The Trolly Park: Precursor of Nashville's Public Parks
East End today is a tightly packed inner suburban community; yards are small as houses are carved out of small parcels of land, designed to capitalize on every square foot in this highly coveted historic district. The distinct features of the many houses of East End narrate a complex and engaging history. However, before the barrage of bungalows, East End began as a private park built for profit. Spring Park, erected in 1882, only existed for 5 years, but it laid the foundation for East End, its neighboring areas, and, to a great extent, all of Nashville’s early suburbs. The subdivision of East End was originally called East Edgefield, a plot poised to meet the needs of a white middle class struggling with racial friction and rapid overpopulation in the crowded city center. Its inception, however, tells a story of the much larger machinations of American infrastructure that shaped urban and suburban cities all across the nation.
Spring Park was one of the earliest parks in Nashville. Covering two blocks between 13th and 14th Street, it was constructed by a few land developers who lived in the area. The developers, who initially purchased a tract of 68 acres, worked to extend existing streets and develop additional ones, creating the subdivision they named East Edgefield. As housing increased, the population of the area grew. Just a short trolley ride away, the area known as Hobson Spring became an attraction to those seeking respite from city life. Because of the popularity of this site, the land owners decided to collaborate with the railway to establish a true destination of East Edgefield, creating what would formally be called Spring Park. The successful unification of private landowners with the incorporated railway companies established East Edgefield was a true accomplishment, ultimately proving the desire for green space as a definitive catalyst to move masses further from the city center while driving up property value in unremarkable areas.
Before Edgefield was built, the landscape of the area was pastoral; with a few family residences scattered about, the surrounding acres of undeveloped farmland had a variety of charming natural features. Hobson Spring, named after the owner of much of the surrounding area, was a summer gathering place and revered landmark for living nearby. Little evidence remains of pre-1870s Edgefield and the spring is no longer visible. The decades between 1870 and 1890 irreversibly changed the use and shape of this land. More precisely, the introduction of the streetcar and subsequent trolley park, Spring Park, set in motion the suburban development of the land now known as East End.
Fatherland Street was constructed in 1870 as a corridor for trolleys to access the East End, which offered a convenient and refreshing escape from the pollution and noise of downtown Nashville. “Greenspace” is still relevant in city and urban planning today; however, in the late 1800s, the ideal of greenspace propelled an infrastructure revolution—shifting commuting and driving up demand for railway expansion. As city centers grew, congestion and population left few areas for relaxation in nature for urban dwellers. Railway companies found a way to exploit the demand for less dense, “greener” neighborhoods. It was this desire that led to the development of the short-lived, yet immensely popular, Spring Park. Spring Park was the solution, and the trolley car provided access to it. The relationship between the city and the privately-owned Spring Park became a model of infrastructure so integral to the suburbs (those of Nashville and abroad) that its presence is almost imperceptible.