The Friends of Shelby Park are gearing up for a birthday party this weekend. The park known as “East Nashville’s Backyard” is 100 years old.
Shelby Park begins where the streetcar line from downtown used to end. In the 1890s, an amusement park was built there, complete with roller coasters. It only lasted a few years, but planted the idea that those 150 or so acres were a natural gathering place.
It took a few years and some wrangling, but ultimately the city bought the land for 40-thousand dollars—equivalent to just over a million today. East Nashvillians quickly adopted the park as the place to hold picnics, family reunions, and sporting events.
During the Depression, there were weekly movie screenings, as Edward Jones remembers in an oral history recorded by the Nashville library.
“It was a portable projection booth set up on a flatbed truck and a canvas screen run up between two flagpoles and everybody around the East Nashville area would go and sit on the hillside and watch the free movies. It was a great thing.”
The park once boasted a full-scale Dutch windmill, a boathouse shaped like a riverboat, and sprawling lodges. Those structures were lost over the years, some to fire, others to. The park is currently in the midst of a 2-and-a-half million dollar makeover.
Over the century, Shelby Park has more than doubled in size. The anniversary celebration begins at 8:00 Saturday morning.