The Bluff, or French Lick Station (Alias “Fort Nashborough”)
In his 1858 work History of Middle Tennessee (p. 86) historian A.W. Putnam wrote “the fort at Nashborough was erected upon the bluff, between the south-east corner of the Square and Spring (now Church) Street, so as to include a bold spring which then issued from that point.” Putnam’s location for the fort that grew into downtown Nashville is a bit general, and there are sources that point to precisely where the fort stood. Andrew Castleman, who lived in the Bluff Station, was interviewed by frontier scholar Lyman Draper in 1844, and he provided highly-detailed information about its location and appearance. A map (in the Draper Papers, 6XX:80) drawn from Castleman’s information shows that the fort was just south of the spring to which Putnam referred. A second map was drawn by Draper from information provided by frontier settler, Robert Weakley (Draper Papers 1S:59).
But a more helpful map (in the manuscript division of the Tennessee State Library and Archives) was drawn from the recollections of a third early resident. It was entitled “Nashville in 1804” and was produced from information that came from “Mrs.Temple – daughter of Duncan Robertson.” Mrs. Temple’s map shows a structure labeled “White Hall” just south of “present Church Street,” and Putnam’s spring is also shown just to the north. In smaller print, White Hall is identified as the “former Fort.” In 1874 A.W. Johnson, another resident of old Nashville, wrote (TSLA, Bransford Family Papers) that “in 1802 or 1803, the walls of the first fort built in Nashville were standing at the mouth of Church Street,” substantiating both the location of the fort and the accuracy of Mrs. Temple’s recollection. The remains of the Bluff Station must have soon disappeared. The specific details of its demise seem lost, but what of the spring that caused the fort to be built where it was? In her Early History of Nashville (p. 63) Lizzie Elliott recalled what she had once been told by Morton B. Howell. He had reported that “during the war the Federals were blasting at the end of Church Street, near the top of the bluff. After one blast, the negroes at work noticed that the water of the spring had stopped flowing. It never came any more.”
Preliminary work on what is being called the Riverfront Park Redevelopment Project is underway, and if that project intends to include an historical component, perhaps a more accurately placed or at least a more accurately configured replica of the French Lick Fort, can be part of that redevelopment. There are a number of excellent sources that describe the appearance of the fort, including descriptions by Edward Swanson (TSLA, manuscript division, John Haywood Papers, folder 6), Hugh F. Bell (Draper Papers, 30S:252-3), and Lavinia Robertson Craighead (Draper Papers, 6XX:50), as well as A.W. Putnam’s description (p. 81, 84, and 86). As for where the original fort stood in relation to the present replica, the Bluff or French Lick Station stood slightly to the north of the replica.