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VOL. 39 | NO. 30 | Friday, July 24, 2015

Whites Creek history dates to late 1700s

By Linda Bryant

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Blue Hills, a home built in the mid-1800s and owned by W. S. Whiteman, is at 4700 Whites Creek Pike. Nearby is Whiteman’s concrete barn, originally used as a paper mill until 1862.

-- Submitted Photographs Courtesy Of The Whites Creek Historical Society

Whites Creek, an unincorporated community of about 3,500 located in the northern part of Davidson County, has roots that date to the Revolutionary War era.

Named for the creek of the same name running north-south along U.S. Route 431, the district has its own ZIP Code of 37189 and its own U.S. Post Office.

For years, the largely rural area has been passed over by major developers. But that could change quickly as the building frenzy in Davidson County continues.

Many in Whites Creek would like to preserve the rural character of the district, which is rare for a Metropolitan area. They’d like to establish a new set of protective zoning guidelines called “rural development regulations,” and they are hoping to elect a council member and an administration that’ll support them.

The Ledger spoke with Marsha Murphy, president of the Whites Creek Historical Society, about the unique history of the area.

Q: When did the Whites Historical Society become active? Who participates and what are some of your most important goals?

The Earthman grocery building where, in 1881, Bill Ryan, a member of infamous Jesse James’ gang, was captured.

A: “The Whites Creek Historical Society first began meeting in the fall of 2013 with the intent of sharing and documenting our history, both in words and pictures.

“Since there was great interest within the community, we began meeting monthly and have made field trips, interviewed elder residents and have hosted visitors such as Carole Bucy, the Davidson County historian, Rep. Brenda Gilmore and representatives of Tennessee Department of Tourism.

“Our society has almost 40 registered members with more joining each month. Our most important goal is to document the day-to-day stories of Whites Creek families to add to the already known historical facts and publish this for future generations.’’

Q: Why do you think Whites Creek remained relatively untouched or undeveloped for so long?

“Much of Whites Creek was settled in lots of 640 acres with land grants from the Revolutionary War in the early 1800s. Descendants of several of those first families, such as the Knights and Marshalls, still live in the area. Others such as the Thompsons, the Johnsons and the Stenbergs have family history over 100 years old.

Frederick Stump’s tavern at 4949 Buena Vista Pike. Stump arrived in the Whites Creek area on Christmas Day, 1779. For his part in the Revolutionary War, he was given land in this area.

“There is such love of the community and this way of life that most family members retain land rights when it becomes available. Others that move into the area also love the agricultural way of life and have added their family names to this community.

“Talk to any land owner that also lives in Whites Creek, and you will find that the rural way of life that embraces agriculture is important to all.’’

Q: What is your own family’s history in the area? Can you explain what a Century Farm is?

A: “My great-grandfather, Gustaf Stenberg, emigrated from Sweden in 1882. His wife, Augusta, and three children joined him in 1884. After living in various places across the U.S. they moved to Nashville in 1888, and he continued his work as a stonemason, helping build Union Station.

“Family lore says that Gustaf had the largest derrick that was needed to put the statue of Mercury on top. He moved his family to Whites Creek in 1895 after purchasing 150 acres to farm. Old family letters tell us that fruit trees and strawberries were a mainstay in addition to various vegetables.

“After Gustaf’s untimely death in 1908, his 16-year-old son, Fred Stenberg, continued the tradition adding dairy cattle to the list of fruits and vegetables including strawberries, pears, blackberries, raspberries, butter beans, green beans, squash, tomatoes and potatoes.

“Not only was Fred a truck farmer on the Nashville town square into the 1960’s, he also sold his produce to H.G. Hills until the early 1970’s. He provided milk and vegetables for his six children, five of whom settled on the road that was now named Stenberg Road. His son, Frank Stenburg, continued the tradition of farming in a different way. His farm consisted of beefalo and cattle.

“The Century Farm program was created in 1975 by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and is administered as a public service by the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University.

“The requirements to be a Century Farm are that at least 10 acres must still be farmed by the family of the founding owner and that the farm must have produced at least $1,000 annually, or in the last 12 months. The program is for recognition and documentation, not legal protection.’’

Q: Can you name a few of the most historic properties in Whites Creek?

A: “It will be difficult to narrow this to just a few. The Herman Thompson family descendants own two beautiful colonial homes and were owners of the renowned Country Maid Dairy for 30 years. Both homes can be seen with their noble columns facing Whites Creek Pike between Dry Fork Road and Old Hickory Blvd.

“Another historical structure farther north on Whites Creek Pike named Blue Hills includes both a colonial home and brick barn that was originally used as a paper mill from 1849 to 1862.

“Two of the oldest structures still existing are Frederick Stump’s log home and tavern. Stump arrived in the Whites Creek area on Christmas Day, 1779. For his part in the Revolutionary War, he was given land totaling 1,700 acres in this area. Both buildings were positioned on Buena Vista Pike.

“The Alexander Ewing house or Woodlon as it’s also called, was built in 1822 and completely restored by the current owners in 1973.

“In the heart of the Whites Creek Historical District, at the intersection of Whites Creek Pike and Old Hickory Boulevard, there are four historic properties.

“The Earthman store and saloon (circa 1860) has a special story concerning the capture of Bill Ryan, one of Jesse James’s gang. With the reward money for capturing Ryan, Earthman built a house in 1882 next door to his store. Across the Pike, the Whites Creek Bank and Trust was built in 1911 and also later served as the Whites Creek Post Office. Next door the Whites Creek General Store was built in 1926; it also served as the Masonic Lodge and is currently Ri’chard’s Louisiana Café.’’

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: “In addition to the education of our members and documentation of historical facts and family lore, we are working on a website that will document articles, current and past pictures, a timeline of Whites Creek history and upcoming events.

“Along with the plans to publish a historical book, we have brought together community members that had not previously met but now function as a cohesive group.

“Our legacy as the only rural area in Davidson County recognized by the National Historic Register, has prompted us to be vocal in the NashvilleNext process to help maintain our agricultural base which is important for all of Davidson County.’’

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