HISTORY Channeled

It Hurts So Much (To See You Go) The sad and almost forgotten saga of Evergreen Place

On Sept. 22, 2005, the locks were removed from a temporary chain-link fence at the intersection of Gallatin Pike and Briley Parkway. Despite a revoked demolition permit and a Metro stop work order, bulldozers rumbled across the property. Pushing against the foundation of “The Jim Reeves Museum at Evergreen Place,” the bulldozers quickly exposed ancient log timbers hidden by the clapboard facade. In less than two hours, the house was no more.
      Some East Side residents viewed the destruction as good riddance to a run-down former tourist trap and neighborhood eyesore; others lamented the loss of an East Side landmark. Evergreen’s story began in 1785, just six years after the founding of the city of Nashville, when the Rev. Craighead was appointed the first dean of Davidson Academy (the predecessor of Peabody College at Vanderbilt). Settling in the small village of Haysborough, approximately six miles northeast of Nashville, Craighead built a two-room log cabin on what is now the dividing line between Inglewood and Madison.
      In 1826, real estate trader Anthony W. Johnson purchased the home from the Craighead family and expanded the ground floor, added a second story, and transformed it into a Greek Revival manor house. In 1854, Johnson sold the property to Mary and George Bradford. The Bradfords planted a grove of evergreen trees on the property, named it Evergreen Farms, and established a large farm on the surrounding property. After George Bradford died in 1866 from tuberculosis he contracted while in a Union prisoner of war camp, Mary continued operating the farm, eventually passing it on to her sons.
      By the middle of the 20th century, the residential development of Inglewood and Madison, along with the construction of Briley Parkway, had nibbled away at the acreage of Evergreen Farms. Ownership of the original farmhouse, outbuildings, and several wooded acres was maintained by the Bradford family until 1980, when Jim Reeves Enterprises purchased the historic home and property.
      Opening in 1981, the Jim Reeves Museum at Evergreen Place was a memorial to the late Grand Ole Opry star and Country Music Hall of Fame member. Reeves began his career in the late 1940s as a radio announcer and vocalist. After scoring several country hits in the mid-1950s, Reeves transitioned to a smooth, crooning pop-vocal style that made him a superstar. Starting with the 1957 No. 1 country hit “Four Walls,” Reeves began regularly scoring top 10 country hits, frequently crossing over to the pop charts, and placing him at the forefront of the new, smoother “Nashville Sound.” Reeves’ crossover hits not only expanded the popularity of country music in the U.S., but led to him becoming the first international country star, attracting large followings in the U.K., Ireland, Europe, South Africa, India, and Sri Lanka.
      Reeves’ life ended on July 31, 1964, when his plane crashed just north of Brentwood, Tennessee, killing Reeves and his manager Dean Manuel. In the years that followed, Reeves’ widow, Mary Reeves, worked to preserve his legacy. RCA continued releasing his recordings, drawing from both previously unreleased material and remixes and overdubs of past releases. As the records kept rolling out, Reeves eventually scored an astounding 36 posthumous country hits.
      Opening in the spring of 1981, the Jim Reeves Museum at Evergreen Place quickly became a popular tourist attraction — drawing fans from around the world, many erroneously assuming Evergreen was Reeves’ former home. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, the house told the story of Reeves’ life alongside the history of Evergreen Place.
      The museum closed in 1996 after Mary Reeves’ declining health left her unable to manage the property. While the property’s legal ownership was tied up in bankruptcy court for many years, it fell victim to vandals and squatters. In 2004, real estate investor Robert N. Moore, Jr. purchased the property and soon worked out a prospective retail development deal. There was one problem: that pesky house and its status as a historic landmark.
      In the weeks that followed the bulldozers, accusations flew, denials were issued, and lawsuits were threatened. But in the end, a $3,000 settlement was paid to Metro (compensation for three days of “archeological study”), two log cabin outbuildings (conveniently located on a less-developmentally attractive portion of the property) were preserved, an estimated $1.4 million profit was pocketed, and the East Side gained a Home Depot and a Regions Bank but lost a portion of its physical history forever.