THE GREAT NASHVILLE FIRE OF 1916
On Wednesday March 22, 1916 a little boy was playing with a ball of yarn in Nashville which caught fire from a nearby stove. He threw the ball of yarn into the yard catching the grass on fire which spread very quickly because the winds were gusting up to fifty miles an hour that day. The fire spread next door to the Seagraves Planing mill. Who knows we might be related. This all occurred on North 1st street near Jefferson St. The fire spread quickly setting houses in Edgefield on fire. Edgefield in 1916 was the Belle Meade of the period. The wealthiest Nashvillian's lived there. Originally the area was part of a huge estate belonging to Dr. John Shelby who Shelby Ave. and Shelby Park are named after. Dr. Shelby is buried in the old City Cemetery. He built two mansions for each of his daughter's. One was named Boscobel and the other was named Fatherland. Over time the land was subdivided and many fine homes were built. As the Confederate Army of Tennessee retreated, after their defeat at Ft. Donelson, General Albert Sidney Johnston made his headquarters in Edgefield until just before the surrender of Nashville on February 25, 1862. Vanderbilt University was supposed to be built in East Nashville but it was decided that there just wasn't enough land available.
The sparks began to catch more and more houses on fire in Edgefield until a huge area was burning wildly out of control. Before it was over 600 houses were destroyed, which made up 35 blocks with a total loss of 1,500,000 dollars which was a huge amount in today's dollars. Three thousand people were made homeless. Tulip St. Methodist Church and Edgefield Baptist were heavily damaged. The Governor called out the National Guard to deter looters. The old Warner School was destroyed which was named after Percy Warner, who was then living in what is now the Administration building for the Nashville Auto Diesel school on Gallatin Rd. Warner's house was named Renraw, which is Warner spelled backwards. He owned the street car line which conveniently ended at the front of his house.
My wife Debbie attended the Warner school that had replaced the old Warner school. The combination of the fire and no room to expand compelled the wealthy to move west toward what is now Belle Meade in the 1920's. By world War II, Edgefield declined into a lower class white blue collar neighborhood. Many of the fine old homes that survived the fire were divided into apartments or the houses sometimes were neglected by their owners. This is the type of neighborhood I became familiar with when I dated Debbie. During the 1980's people of means started moving into the area and began restoring the houses to their original splendor. If you grew up in East Nashville, when I did, there were two things that everyone heard stories about. The great East Nashville fire of 1916 and the East Nashville tornado of 1933.
|The ruins of Warner School|