Nashville History

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lola Mae Steele Oeser and Shelby Avenue


This is a story about my Mama, Lola Mae Steele Oeser, and a story about an old house that was lost to urban renewal.  Mama grew up in East Nashville and moved to Northeast Nashville after she married Daddy.  Except for a few years spent in Inglewood, she never lived more than three miles from the place she was born.   Our East Nashville roots run deep.  William Sanders Hunt, Mama's great-grandfather was living in Edgefield as early as 1855, long before it came to be known as East Nashville.  He was the first generation of the family in East Nashville.  My sister's granddaughter is the seventh generation to live in East Nashville.  Most of our family stories are centered in East Nashville and this one is no different.

Lola Mae Steele Oeser, 1919-1983,


The spot where the Exxon station sits, on the southwest corner of Shelby Avenue, near the Titan's Stadium, has a special meaning to our family.  Anytime we would drive past with Mama in the car, she would point to an empty graveled lot, west of the station and say, "That's where I was born."  I have to confess, being young and occupied with other things, I didn't ask questions or think about it much.  
After Mama died, in 1983, all of the questions I should have asked about the past, came at me.  I found a copy of Mama's birth certificate among her papers and noted that she was born at 227 Shelby Avenue which fit with the place she had pointed out.  Within a few years of her passing I was researching in earnest at Metro Nashville Archives, for any family information I could find.  I looked in city directories to see who lived at that address over the years and made notes.  I found a photo at the archives made during construction of the Shelby Avenue Bridge that had Shelby Avenue and East Nashville in the background. I zoomed in on that area and did a high res scan and could see several houses on Shelby.  


Shelby Avenue, 1910.  House on extreme left is the Harvey Campbell home, 227 Shelby Avenue.

That is about as far as it went, until one day, while looking at Marty Evan's Historic Nashville website, I found a photo of an old house on Shelby Avenue.  When I compared Marty's images to my scan, the houses matched.  Marty had titled the photos as "Guzze House Shelby Avenue."  I began my search for the original owner so the house, with the Guzzi family.  Going backward through deeds and other records it was finally determined that the builder of the house was a man named Harvey Campbell.

227 Shelby Avenue, circa 1961, image from Marty Evans, Historic Nashville.


Mr. Campbell, born in New York in 1812, came to Nashville in the late 1840's with his wife Mary, and four young children, Charlotte, Charles, Alonzo C. and Maria. A fifth child, Sarah was born in Nashville in 1853.  Campbell was a retail merchant and for many years had a store on the Nashville Public Square and another in Edgefield.  He sold dry goods, household furnishing and groceries. 

Harvey Campbell had purchased many lots and constructed houses that he would rent to Edgefield residents.   At one point he had more than twenty houses for rent.

Nashville Union and American, December 28, 1871

Nashville Union and American, June 4, 1872



He was also the proprietor of the Edgefield House, near the Woodland Street Bridge and advertised his rental properties in local newspapers.  

Nashville Union and American, May 11, 1873



Edgefield House, Creighton Collection, Metro Archives

 He sold his store on the public square to his son Charles.  Campbell became involved in the political affairs of Edgefield and was involved from the beginning in the incorporation of Edgefield as a city.  Campbell served on the first board of aldermen for Edgefield.  He was also involved in the political side of Davidson County, serving as a magistrate in the County and Chancery Courts.

Nashville Union and American, December 24, 1868

In the 1860's he purchased lot 43 of Shelby's second addition to Edgefield.  He already owned several adjacent lots and decided to build a house for himself on Shelby Avenue. . The house that Campbell built, was Second Empire style, popular in the U. S. from 1860 through 1880, though not common in the South. With a mansard roof topping the single tower and porch, this house looked different than most of the neighboring structures in East Nashville.   

Nashville Union and American, October 15, 1869

When Harvey and Mary Campbell moved into the new house in 1871, their sons, Alonzo and Charles, and daughter Charlotte had left home.  Charles, along with at partner, had taken over his father's store on the public square.  Alonzo became an engineer and chemist.  Charlotte married John H. Hunt and lived with her family at 233 Shelby Avenue.  Maria married attorney Malchi Bryan in 1873 and moved to Kentucky.  Sarah married W. Matt Brown, Jr. son of a former Nashville mayor.  By 1880 Mary had died.  Harvey's son Alonzo and his family and Harvey's daughter Sarah and her husband were living in the house, with Harvey.   

Harvey Campbell died in 1887 and the house passed to his grandson William H. Hunt and later to William's sister, Mamie Hunt.  The Hunt's did not live in the house but kept it as an investment, renting the house to others.  In 1917 the house was sold to Judge Malachi Thomas Bryan.  He had been married to Harvey Campbell's daughter Maria and was now a widower. Bryan was also the brother of Nora Bryan, who married Alonzo C. Campbell.

During the time that Bryan owned the house it continued to be a rental property.  Nashville directories list the families that lived in the house in those years.  In 1919 Felix and Lorena Hunt moved in, sharing the house with another tenant.  Felix Hunt lived in the house until 1921. Their daughter Minnie Hunt Steele, was my grandmother.  Apparently Minnie and her husband Wilmoth Steele were living in the house, with her parents, on August 23, 1919, the date on which Mama was born. By the time the 1920 Nashville directory was published, Wilmoth and Minnie (and Mama) were living on Howerton Avenue, north of Main Street.

When Malachi Thomas Bryan died in 1923, the house was sold out of the family for the first time.  The purchaser defaulted on the mortgage, and the executors, reclaimed and, sold the house to Mrs. Lena Guzzi in 1928.  The house remained in the Guzzi family until 1961 when it was sold to the Nashville housing authority and was soon after demolished.

227 Shelby Avenue, 2014, Google