Written by James L. Chrisman for the Rutherford County Historical Society publication no. 16, Winter, 1981 (click here to purchase a copy for only $0.50!)
All of us who love to refresh and enlighten our minds by breaking away from the cares and tensions of the day, and glance back over the pages setting forth the history of the trials and accomplishments of those whose marks have left an imprint upon the sands of time, cheerfully and willingly express our thanks and gratitude to those who have already depicted much of the history of this former splendid old home in LaVergne.
At the expense of repetition, I will set down only a few facts concerning the house itself. It was built about the year 1833 under the direction and ownership of John Hill, a grandson of Green Hill, who migrated to the Cumberland Territory from North Carolina, where he had been no doubt of high political stature, having been at one time a member of the Continental Congress of that state. The house was built on land that was part of an original tract of 309 acres in a Land Grant to John Hill’s father, Thomas Hill, presumably in return for military service.
In addition to its attractive appearance from the front, its other unique features were its U-shape in the back, with wide covered porches facing toward the inside and running back from the front rooms on each side all the way to the rear of the building, where there was a covered walk-way to a well located about equidistant from the points of the “U”, so that it was convenient to draw water with the rope and windlass in any kind of weather. Another feature was the cedar sawdust insulation put between the inner and outer walls of the house, believed to be one of the first homes so constructed in Middle Tennessee.
Accounts have already been written about the fact that the house was used as a hospital during the Civil War. We would like to emphasize the point that the location itself, on a direct line both by railroad and highway between Nashville and Murfreesboro, each of great strategic importance throughout the war, made it a prime target for being within easy sound or distance of shot and shell on many an occasion, leaving small wonder that its only permanent damage was the large hole left in its lower right front side made by a canon ball.
Now in regard to the J.R. Park family, as is the case with many other fine old families in Middle Tennessee, no one took the time in his family to maintain and pass on to us a complete family history, so we cannot delve as far into the past as we would like to with specific names and dates.
James Richard Park was of Scotch-Irish lineage. His father was Dr. John E. Park, who was bom June 19, l814. He was a gradviate of the old Louisville Medical College. James’ mother was Rebecca Hubbard, who was born March 16, 1809. She was a daughter of Richard and Martha Hubbard. Richard Hubbard was born October 9, 1769. Richard and Martha Hubbard had a large family, consisting of nine daughters and four sons. One of their lineal descendants was Father Hubbard, the Glacier Priest.
James Richard Park was born November 16, I836, in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was the oldest of seven children, there being five boys and two girls. While he was quite young, the family moved to Seguin, Texas, a small town made up principally of Germans. While there, Mr. Park learned to speak German fluently, and years later he tried many times to teach his three grand daughters how to speak German, but they never retained more than a fragmentary knowledge of it.
I am indebted to Mrs. George Kinnard, formerly of LaVergne, for the loan of an article which appeared in one of the Nashville daily papers in the early part of 1919, containing some of the following interesting facts about Mr. Park’s early years, including some account of his services for the South during the Civil War.
While still in his early twenties, J.R. Park left Seguin and joined a party of prospectors to follow the lure of silver into Old Mexico. Being unsuccessful in the venture, he spent some time at Nassas, in the state, or district, of Durango, Mexico, teaching English to a class of young lawyers. When the Civil War came on, he hastened back to Seguin to enlist for the South. He became orderly sergeant in Company B, 32nd Texas Cavalry, Captain E.B. Millett commanding. At the same time he enlisted, his father and three of his brothers enlisted in the Fourth Texas under Gen. John B. Hood, his father becoming surgeon for his company. Two of the brothers made the supreme sacrifice for the Confederacy; Thomas J. Park dying on the 5th of July, 1862, of a wound received in the battle of Gaines Mills, in his eighteenth year of age, and John H. Park dying on April 23rd, 1863, in his twentieth year; an Arkansas Post prisoner. James R. Park distinguished himself for bravery at the battle of Blair’s Landing, when, under fire, he and his captain and Alonzo Millett and Ed Elam returned to the field of battle and recovered the body of Major General Tom Green (brother of Chancellor Green of Cumberland University; also later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of Tennessee) whose head had been torn from his body by a shell. Mr. Park was in every battle in which his company engaged and was never left behind to “hold horses”. He was honorably discharged near
Richmond, Texas, in May, 1865, and his discharge bears these words: “By order of Major General J.B. McGruder, having stood to his colors to the last.”
The final bugle call has been answered for lo these many years by the last surviving Confederate veteran. While the night wind chants its solemn dirge over their graves may we enshrine a special niche in our hearts in grateful memory of all of them as champions and defenders of their homes and loved ones, who were willing to give their all for a cause they believed to be just.
After the War, Mr. Park went to Georgia, where he resided for only a short time, moving to Normandy, Tennessee, in the fall of 1866, where he entered the service of the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway Company. At that time, messages about trains came through on an instrument called a register, and were recorded on a strip of paper. According to Mr. Park, there were then but five or six men in the service who could read the Morse Code. In Normandy (TN), Mr. Park received his first lessons in telegraphy from Mr. Sam Blackman, the depot agent there. Being an apt student, he quickly became an expert telegrapher, and from then on he was a railroad man to the core. Just as important, while in Normandy he met and fell in love with Miss Mary Catherine Scott, the lovely daughter of Dr. John H. and Virginia Ewell Scott. Dr. Scott had seen service as a physician in the Civil War, and he was later one of the original stockholders of the N & C Railroad, and had much to do with the building of the line to Chattanooga. Virginia Ewell Scott was the daughter of Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell, who had rendered distinguished service in the United States Army prior to the Civil War, and subsequently as a commanding officer in the Confederate Army.
When Mr. Park asked for the hand of Miss Scott in marriage, her parents registered strong objection on the grounds of the wide difference in the religious beliefs of the prospective bride and groom, but on no other grounds. To some people today that would present a pretty touchy and difficult problem, but to a young man who had traversed the length and breadth of the middle south more than once, plus forays into the far West and Old Mexico, facing danger and even death many times, we need be but little surprised to learn that he solved the problem in short order by espousing the religious beliefs practiced by the Scott family, and the marriage took place in the fall of 1867.
Not long after Mr. Park married Miss Scott, he was transferred and promoted to station agent in LaVergne. It appears that when they first moved to LaVergne, he rented Cherry Shade and later purchased it. As there came to be about eleven acres of ground on the Cherry Shade property, it was acquired in two different transactions by Mr. and Mrs. Park. The first tract, and no doubt the one on which the house was then standing, was bought by them by deed dated December 13, 1878, and of record in Book 24, page 447, Register’s Office for Rutherford County, Tennessee. This deed was from M.N. Cowden, Clerk of the Supreme Court in Nashville, and the recitals in the deed indicate that he was selling it in obedience to a court order, and further that the Birdwell’s were involved; they being people who had had many dealings with Thomas and John Hill, previous owners of the property. The second tract, containing about five acres, was purchased by Mr. Park from R.H. Dudley for the sum of $200.00, by deed dated October 18, l88l, as shown of record in Book 26, page 23. I have been reliably informed that in addition to the above properties, Mr. Park at one time owned some acreage farther up the Murfreesboro Pike, which he afterward donated as a building site for the LaVergne Church of Christ.
There were eight children born to Mr. and Mrs. Park. However, with so many deadly diseases prevalent during that period of time, such as diphtheria, typhoid fever, etc., and so little knowledge of preventive medicine, five of the children died either in infancy or while quite young. The three who passed the childhood stage were Mary Virginia, John Thomas (Named after John W. Thomas, once the President of the N. & C. R.R.), and Clara Dodge Park. Clara died in 1915, and John Thomas about one year later. More about Mary Virginia farther on in this article.
During the many years of their occupancy of Cherry Shade, Mr. and Mrs, Park became quite well known for their congeniality, friendliness and hospitality. Mrs. Park reigned over the household with charm and efficiency fully exemplifying the best traditions of the Old South in every respect. Their home soon became the accepted gathering place for their many relatives and friends. Both Mr. and Mrs. Park were great flower lovers, so the big yard was kept well stocked with many varieties of beautiful flowers. Mr. Park even insisted that a suitable space near the railroad depot be set aside for a nice bed of flowers, which always receive the best of attention.
Mr. Park was a man of high moral character and unquestioned integrity. He was one of the pioneers and builders of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in LaVergne. He devoted himself assiduously to any task at hand, and commanded the respect and admiration of those associated with him. His inquisitiveness and desire to make improvements led him to become known as an amateur inventor. During his career with the railroad, being greatly concerned as a depot agent with his responsibility for the safety of passengers and personnel within the vicinity of his station, he conceived the idea of building a small framed double mirror contrivance which could be placed on his desk in the depot, and from witch, without leaving his chair, he could see at any time whether a train was coming down the tracks from either direction. Company officials were so favorably impressed with his “gadget” that within a short time they made it standard equipment in stations all up and down the line.
After having long since mastered the Morse Code, Mr. Park eventually became entranced with the idea of how else it might be possible to send and receive messages, and possibly to singly record and reproduce sound; for instance, talking and singing or making music. Without the benefit of the vast knowledge and experience available today on the subject, he spent many an hour experimenting and building different mechanical gadgets and machines, until finally he came up with one which contained a cylinder and speaker which really worked. Many times he would beg and cajole one of his granddaughters to speak or sing In front of his cylinder, and then play it back to them. Those closest to him in and around LaVergne were much impressed with his inventive prowess in general, and presumably mostly financial ones, he never ventured into the commercial field with any of his inventions, and it wasn’t long until Thomas Edison’s talking machines and other inventions were sweeping the country.
As a special tribute marking the end of his long years of service, the railroad company presented Mr. Park with a beautiful gold Elgin pocket watch, with his name and the emblem of his Masonic Lodge inscribed on its back cover.
Mary Virginia Park was born at Cherry Shade June 2, 1876. Although her parents were not wealthy, they did possess substantial means, and she was reared under favorable circumstances, which include schooling at Ward’s Seminary, later Ward-Belmont College. She became a beautiful and well educated young lady. In 1904 she became the wife of James Buchanan Payne, a surveyor-engineer; a resident of LaVergne, and a descendant of Major John Buchanan, of Indian war fame in middle Tennessee.
This couple continued to live in LaVergne for a time, but before long Mr. Payne and his wife’s brother John, generally called “Jack” Park, also a civil engineer, succumbed to the prevailing urge of those to “Go West, young man,” so they ended up in far west Texas positions as surveyors-engineers connected with a big crew of men building a railroad through Yaqui Indian territory. Virginia Payne would stay with her parents most of the time, but as she could get a pass on the railroad anyway, she would now and again take the train for El Paso or some point near there to see her husband and brother.
Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Payne were blessed with four children; one son and three daughters. However, the son died In infancy. The daughters were Mary Agnes, the oldest, born June 2, 1906, Martha Virginia and Dorothy Alice; all named after kinfolk back along the family lines.
Mrs. Payne insisted on starting Mary Agnes to school at Ward-Belmont grade school, so she and her girlhood chum, Marion Pearson, now Kinnard, would commute on the local train each school day for their first year. Before the start of another school year, fate had stepped in and changes had to be made. Grandmother Park passed away; Mr. Park was suffering from a heart ailment, and needed to be nearer quick medical aid. Also, James B. Payne had died rather suddenly some years before; thus leaving Mrs. Virginia Payne faced with the task of taking care of her father and her three small children. Between father and daughter it was decided best to sell Cherry Shade and move to Nashville, where they would be near a heart specialist, and could send the children to city schools. So, by deed dated September 5, 1916, J.R. Park and Mrs. Virginia Park Payne sold (or in reality traded) Cherry Shade to W.W, Dillon, Trustee, in exchange for a house and lot on Sixteenth Avenue South, about one block south of Grand Avenue, which house had been built and occupied previously by the Thomas W. Wrenne family. In the deed conveying Cherry Shade a part of the recital is as follows “all of said land having been occupied continuously by J.R. Park as a home for more than 34 years, and known as Cherry Shade the said Mrs. Virginia Park Payne being the daughter and sole heir at law of J.R. and Mrs. Park, the latter now deceased.”
To bring this part of the story of Cherry Shade to a close, after Mr. Park and his daughter Virginia sold the property, it changed hands several times. Finally, the Tennessee Farmers Co-op built a large fertilizer and feed plant on the northerly adjoining tract of land. Because of the unpleasant odor from acid fumes originating in the fertilizer plant, together with huge clouds of dust being blown from the plant when it was in full operation. Cherry Shade became practically uninhabitable. Too late the many other residents in the immediate neighborhood realized their mistake in not using every avenue of protest against allowing the building of this type of industrial plant so near their former quiet and clean air homes. Eventually, enough protests were made to cause an order to be issued requiring the fertilizer plant to cut out the air pollution. In the meantime, Cherry Shade remained unoccupied for many months, and as usually happens in such cases, vandals began to take over. First, windows were broken, doors smashed in, and then general deterioration set in. Bushes and briers grew rampant, and neglect showed its hand. Finally, on Friday night, June 25, 1971, fire, set no doubt by vandals or arsonists, took the final toll and Cherry Shade was no more.
As with many another former pretty landmark in Middle Tennessee, to those who remain who have enjoyed the warmth of friendship and hospitality of Cherry Shade in days and years gone by, as well as to all who have sentimental ties connected with it, it can live hereafter only in pictures and fond memories.