Curious Nashville: How A Fringe Political Movement Named One Nashville Neighborhood | Nashville Public Radio

Curious Nashville: How A Fringe Political Movement Named One Nashville Neighborhood

Sep 23, 2018

Nestled in the Haynes-Trinity area of Nashville is Free Silver Road. Though it appears to be one simple street, North Nashvillians often tell stories about the old Free Silver, which is said to have been a large neighborhood with a rich history.

George Williamson, a Nashville native, first heard the name while working at Metro Water Services, but wondered about its history and wrote in to Curious Nashville to ask:

“Where and what was the section of town called ‘Free Silver?’ ”

What’s tricky about this question is that initial internet searches for “Free Silver Nashville” are overloaded with real estate results for Free Silver Road. But there was no readily available information online about a neighborhood of that name — and even a search through online newspaper archives came up empty.

Enter local historian David Ewing, a frequent aid to Curious Nashville, and himself a native who grew up not far from Free Silver. He has more information close at hand.

The name Free Silver and its origins date back to a late 1800s political idea known as the “Free Silver Movement.” William Jennings Bryan, three-time unsuccessful presidential candidate, was the leader of that movement, which pushed for unlimited silver coinage. Throughout the movement, silver became a symbol of economic justice throughout America.

Bryan ultimately came to Nashville several times, including in 1897 to see the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. According to the book “Nashville Streets and their Stories,” by Ridley Wills, Free Silver Road and the Free Silver subdivision were developed by J.B. Haynie in 1898. Haynie had been a follower of the movement and was inspired by Bryan’s visit to Nashville.

In the following years, the Free Silver neighborhood grew to become an area of homes and several businesses, including the Free Silver Baptist Church and a skating rink.

Current Haynes-Trinity resident Winnie Forrester said the skating rink was a popular spot for teenagers in the 1960s, and has since been turned into a hangout for the Outlaw Motorcycle Club.

The Free Silver neighborhood is part of the broader Haynes-Trinity area, which also has an abundant history.

The region was developed by Rev. William Haynes, starting in the late 19th century. Haynes, the son of a plantation owner and an enslaved mother, opened various churches and schools in the area, and assisted in the creation of American Baptist College.

Haynes-Trinity is a historically black neighborhood and was home to several civil rights activists in the 1950s and 1960s, many of whom attended American Baptist.

A visit to Free Silver Road now shows that the neighborhood is made up mostly of houses, with a small number of scattered businesses. While many of the homes are older and display traditional architecture, a number of large, angular, gray-and-white homes have recently been built in the area.

Residents have been actively discussing development. While working to preserve the area’s culture and history, many are also eager for business development and improved connectivity with the rest of Nashville.

Though the neighborhood has changed since its creation, Free Silver remains an area with strong cultural and historical significance.

Olivia Rhee is a junior at the University School of Nashville. She completed this report while job shadowing at WPLN.