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Nashville's Historic Germantown

Nashville's Historic Germantown

By

Copyright Jan Duke

Monells

© Jan Duke
The Shawnee tribe of Indians was the original inhabitants of the North Nashville region followed by the Chickasaw and Cherokee tribes who made it a hunting ground for all.

Germantown's roots began growing in 1786, when James McGavock and his son, David, purchased the land on which the neighborhood is situated. The McGavocks, from Virginia, purchased 2,240 acres of land situated on both sides of the Cumberland River.

Shortly after the area was incorporated into the Nashville city limits, in 1865, a large number of German immigrants joined an already booming population of German residents and began moving into the grand houses, worker's cottages and shotgun homes, shopping at the corner stores and attending services at neighborhood churches.

Assumption Catholic Church was dedicated in 1859. In 1864, while the Union Army held Nashville, Assumption Church was occupied and pillaged by the soldiers. Having survived for over 145 years, Nashville’s second oldest Catholic Church is now experiencing a rebirth, both in numbers and as a spiritual family. As is their long-time neighbor, Monroe Street United Methodist Church which celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 2006.

Many Germantown residents including individuals such as publisher E.B. Stahlman, brewer William Gerst, distiller George Dickel and meat packer Henry Neuhoff, all who achieved great wealth and high social standing by the latter part of the 19th century, became prominent Nashville citizens who strongly influenced the history of the city while living in the beautiful neighborhood. Other prominent German families include: Petre, Ratterman, Wessel, Roth, Buddeke, Petre, Geist, Baltz, Schweiss, Strobel, Meiers, Brackman, Langdon, Dury, Seigenthaler, Stumb, Seifried, Jacobs and many others.

At the turn of the century, merchants and political figures used the backyard of one of the city’s first plantations, located on the current Werthan Bag Building site, as a playground. Burns Island Race Track preceded Morgan Park as the area’s gathering place and played host to the richest horse race in the world, at that time. Morgan Park’s history dates to 1909, when the Nashville Park Board purchased Frederick Laitenberger’s German beer garden, which occupied the site.

When the gates closed and the jockeys made their way out of the neighborhood, the area was turned into the city’s first horticultural garden. But even the magic of the garden couldn’t prevent the neighborhood from slipping into decline.

According to Davidson County Historian and Oktoberfest founder, John Connelly, as streetcar lines expanded and advancement was made in motor transportation, shortly after the turn of the century, there was a trend for older residents to move away from the ‘walk-to-town’ areas.

World War I, however, dealt the final blow when services at neighborhood churches stopped being conducted in German. After World War I, the German societies disbanded and subscribers banned the once popular German newspapers. This attitude did much to destroy the feeling of unity in Germantown.

Nearly hitting rock bottom, a group of urban pioneers began reclaiming Germantown in the late 1970s. By buying up vacant lots and entire city blocks, the pioneers began restoring the neighborhood to its former prestige.

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