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.
WHY DONELSON WILL NEVER BE EAST NASHVILLE—
OR, DON'T BE CHANGIN’ THE NAME OF THE 'HOOD
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.
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 By 1802, it had been replaced by a two-story brick structure more than twice as large as the original.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.