Nashville’s historic Croft House sits as the centerpiece on land that today houses Nashville’s Grassmere Zoo. The historic home is part of the Grassmere Historic Farm and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with a reputation for being the second oldest home still standing in Davidson County.
Croft House, originally known as Grassmere Farm, was built in 1810 for Colonel Michael C. Dunn in the popular federal style of the era. The home remained in one family for five generations before being taken over by the City of Nashville. In 1846, Dunn’s son-in-law Lee Shute purchased the farm from him for $10,000. Several years later, Shute sold the farm for $5 as a gift to his newlywed son William and new wife Lavinia.
William and Lavinia began renovating the home to their liking soon after they gained ownership of it, changing the home from its original federal-style architecture to that of a more italiante style. They added porches to the home’s front and back, built a smokehouse and created a large garden. Their garden grew sweet potatoes, corn, wheat and hay and their farm raised swine and cattle. Their plantation and farm prospered well into the late 1800s.
William and Lavinia had four daughters: Lelia, Maggie, Venie and Kate. Katie married William Croft at Grassmere in 1888 and bore two daughters, Margaret and Elise, born in 1889 and 1894 respectively. In 1902, William Croft moved his family back to Cuba, with Margaret and Elise returning to Grassmere each summer to visit their family. In 1931, the Croft sisters returned to Grassmere and remained on the farm until their deaths in 1974 and 1985.
Shortly before their passing in 1964, the sisters had entered into an agreement with then Children’s Museum of Nashville (today, the Adventure Science Center), stating that the museum would pay property taxes and maintain the home’s upkeep during the sisters’ later years of life at Grassmere. After their passing, the museum were to become the home’s property owners under one condition: that the property would be maintained as a “nature study center,” preserved with the goal to educate Nashville’s citizens about animals and the environment.
Grassmere Wildlife Park was opened by the museum in 1990, featuring mainly North American animals, offering education programs and providing nature trails for hiking. Five years later, the park closed due to financial difficulty and the property, by default, was taken over by the city of Nashville. The will of the Croft sisters demanded the property remained as a nature center, so the city invited the Nashville Zoo to relocate to the Grassmere site and revamp the acreage.
The Nashville Zoo took over management of the Grassmere Farm in 1996 and in 1998, the Zoo, partnered with the Metro Historical Commission and the Metro Parks Department, began restoration of what had become known as the Croft House. The Croft House opened for visitors for the first time in spring 1998 and in 1999, Grassmere Farm reopened with a livestock barn, pastures, chicken coop and machine shed.
Today, Croft House is open to the public for tours, given on weekends in the spring and fall and daily in the summer months. Tours are included in the zoo admission fee and offered between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Visit the Grassmere Historic Farm page on the Nashville Zoo’s website for more information.