There are zoos and then there are, well… ZOOS. Nashville Zoo falls into the latter category, with Jungle Jack Hannah himself placing our very own Zoo at Grassmere among the top 20 of the 222 zoos in the entire United States, and getting better every year. From the natural landscaping, which gives you the feeling of being in the wild with the animals as they move about their natural habitats, to the constantly ongoing festivals, evening events and educational experiences, this is a place worth so much more than a single annual visit.
This weekend was the 14th Annual Harvest Days Festival at the Zoo, celebrating the Croft Home, the second oldest residence in Davidson County open to the public and the centerpiece of the Zoo’s Grassmere farm. Tours of the lovely historic home, built in 1810, were given by interpreters, costumed for the period. The refurbished home was donated to the people of Nashville by the Croft sisters, Margaret and Elise, who often spoke of the importance of the land, which they considered far greater than its monetary value. The sisters stipulated that the land must be used in some way to educate children, so the land was deeded to the Children’s Museum of Nashville, which is now the Adventure Science Center. The land began its development as the Grassmere Wildlife Park at Elise’s death in 1985, but inadequate funds eventually made it necessary to close the park. In 1997 the Nashville Zoo took management of the property and, along with Metro Parks and the Metro Historical Commission, refurbished the home and developed the farm into the beautiful, thriving venue is has become.
The historic Grassmere Farm sits at the heart of Nashville Zoo and is included in admission. The lovely estate home is three story, although only the bottom two are allowed to be toured by guests, as ordered by the fire marshall, and is only attic space. Attached to the house by a covered walkway is the kitchen, which was added during post-war renovations and replaced a kitchen that had been located elsewhere. It was typical for kitchens to be built separately from the house, to reduce the heat invasion into the main part of the house during summer months and to reduce the risk of fire spreading through the remainder of the house.
In the immediate vicinity surrounding the lovely home is also a smokehouse where meats were cured and smoked, also a cabin which housed tenant workers employed by the family until the 1970’s, family cemetary, shed, chicken coop, carriage house, barn, pastures and garden. The gardens house many varieties of flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs and are currently maintained by the Davidson County Master Gardeners. The garden, spotted with benches and little tool sheds, is most definitely in itself worth a trip to the Zoo any day of the week.
The Harvest Days Festival celebrated the simple times, letting the kids (and some adults!) get in on butter churning, apple juicing, quilt making, potato stamping and many more “olden days” activities. There were also demonstrations of crafts such as quilting, weaving and woodcarving.
Keep a watch on this column for more Nashville Zoo at Grassmere happenings. And make sure not to let it be just an annual excursion, because there is always something fun and exciting for kids and adults happening at our very own Zoo!