Monday, May 6, 2019

Nashville Funeral Homes and Undertakers.

For many decades after Nashville was founded the bodies of deceased family members were displayed (if at all) in the home of the deceased or a relative's home, before burial. Coffins were usually purchased from local cabinet and furniture makers. Before the 1860's burial was hurried. In the Civil War years, Nashville undertaker W. R. Cornelius began the practice of embalming. Cornelius acted as the undertaker for the United States Goverment throughout the war.

Early newspapers carry advertisement for cabinet makers. John and Thomas Deatherage, John C. Hicks, Samuel C. Robertson, Joseph Ward, Samuel G. Cheatham, Joseph Ward and James B. McCombs are among those whose names are found before 1825.

Elias Dobson, Coffins made on the shortes notice... Nashville_Whig_Mon__Nov_8__1824    
By mid century there were a number of undertaking businesses in the city. Most also had a separate business for furniture making. W. R. Cornelius would become one Nashville's better known undertakers. Cornelius born in 1824 was reared in Pennsylvania and came to Nashville about 1847. In 1853 he was operating under the title McCombs, Cornelius & Co.  In 1859 he had partnered with Mr. Cain.



After Nashville was occupied by Union troops in 1862, W. R. Cornelius became the undertaker for the U.S. Government. In 1863 he partnered with Dr. E. H. Lewis of New York. De. Lewis brought with him the practice of embalming.

Undertakers did not begin to offer rooms or parlors for the viewing of bodies and funeral services until the 1880's. These parlors were usually just store front rooms in a commercial building or in a warehouse. In 1902 Mr. Finley Dorris brought change to Nashville's undertaking business by opening a funeral parlor in a residence. Mr. Dorris renovated the old John Hill Eakin home on Church Street. He combined the double parlors and furnished them as a chapel where funeral service could be held. Mr. Dorris had been in the funeral business since 1880. He got the idea for his funeral home after visiting similar establishements in the northeastern United States.

Old homes converted into funeral parlors became common. Over one hundred years after Mr. Dorris opened his funeral home, there are still many funeral businesses occupying old homes in Nashville. Metro Nashville Archives has a collection of rotogravure prints that were in the Sunday edition of the newspaper. One Sunday the rotogravure section featured images of Nashville Funeral Homes.

The National Funeral Home, 209 Woodland Street, Mrs. Letty Sweeney, Metro Nashville Archives

Sweeny Funeral Home, 321 Woodland Street, Metro Nashville Archives

Wiles Bros Funeral Home, 129 8th Ave. So., Metro Nashville Archives

Dorris, Karsch & Co., 129-131 9th Ave. No., Metro Nashville Archives

Crafton & Co., 610 Russell Street, Metro Nashville Archives

Gupton Undertaking Co., 215 8th Ave. So., Metro Nashville Archives

Rain, Pettus, Burnett, 2101 Church Street, Metro Nashville Archives

Davis, Austin & Co., 1607 Broadway, Metro Nashville Archives

M. S. Combs, 201 25th Ave. No., Metro Nashville Archives

In 1931 there were 22 undertaking businesses listed in the Nashville City Directory.
 1. Austin, Charles K. Co. 1621 Broadway
 2. Combs, M. S. & Co.  201 25th Ave. No.
 3. Crafton & Co.  625 Cedar St.
 4. Crowder, Charles L. 709 Cedar St.
 5. Dorris, Karsch & Co. 129-131 9th Ave. No.
 6. Gardner, K. Funeral Co. 1511 Jefferson St.
 7. Gupton Undertaking Co. 215 8th Ave. So.
 8. Hill, Zema 1306 South St.
 9. Hockett, William  1207 Edgefield Ave.
10. Irving A. M. Murray Co.  921 Main St.
11. Johnson-Brown Co.  172 Lafayette St.
12. Martin & Rollow  1715 Broadway
13. McGavock, Wm. H.  422 4th Ave. No.
14. Moore & Crowder  314 Cedar St.
15. Rains, Pettus & Edmondson  2101 Church St.
16. Ransom & Morris 1602 Cedar St.
17. Roesch, Johnson & Charlton  1529 Broadway
18. Sweeney, Mrs. Letty  209 Woodland St.
19. Sweeney Funeral Home 321 Woodland St.
20. Taylor & Co. 449 4th Ave. No.
21. Wiles, Bracey & Marshall  129 8th Ave. So.
22. Wilkerson Co.  124 7th Ave. No.

Thursday, March 14, 2019


 I wrote this essay about six years ago. I wanted to help others understand why some find it important to preserve community names and identities. Not being satisfied with how it was worded, I asked my friend John Egerton to take a look. John was a journalist, author, editor, and a wonderful friend. He returned my essay with suggestions and edits. It was not long after, that John passed away. I incorporated his suggestions and accepted the edits. I am so proud to have had his help with this. About that same time, we had an illness in the family and I put the essay aside and forgot about it. Until today. 


          The frontier settlement of Nashville began in the winter-spring of 1779-80 when James Robertson and John Donelson led several hundred people into this area.  Four years later, in April of 1784, the government of North Carolina, which claimed ownership of all the territory later to be known as the state of Tennessee, formally established the town of Nashville here on the west bank of the Cumberland River.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the
same, That the directors or trustees hereafter appointed, or
a majority of them, shall so soon as may be after the passing
of this act, cause two hundred acres of land, situate on the
south side of the Cumberland River, at a place called the Bluff, adjacent to the French Lick, in which said Lick shall not be included, to be laid off in lots of one acre each, with convenient streets,  lanes and alleys, reserving four acres for the purpose of erecting public buildings, on which land, so laid off according
to the directions of this act, is hereby constituted, erected, and established a town, and shall be known and called Nashville,
in memory of the patriotic and brave Gen. Nash.

The first building to be erected on the public square was a log
courthouse and jail, near the site of the present courthouse.   By 1802, it had been replaced by a two-story brick structure more than twice as large as the original.  In that same period of less than two decades, Nashville had begun to spread beyond its original 200 acres to the north, west, and south.

          To the north of the square, beyond the town boundary, new east-west streets were given the names of U.S. Presidents.  The area was called North Nashville—and still is.  It extends from Jefferson Street north to the river.  South Nashville was essentially an extension of what is now Fourth Avenue, with the Nashville City Cemetery as its nucleus.  West Nashville was the area that developed along the Charlotte Pike.  Farmland located east of town, across the Cumberland, began to develop before the Civil War as Edgefield, Nashville’s first suburb.  It was incorporated into the city in 1880 and came to be called East Nashville.

As the twentieth century began, Vanderbilt University and Centennial Park were developing on the western outskirts of town, with open country beyond. Farms lined the Harding, Hillsboro, Murfreesboro, Gallatin, Lebanon, Franklin and Dickerson turnpikes. 

Davidson County maps of that period are dotted with small towns and villages out beyond the city’s boundary.  Fanning out to the north was Goodlettsville, Briarville, Inglewood, White's Creek, Joelton, and Madison. To the east were McWhirtersville —later called Donelson— Hermitage, Antioch and Mud Tavern. To the south were Berry Hill, Glencliff, Woodbine, (formerly Flat Rock) and Tusculum.  Belle Meade, Bellevue and Vaughan's Gap were on the old roads to the southwest, toward Memphis.  In the west-northwest section of the county were the villages of White's Bend, Clifton, Cockrill's Bend, Bell's Bend and New Town (later to be called West Nashville).

On April 1, 1963, the Nashville city limits signs were ceremoniously removed. This event did not extend the city of Nashville to the county line, though.  Instead, the City of Nashville and County of Davidson ceased to exist as separately governed entities; they were replaced by the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.

This blurred the lines between city and county, but it did not extinguish the community spirit that had long existed in the small places.  Six of them were incorporated when Metro was formed—Belle Meade, Berry Hill, Oak Hill, Forest Hills, Lakeview and Goodlettsville—and the Metro plan approved by the voters left them intact as quasi-independent towns.  The unincorporated others—Bellevue, Joelton, Madison, Antioch, Donelson and more—have proudly clung to their identity even as they have taken their place alongside the incorporated towns under the umbrella of Metro and modern Nashville.

For newcomers to Nashville, no less than those whose families have lived in Davidson County for generations, preserving community history and local identity is important. Nashville's historic neighborhoods have been in a continuous state of renewal for decades. The history of Metro Nashville, and of her people, is preserved within the names of every community. 

So when you hear people mistakenly refer to Goodlettsville as North Nashville or Hermitage as East Nashville or Antioch as South Nashville, speak up and tell them why it ain't so.



Monday, February 18, 2019

Standard Snuff, Circa 1899

610 21st Avenue North, photo courtesy of Carol Norton.

Every now and again an old building located at 610 21st Avenue North pops up in the news. There has been a recent claim that the building was built about 1865. This is a misconception that needs correcting. A page from the 1889 Hopkins Atlas of Nashville shows the site that would become Standard Snuff.  In 1889 there were no buildings on the property.

Hopkins Atlas of Nashville, 1889, plate 11.

This property was owned by the W. B. Cooper estate when it was subdivided and sold in 1898. Standard Snuff bought the property that year for $3300 and proceeded to build a new building. At the time of purchase, a notice ran in a local newspaper that ground would be broken about the first of September for three planned buildings. The first would be the factory at a cost of $35,000. A storehouse and a warehouse were also planned.

Tennessean, August 26, 1908

In May of 1902, a drawing showing three buildings was published with the declaration that Standard Snuff was the largest independent snuff factory in the world.

Nashville American, May 18, 1902

The building in the middle, shown from the rear, near the railroad tracks is the only one remaining today. The map below from 1908, shows only two buildings. Perhaps a third building was never constructed. Or the third building in the drawing could be from the J. H. Bradford Company next door. Adams & Price was located on the J. H. Bradford property on the 1889 map.

1908 Atlas of Nashville, TSLA

A deed search of the property shows that the buildings were used by these tobacco companies until  1949. Standard Snuff, American Snuff, Weyman-Bruton Snuff, and United States Tobacco. In January of 1949, United States Tobacco sold the property and building(s) to Eighth Avenue Realty Company. The sale included equipment, fixtures, and machinery, excluding tobacco and tobacco handling equipment. The deed does not mention if there was more than one building on the property. The address has changed over the years from the 2000 block of Jo Johnston to 600 and later 610 21st Avenue North. Eighth Avenue Realty sold the property in 1976 to Johnny-Reb Corporation owned by Arthur J. Rebrovick. In the year 1991, with an address of 600 21st Avenue North, the property was conveyed to Southern Business Insurance Group, Incorporated. Since 1991 there have been six additional owners.

The current owners have plans to restore and repurpose the building. It will be converted to condominiums. A new building that will also house condominiums is to be constructed as well. It is important for historical structures to be preserved. And it is just as important that the historical facts concerning a building are correct.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Edgefield Baptist Church - East Nashville

Edgefield Baptist Church was organized in April of 1867.  They met on Sunday morning April 14, at Stubb's Hall in Edgefield. Thirty members gathered to worship and choose as a pastor, Rev. G. W. Harris of Virginia. Rev. W. C. Johnson of Arkansas also officiated at the first meeting.  E. Truett, G. W. G. Payne and E. H. Hill, were selected to serve as deacons. The new members has been meeting for more than a year in Edgefield homes as they prepared to bring a Baptist Church to Edgefield. Twenty of the new members had previously been members of First Baptist Church in Nashville.The first official meeting of the church was held in Stubb's Hall located at the corner of Woodland and Tulip (South Fifth) Streets. For the next several years the congregation held services at McClure's Hall which was also at the corner of Woodland and Tulip (South Fifth) Streets and may have been the same building.

“Baptist Church Organized in Edgefield.” Nashville Union and American, baptist.

In May of 1869, Ezekiel Truett, George W. G. Payne, Thomas H. Jones, George W. Strode and William A. Nelson, Trustees of Edgefield Baptist Church, purchased lots one and two in Lindsley and Winston's plan of Edgefield for twenty nine hundred dollars. The property was to be paid for over a period of five years. The lots fronted on Fatherland Street one hundred and sixteen feet and ran back along Tulip Street (South Fifth Street) one hundred and seventy feet to an alley.

A building committee was appointed and work began on the new church in the fall of 1872. The pace was slow as the members adopted a pay as you go approach. The basement was completed in late 1873 and was then used for worship services. The building was of a unique style. There were two towers, one at each front corner. The east tower has a tall spire ornamented by four finials. The west tower was covered with galvnized iron and ornamented with four finials. A flowered cross rose from the center of the roof between the towers. The church had seating for 475 worshipers. At the time the building was dedicated in April of 1875, only a few hundred dollars remained to be paid on the debt of building the new church.

A drawing of the unique spire atop the east tower of Edgefield Baptist Church appeared in the Daily American on February 23, 1888. Between 1888 and the time the photo below was made the spire on the east tower came down. The beauty and unique style of the church at 500 Fatherland Street can be seen in this image, posted by permission of Tim Kernell.  Though the spire is gone the tower finials and the cross remain.

Soon after 1900, the church members began to talk about building a new, larger church nearby. In February of 1903, church trustees purchased a parcel of land located on the southeast corner of Russell and Seventh Streets.  In 1905 the old building on Fatherland Street was sold to the Seventh Day Adventists. An agreement was reached so that both church could use the building for worship until a new building could be constructed for the Baptists. Soon after, work began on the new church.

A rendering of the proposed church building. The Tennessean, April 29, 1906.

On June 2, 1907, the new Edgefield Baptist Church was dedicated with song and praise. The church would survive the East Nashville Fire in 1916 with little damage. Everything around the church burned. There has been much change in many directions in the East Nashville neighborhood but Edgefield Baptist Church remains.  In April of 2019 Edgefield Baptist will celebrate 152 years as a church. In June they will celebrate again, 112 years of occupying the historic structure on Russell Street.

Edgefield Baptist. On the left is the historic pipe organ installed in 1907. Image is from the churh website

Edefield Baptist Church, Seventh and Russell. Image from

This link is to a later view of the old church (also shown below) on Fatherland Street. It was made about 1950 and was still occupied by the Seventh Day Adventists. The finials on the towers and the cross had long disappeared. Metro Nashville Archives


History of Nashville, Tenn. J. Woolridge, Editor, Publishing House of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. 1890

Nashville Union and American, April 16, 1867. Baptist Church Organized in Edgefield.

Republican Banner, April 13, 1867. Religious.

Republican Banner, September 11, 1870. Edgefield Baptist Church, McClure's Hall.

Republican Banner, September 14, 1873. Edgefield Baptist Church.

The Daily American, February 23, 1888. On Top The Temples.

The Nashville American, April 29, 1906. New Edgefield Baptist Church.

The Nashville American, June 1, 1907. New Church Will Be Dedicated.

The Nashville American, August 13, 1907. Pipe Organ.

The Nashville American, March 13, 1908. Installation of Organ.

The Tennessean, June 9, 1950. Edgefield Baptist Educational Building.

The Tennessean, April 8, 1967. Edgefield Baptist Church.

The Tennessean, July 11, 1975. Scars Gone But Some Remember, Hugh Walker

Photo credit –

Photo credit – Tim Kernell

Photo credit – Metro Nashville Archives

Photo credit – Edgefield Baptist Church,

Atlas of the City of Nashville, Hopkins, 1908.

Atlas of the City of Nashville, Hopkins, 1889.

Davidson County Register of Deeds, Book 21, Page 11.

Davidson County Register of Deeds, Book 42, Page 280.

Davidson County Register of Deeds, Book 317, Page 506.