansard roof and there may have never been one. The architecture is Italian, the number of stories is the same and cut stone was used in the piers. A large fire in 1890 apparently caused more damage to equipment and supplies than to the building. The front facade appears much the same as it did in an 1887 image. The building in 1887 is longer than the one standing now.

In 1881 Kindred J. Morris (one-time mayor of Nashville) and his partner, Thomas E Stratton partitioned the property that they owned on Market Street between an alley near the public square and Clark Street into eight lots. Lot one and two were at the corner of Market and Clark Streets and it is on these lots that the building at 214-216 Market Street is located today. As shown on the plat of the two lots

The portion of the plat in book 57, page 18, Morris & Stratton Partition, 1881, showing lots one and two.
Soon after the partition was made Thomas E. Stratton died. Lots one and two went to his children, Carrie Stratton Burnet and her brother Mosely T. Stratton. As shown on the plat above lots one and two fronted on Market Street, running north 68 feet, two and three-quarters inches. On the south side of the lot, the line ran east 210 feet, seven inches, then south along Front Street 69 feet, nine and one-quarter inches. Then back along Clark Street to the beginning. Excluded was the property of John Carper that was located in the middle of the lot and fronted on Clark Street.  In 1885 the two lots were sold to Samuel J. Keith for 15,000 dollars.

Plat book 57, page 18, Morris & Stratton Partition, 1881.

After S. J. Kieth purchased the property he leased the building to Grubbs Cracker Company from about 1885 through 1891. H. B. Grubbs moved to St. Louis and Dr. Heighway, one of the principals of the company retired in 1892.  The company was dissolved. In 1892 American Biscuit Company signed a five-year lease with Kieth for the building. American Biscuit was in business at Clark and Market Street until 1898 when National Biscuit Company bought out American. In 1901 National Biscuit built a new building farther south on Market Street. Mr. Kieth sold the property in the summer of 1903 to Spurlock-Neal Wholesale Drug Company. After some renovations, Spurlock-Neal moved into the building. That company eventually evolved into McKesson-Berry-Martin and later became McKesson & Robbins. More than seventy years later, the successor business Foremost-McKesson sold the lots and building to Comer Realty. Comer Realty had become by First National Company by 1983 when the property was sold to Washington Square Associates.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Meridian Street Mystery Solved

Researching buildings presents a challenge. Finding deeds and other records to compile a history of a building can be difficult. Records for houses built before the mid 20th century often are found lacking. During my time at Metro Nashville Archives, I developed along with another staff person and presented, workshops on house genealogy. The finding aids are many, maps, directories, tax records, deeds, plats, estate records, photographs and manuscript collections at local libraries and archives. Some records are limited to buildings inside a defined area or time period.

The following is a result of research for two Queen Anne houses in East Nashville on Meridian Street. They were likely constructed at the same time by a local builder. The project would have been under the direction of James H. Williams who owned the property. Williams was a native of Davidson County born in Antioch in 1857. His parents were Elmore W. Williams and Susan Hamilton Williams. James H. Williams was married to Fannie M. Bridges in 1885. Fannie was born in the Goodlettsville community of Davidson County in 1859. She was a daughter of Frances Patrick Bridges and Margaret Bowers Bridges. The family genealogy is given here to dispel the myth that the houses were built by members of the McGavock family or McGavock descendants.

Meridian Street, Lots 59 and 60, Lindsley's Addition. Google Image Feb 2016.

In 1889 James H. Williams purchased lots 59 and 60 from C. O. Jackson as a single tract of land. The deed recorded in book 137, page 147, stated that the parcel had originally been the North Edgefield Street Railroad lot. An atlas of Nashville in 1889, shows that there were no buildings on the lots. Williams purchased several lots on the north side of Grace Avenue, then Josephine Avenue around that same time. One of the lots, at 305 Grace Avenue became the home of James H. Williams and his wife Fannie Bridges Williams. James and Fannie were parents of three children, Nellie, Clifton, and Corrine.  The Williams family never lived in the houses on Meridian Street. The family rented the houses for all of the years that they owned them.

Atlas of Nashville 1889, showing part of Lindsley's addition. 
Williams briefly transferred the lots on Meridian Street to A. T. Armstrong in 1890. Within a few months, the property was deeded back to Williams.  In May of 1891, James H. Williams transferred to his wife Fannie, for love and affections, several parcels of land including lots 59 and 60 on Meridian Street. Fannie owned the property for many years. In 1917 she was cited in a local newspaper as being delinquent on the property tax for 708 and 710 Meridian Street. At that time she also owned properties on Grace Avenue at 301, 303, 305, 307 and 311.

The_Tennessean_Thu__May_31__1917_delinquent taxes

Finding out exactly when a house was built is not an easy task. Pinning the construction date down to ten years is an accomplishment. Some building permits were published in newspapers and in Nashville Annual Reports. Building permits for these houses have not been located. The style of the twin houses in Queen Anne, popular between 1880 and 1910. We know these were built after December of 1890 and before early 1903 (see update below). Sidney Caldwell is listed as residing at 710 Meridian in the Nashville City Directory for 1903.

In summary, the houses at 708 and 710 Meridian were built between 1891 and 1902. The owners of the property at the time the houses were built were James H. and Fannie M. Bridges Williams. The Williams family did not build the houses to live in, but instead as rental property. There is no apparent connection of this family to that of James McGavock who owned the land from 1816 until his death in 1841. The tract was called Fountain Blue and at his death consisted of 352 acres. His daughter Lucinda McGavock Harris inherited the home place.  Lucinda's daughter Lucie Harris Lindsley became the sole heir to the section of land that was later divided to contain lot 59 and 60 of the Lindsley addition. In 1908 the houses are shown on a map of Nashville.

Hopkins Atlas of Nashville, 1908.

An advertisement by a realtor offering to sell the house in 2007, stated that the house at 708 Meridian was built by the McGavocks for one of their twin daughters. The myth may have originated in an attempt to add a bit of colorful but untruthful history.

Update - An 1897 Sanborn maps shows the houses have already been constructed.

1897 Sanborn map LOC