At the City Council meeting Tuesday night, an ordinance to give Riverside Drive the honorary designation of "Riverside Memorial Boulevard" passed on its second reading.
This met with some derisive laughter on Twitter, and while it is true that Nashville seems to have a habit of arbitrarily renaming streets just to keep things confusing, this is actually getting Riverside Drive back to its old-school roots.
An idea for building the road may have resulted from a combination of two different plans for a National Cemetery Road in the county. A 1904 editorial in a local newspaper complained about the lack of a Riverside Drive in Davidson County. A suggested route would begin at Shelby Avenue, run south to the river, then going east, follow the river bank to a point opposite the National Cemetery on Gallatin Pike. The route would then turn west and continue to the cemetery entrance. Also in 1904, Davidson County petitioned the United State Congress to provide funds to turn Gallatin Pike into a National Cemetery Boulevard from the beginning of Gallatin Pike (now Main Street) near the river in East Nashville out to the National Cemetery. Neither plan was successful. Several early 20th century maps give two names for the roadway, Riverside Drive and National Cemetery Boulevard.
Though Nashville never officially adopted the name "National Cemetery Road" for Riverside Drive, obviously, Riverside Drive never lost its association with military memorializing. As the ordinance notes, "Riverside Drive in East Nashville is a roadway that has been designated as a memorial to the fallen soldiers of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War." There's a sign to that effect in the median.
But what's interesting is how this ordinance both codifies the road's status as a war memorial and helps further erase the war the road was first supposed to memorialize. After all, in 1904, when folks wanted the road to run to the National Cemetery, there were no fallen soldiers from World War I or II or the Korean War or the Vietnam War in that cemetery to be missed.
Which, according to Ridley Wills, in his terrific book Nashville Streets & Their Stories, is precisely why "National Cemetery Road" never caught on. There just wasn't enough support for naming the road in honor of those damn Yankees, even if they were dead, and thus mostly harmless. He writes "National Cemetery Drive never really materialized, possibly because so many Nashvillians were the children of Confederate soldiers, and were not at all interested in building a memorial drive to a Union cemetery."
It'd be nice if the ordinance was a bit more generous. It has been a 150 years, after all, and the cemetery the road was supposed to go to is full of U.S. soldiers who gave their lives on what most folks here considered to be foreign soil.
Might be time to do what folks in 1904 couldn't bring themselves to do and honor the original dead in that cemetery, too.