By JONATHAN ROMEO
Edith McCord was born and reared on what was known as Hardscuffle Road in Brentwood – now Church Street East – and lived there for 30 years until her family sold the property in the mid-1970s.
Edith McCord was born and raised on what was known as Hardscuffle Road in Brentwood – now Church Street East – and lived there for 30 years until her family sold the property in the mid-1970s.
The McCords were one of about 50 families who made up the Hardscuffle community, Brentwood’s only black neighborhood, which was first settled by newly freed slaves after the Civil War.
“Everybody knew everybody,” McCord recalls. “We went to the two-room school, shared the churches, had a baseball field up there. We all got along real well together.”
Not much of the neighborhood remains to indicate it ever existed — there is a historical plaque in the median of Church Street East, but to the untrained eye, passersby would never know the rich history of the area.
That overlooked note on Brentwood’s past is what inspired former Brentwood resident John Oden to include the story of Hardscuffle Road in his book, “The Brentwood I Remember.”
“One reason I wrote the book is because no on ever researched the black families there,” Oden said. “There’s been a lot on the rich families, but nothing on Hardscuffle.”
Around 1867, Oden said formerly enslaved people started to buy property along the county road. In his book, Oden set out to correct many of the false ideas on how the neighborhood came into being.
“It was reported slave owners gave that land, but that’s absolutely false. The thing that make me proud is they bought all those lots. I have those recorded deeds.”
Into the early 1900s, more black families started to buy property there. Lots in those days cost about $35-$50 and families built their own homes. Eventually, because the road was solid rock with some gravel on top, it earned the nickname Hardscuffle.
“They were the only black families in Brentwood at that time,” Oden said. “It was a great big community who all got along together, and knew and loved one another. It was just a great, great bunch of folks.”
As McCord said, the three churches, school and baseball field united the community. Oden’s book complies a number of stories from that time and can be found at the Brentwood Library.
In the mid-1970s, most of the families began to sell off their land. With the construction of Interstate 65, property values started to rise and many families saw a chance to make a good deal of money.
“We didn’t have no problem in selling it or nothing like that,” McCord said.
The going price for a lot on Hardscuffle Road at that time was about $150,000, and all but one family – which still lives on Church Street East today – took advantage of the sale.
“Their homes were very small and they had an opportunity to get some money, and go to a nice area of Nashville, buy a home and have it paid for. Everybody was happy, but nobody realized in 1970 what Brentwood would be.”
Oden estimated those lots now would sell for “several hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
The families now are scattered not only throughout Nashville, but all over the country. Some notable Hardscuffle residents are former Tennessee State Rep. Mary Pruitt and Reverend William Owens, who co-founded the Coalition of African American Pastors.
Oden said he can’t emphasize enough how much Hardscuffle meant to the city’s history, and how he hopes more people take the time to appreciate Brentwood’s past.
“You cannot really fully explain how much they’ve done for Brentwood – it’s amazing, it’s absolutely amazing,” he said.
“They had just as much to do with the success of Brentwood as anyone. It was a very close-knit community, everyone got along and helped one another. It helped set the tone of what Brentwood is today.”
For McCord, that sense of community hasn’t left even after the residents of Hardscuffle Road disbanded. She said the group regularly meets at church and people make an effort to stay in touch.
Also, every five years the longtime residents of Hardscuffle Road and their descendants have a reunion in June, which draws about 100-200 people. McCord said the last was in 2014 – its 25th reunion – and it continued that same sense of community.
“Everybody was there,” she said.
Jonathan Romeo covers Brentwood for Home Page Media Group. Contact him at [email protected]