Grassmere Historic Home

Have you ever visited the Zoo and wondered where the names "Grassmere" and "Croft Center" came from or what they mean? The answers to these questions can be found during a tour of the Historic Croft Home, located at the Historic Farm area of the Zoo.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Homes, the Croft Home, built in 1810, is the centerpiece of the Grassmere Historic Farm and is open seasonally for guided tours. Interpreters will take you on a walking tour through the home, telling you the history of the property, stories from the five generations who lived there, and how the Zoo came to be located on the land. During the tour, you will see many original pieces of furniture, a portion of the extensive book collection, and several family portraits. Be sure to look for the name that was etched on a pane of glass over 100 years ago. After touring the home, you can explore the rest of the farm grounds, including the three-tier heirloom garden and the family cemetery, which is the final resting place for several family members.

Historic Home Tours - Schedule

The Grassmere Historic Home will be open for daily tours beginning May 31. Tours start at the front porch at 10 a.m. and run every half hour. The last tour starts at 4:30 p.m.

If you or your group are interested in a special tour of the Croft House during our off season, click the link below please or contact Tori Mason, Croft House Manager, if you would like more information at 615-833-1534 ext. 130.

Program TitleOverview
Croft House Events & Private Group Tours For more information on special events, tours, and private group tours that are scheduled throughout the year.
Historic Croft House at Nashville Zoo Lesson KitA Lesson Kit for Teachers and Parents.

The History

The home was built by Col. Michael C. Dunn and was completed around 1810, making it the second oldest residence in Davidson County that is open to the public. It was built in the Federal style, or without the ornate front and back porches it has now. Michael Dunn's son-in-law, Lee Shute, purchased the farm for $10,000 in 1846. Several years later, Lee sold the 346-acre property to his son, William Dickson Shute, for the sum of $5, as "a loving gift" to William and his new bride, Lavinia.

William and Lavinia renovated the home after the Civil War, changing the style from Federal to Italianate and adding the porches between 1876 and 1881. Also added at this time were the smokehouse, kitchen and three-tiered garden. Primary crops were sweet potatoes, corn, wheat and hay. Swine and cattle were raised, and flowers and apples from the gardens were sold. The farm prospered late in the 1800's.

William and Lavinia had four surviving adult daughters: Leila, Maggie, Venie and Kate. Kate married her husband, William Croft, at Grassmere in 1888 and had two daughters, Margaret, born in 1889, and Elise, born in 1894. William Croft moved his family to Cuba in 1902 for business, but Margaret and Elise returned to Grassmere every summer to stay with their grandfather and aunts. In 1931, Margaret and Elise returned to Grassmere and stayed until their deaths: Margaret in 1974, Elise in 1985.

In 1964, the Croft sisters entered into an agreement with the Children's Museum of Nashville (now the Adventure Science Center). The agreement stated the museum would pay property taxes and assist with the upkeep of the home while the sisters lived the remainder of their lives at Grassmere. After their deaths, the museum would become owners of the property and buildings. The sisters placed one stipulation in their agreement with the museum - their property would be maintained as a "nature study center," preserved to educate Nashvillians about animals and the environment.

In 1990, the museum opened Grassmere Wildlife Park, displaying primarily North American animals, offering educational programs, and providing nature trails for hiking. The park was closed in 1995 for financial reasons, and the property became Nashville Metro property by default. The city of Nashville was bound by the will of the sisters to preserve the property as a nature center, and the Nashville Zoo was invited to relocate to the Grassmere site.

Nashville Zoo began management of the Grassmere property in December 1996. In 1998, the Zoo partnered with the Metro Historical Commission and the Metro Parks Department to restore the Croft Home. The Croft House opened to visitors for the first time in spring 1998. In 1999, the Grassmere Historic Farm opened, including a livestock barn, pastures, chicken coop and machine shed.

Nashville Zoo is now offering a cookbook that gives a glimpse of middle Tennessee life in the 1800's through food and cooking - Attic Heirlooms: Recipes from Grassmere.

The Gardens

The gardens of a family farm, separate from the fields for growing cash crops, served a wide variety of purposes in the 1880's. Some plants were purely ornamental while others provided food and herbs for cooking, or were used as medicine. The three-tiered family garden of the Croft House was no exception. Flowers from the gardens and apples from the orchards were sold by the family as a source of income, and Elise Croft canned pear preserves.

The Master Gardeners of Davidson County have "adopted" the working farm and have provided the manpower, resources, and expertise to transform the areas around the home to their former beauty and bounty. Get gardening tips from them every Saturday in March and April - Learn More!

The main garden area includes period flowers and plants, a second tier of heirloom vegetables and medicinal plants and herbs, and a revived orchard. There is also a culinary herb garden behind the home's kitchen, heirloom roses in the back of the main garden and numerous daffodils, irises, and azaleas that dot the farm.

The Master Gardeners work in the gardens most Monday, Wednesday and Saturday mornings, weather permitting, and are available to give tours and answer questions about the plants and their care. Garden tours can be arranged for groups during the season, especially around spring planting and fall harvest times. To schedule a garden tour, contact Tori Mason (tmason@nashvillezoo.org) or complete the Croft House: Traditional House & Garden Reservation Form. For more information about the Master Gardeners or their collaboration with the Zoo, e-mail Tori (tmason@nashvillezoo.org) or call 615-833-1534 ext. 316.