How A Village Was Born

The Lady Friend lives in Old Hickory Village. It’s a nice little area with a real neighborhood feel, and the occasional adventure. I like wandering around the area because it has some great older houses, about 300 of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. This Saturday (May 20) is their annual tour of homes. I can’t find anything on the homes featured this year, but I did discover 2002 and 2003.

This year’s tour will feature not only some of the historic homes, but some of the newer and recently remodeled ones as well. Among the homes on this year’s tour you will find The Village’s resident 2600 pound water buffalo, a putting green, a “bottle tree” to keep away evil spirits and a bidet. Bidets are more
popular in Europe than the United States, but for whatever reason one has found its way to The Village. Another home has recently been increased by 2600 square feet—more than many homes in The Village and includes a 300 square foot bathroom.

It’s really a trip to walk through the neighborhoods because there are only a few basic floorplans. So the basic structure of the houses look the same, but with all the little additions and changes that have been made by each individual owner since then. And the house sizes noticeably increase as you get closer to the river.

The history of the area makes it all the more fascinating. It turns out that in January of 1918 the United States government realized if they were going to fight the Kaiser, they were going to need gunpowder in massive amounts for the doughboy’s guns. There were no large scale plants in the country at the time, so they went looking for places to build one.

They settled on Old Hickory. It was near Nashville, but since it was set back in Hadley Bend of the Cumberland River it was fairly secluded. With only one way in unless you have a boat. Great for protecting from German spies and accidental explosions which tend to happen in gunpowder plants. These days access is worse in a way now that the river is a lake. The area is surrounded on three sides by river. Most of the access is from Lebanon Road on the south end, and the north end bottlenecks down to only one bridge at Old Hickory Boulevard.

With a location chosen, they contracted with DuPont to build and operate the plant. Since it was so remote Dupont was also going to have to build an entire city with roads, municipal buildings, housing for thousands, recreation, sewer, electric, and water supply. All of this starting from nothing but a few farms and dirt paths traveled by tractors and horses. They were understandably proud of this engineering and organizational feat.

The accomplishment turned out to be a little anticlimactic. It was begun in January of 1918, and n November 11 of 1918 it was almost done. November 11 was also the day the armistice that ended WW1 was signed, so the plant was no longer needed. So all the construction workers were shipped back to their homes and the new town was given over to the bureaucrats.

In 1923 DuPont bought the town, refurbished everything, and built what is now known as Rayon City on the site. They rented the homes to their employees, with the distance your house was from the river (and directly commensurate house size) being a measure of how far up the corporate ladder you were. In 1946 they started selling off the houses to their owners and now all of the houses are individually owned.

About the time DuPont started selling the houses, they also destroyed a lot of ‘temporary’ buildings (that had been part of the original construction 20 years ago) and new ranch and cottage style houses were built.

So that’s how Old Hickory Village ended up as a melting pot of houses built in styles popular from the 1920’s through the 1960’s. It’s an eclectic mix, and walking through the neighborhood you can quickly tell when you get to the newer parts. I like the neighborhood feel of the place. The homes and lots are very small which adds to the neighborhood feel I enjoy, but also makes it a little cramped.

If you stayed with me through all that, go see the home tour. And don’t speed on your way through Lakewood.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hope you can make it to this year's Historic Old Hickory Village Home Tour May 19, 2007. Check out our new website www.oldhickory.org or see some great restoration photos at www.oldhickoryvillage.org

11:20 PM, April 12, 2007  

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