Nashville Zoo and the Grassmere Historic Farm were recently honored to receive a $15,000 grant from the R.H. Boyd Family Endowment Fund of Nashville for the creation of an exhibit telling the story of Frank Morton and his family.
One of the most important contributors to the success of Grassmere Farm during the 1900s was Frank Morton, an African-American tenant farmer who came to work on the farm in 1919 and remained at Grassmere until his death in 1962. He and his wife, Agnes, had eight children, including one born after their move to Grassmere. Frank and his son Albert worked the farm while Agnes did the washing and ironing. Frank’s daughter Maude Morton Webb also helped with housework and cooking. All three families lived at Grassmere – Frank, Agnes and Albert in the main cabin located behind the Croft House, and Maude and her family in a cabin located near the current Wilderness Express train ride.
In 2014, relatives of Frank Morton reached out to Tori Mason, Historic Site Manager, wanting to learn more about their family’s life at Grassmere. Over the last few years, that relationship has developed into one of sharing information about the family.
The grant would give Zoo visitors a look inside the lives of the Mortons through their former home on the Grassmere Historic Home property. This project is important to Nashville Zoo as we seek to honor Frank’s individual contributions to Grassmere, as well as share this significant historical resource with the Nashville community.
The majority of African-Americans in the south became tenant farmers or sharecroppers by the end of the Reconstruction era, yet there are few locations in Middle Tennessee that interpret this significant part of history. By installing an exhibit in Frank Morton’s former residence, Nashville Zoo hopes to honor the work of Frank and his family, and provide our visitors with a window into the daily lives of tenant farmers throughout the south.
Visitors will enter the east side of the cabin (which is currently closed) and be immersed into the space where Frank Morton lived. Interpretive panels will talk about tenant farming and sharecropping, along with highlighting different aspects of the living space, pointing out remnants of newspaper and wallpaper on the walls and the ‘haint blue’ ceiling. A family tree of the Morton family will be available to view.
Photos, and quotes from fifth-generation owner Elise Croft's journals about the Mortons will be able to be seen and read. Audio oral histories from two of Frank’s daughters will be able to be heard, creating an even more immersive experience for visitors as they learn about the importance of this family to Grassmere’s success and sustainability.
We look forward to working with the family as we develop the exhibit that will help to tell their ancestor’s story at Nashville Zoo.