by Kara Furlong
Many sites were proposed to Bishop Holland McTyeire as he searched for land on which to build Vanderbilt University in 1873.
McTyeire eventually narrowed his choices to three: nearly 75 acres of farmland along the south side of West End Avenue, then several blocks from the edge of developed Nashville; and two locations in Edgefield, then a separate city east of Nashville across the Cumberland River. One of these was “Confederate Hill,” believed to be the present-day location of the James A. Cayce public housing development. The other was in the area that became Eastland Avenue.
Nashville’s daily newspapers made clear they preferred an Edgefield location. The Union and American argued that Nashville’s municipal government would be preoccupied with the city’s growing manufacturing and mercantile interests, while in Edgefield the proposed university would be “the grand feature of the town, ever sure of receiving all the aid that local legislation could afford it.” The Republican Banner pointed to Edgefield’s “broader, more evenly graded and better-shaded streets,” its quietness and abundance of natural beauty.
The citizens of Edgefield also pledged more than $49,000 if the campus was located there – more than twice the amount promised by the citizens of Nashville. On May 8, 1873, hundreds filled McKendree Methodist Church to hear the Vanderbilt Board of Supervisors’ decision. It was announced the campus would go on the West End property as long as Nashville’s citizens increased their pledge from $18,000 to about $48,000. In the end, Nashvillians donated $28,000 in cash and $15,250 in free land.
Since McTyeire had veto power over any decision the board made, the choice of location was essentially his. Though he never made public his thinking, on May 21, 1873, he wrote to university founder Cornelius Vanderbilt this explanation: “Of the many sites offered and which I examined, one was fixed upon as best. It is west of the city, beautiful for situation, easy of approach and of the same elevation as Capitol Hill, which is in full view.”
Source: Chancellors, Commodores & Coeds: A History of Vanderbilt University by Bill Carey
Image courtesy of Vanderbilt University Special Collections & University Archives