Update: This exhibit gained national attention after opening in June of 2021 and the Morton Family Exhibit and Opening was awarded Top Honors for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Angela Peterson Excellence Diversity Award at the AZA Annual Conference in Baltimore, MD in August of 2022. This award recognizes institutions that have made significant strides in creating influential and transformative programs in diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion. We were awarded top honors for exemplifying inclusion, diversity and equity by examining a difficult part of local and regional history.
To date, the Morton Family Exhibit and Opening have been recognized with the following:
- Tennessee Association of Museums
- Award of Excellence, Permanent Exhibit
- Award of Excellence, Special Event (Opening ceremony)
- Past President's award contender
- American Association for State and Local History
- Leadership in History Award of Excellence, Special Project (Exhibit and Opening Ceremony)
- Tennessee Historical Commission
- Southeastern Museums Conference
- Honorable Mention, Exhibition Competition
- Association of Zoos and Aquariums
- Top Honors for Angela Peterson Excellence in Diversity Award
Even though Nashville Zoo is only 24 years old, the history of the Grassmere property goes back much farther. Before the property was managed by the Zoo it was actually a family home and farm. From an original land grant in 1786 to today, many people have inhabited this site, including enslaved individuals and tenant farmers.
Built in 1810, five generations lived in the home up until 1985. From 1810 until the time of Emancipation, about 33 enslaved individuals lived, worked and died at Grassmere. In 1919, Frank Morton and his family came to work at Grassmere as tenant farmers. Morton's knowledge was crucial to the ongoing success of the Grassmere Farm. Frank Morton and his wife raised 9 children in their years at the farm, and some of their children stayed on to work even after Frank's passing in 1962.
Over the past two years, we've been researching and designing a new exhibit to tell the story of the Morton family and their important work. The family cabin that the Mortons resided in while they worked and lived at Grassmere has been refurbished thanks to a grant from Humanities Tennessee, and funding from the Metro Historical Commission Foundation, Historic Nashville, Inc., and an anonymous donor. By working with the relatives of Frank Morton, the Zoo was able to create an immersive exhibit with interpretive panels featuring information about tenant farming, the living space, archival photos and quotes from farm owner Elise Croft's journals, as well as oral histories contributed by two of Frank's daughters, done in 1991.
We're excited to add this exhibit recognizing the contributions of the Morton family to the Historic Farm. Open daily, you can visit the cabin, located behind the Grassmere Historic Home, and participate in a self-guided tour on your next visit!