Tag Archives: Cumberland River

Sulphur Dell: What was in the Water?

nashville-republican-banner-short-version-june-1-1841-j-h-bransford In the late 1700s, pioneers discovered a special place on the banks of the Cumberland River where a natural sulphur spring flowed, and deer and other wildlife licked the mineral salt. Named French Lick Branch, the creek ran through “Sulphur Spring Bottom”, a low-lying section of Nashville which soon became the city park. A ball field was established where games could be played, and picnics, horse racing, and other leisurely events were held.

In 1841, the Republican Banner reported that J. H. Bransford, a partner in the dry goods business of Maulding & Bransford, found opportunity to refit the spring for bathing purposes. The city allowed Bransford to take on the project, but in return he agreed to not charge patrons for its use. Being the entrepreneur that he was, however, J. H. would certainly offer “fruit, cigars, &c.”[1] for sale.

1828-fwIn a newspaper notice of June 1 to announce his venture, Bransford noted a chemical analysis on the water at the spring had been performed by a “Professor Bowen” in 1827. The analyzer was most certainly, George T. Bowen, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Nashville. Per a November 18, 1928 death notice in the Hartford Courant, young Dr. Bowen had passed away at the age of 28[2]. Hopefully, his demise did not come about from inhaling the pungent sulphur during his assessment.

nashville-republican-banner-long-june-1-1841-j-h-bransfordNonetheless, the examination was repeated by Dr. Gerard Troost, Tennessee State Geologist, who moved to the area in 1928 from Indiana to become professor of mineralogy and chemistry at the University of Nashville. and was probably a colleague of Bowen. Undoubtedly, Troost suffered no ill health from his inspection of the sulphur spring, as he died in 1850 as a result of a cholera outbreak in Nashville.[3]

The Republican Banner article goes on to lists the results of both distinguished chemists. Dr. Troost’s results proved the close resemblance of Nashville’s sulphur spring composition to that of Harrogate Springs in England. Today, the establishment is the oldest bottler of water, dating back to the 16th century.[4] By comparing the mineral content of a world-famous sulphur spring, to one discovered only a few decades before, Bransford was establishing the quality of the resort he was to build.

Bransford, Bowen, nor Troost could have conceived, yet even imagined, the historical significance of what would become Nashville’s Sulphur Dell. The magicial springs gave way to the ballpark’s mysterious smell, flavor, and mystique for years to come.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Nashville Republican Banner, June 1, 1841, p. 2.

[2] Hartford Courant, November 18, 1828, p. 3.

[3] Gerard Troost (1776-1850) , Geologist. http://faculty.evansville.edu/ck6/bstud/troost.html, retrieved February 28, 2017.

[4] Harrogatespring.com. http://www.harrogatespring.com, retrieved February 28, 2017.

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Part 1: Which Direction For the New Nashville Ballpark?

Major League Baseball states in rule 1.04 “THE PLAYING FIELD: It is desirable that the line from home base through the pitchers plate to second base shall run East Northeast.” Recent renderings of the new Nashville Sounds ballpark do not line up that way.

Old Sulphur Dell was located where it was because the city’s recreational area was there, and with baseball becoming more popular in the mid- to late-1800s an area was dedicated to play. Once the grandstand and field were laid out permanently, the batter faced the southwest toward the State Capitol.

There was no problem with the sun getting into the batters’ eyes if games began before noon. During afternoon games, the sun was definitely a problem. Unfair to the batter, perhaps, but doubtful that too many pitchers or center fielders complained about it.

Over 50 years later it was determined to turn the ball field around so that the pitcher and center fielder would be facing the sun in the afternoon, and the batter would not. Nashville’s baseball following was continuing to grow and a new state-of-the-art, covered grandstand would provide shade for paying customers, too.

After the 1926 season the old grandstand was torn down and a new one was rebuilt and finished in time for the 1927 season. Sports writer Fred Russell reported in the 1940s that the press box view from high above home plate offered a view of the outline of the old base paths.

The batter no longer had to battle the late afternoon sun as he faced the northeast. There was no consideration to add a lighting system at that time as night baseball was being experimented with but not looked upon as a necessity. Fans came to the game at the end of the day and could often be home for suppertime at game’s end.


Mayor’s Office, Ballpark Site Evaluation Study, November 2011, E-1

Today sun angle is a prime consideration for placing new stadiums. A batter’s line of sight is important along with as many of the players in the field as possible. Safety was, is, and should be an issue.

Space availability is often the most common reason for placement of a ballpark. It is conceivable that with games being played mostly at night there should be no problem with the placement of Nashville’s new baseball stadium based on the direction of the sun.

Perhaps the vista of a downtown skyline is an important aspect of today’s newer ballparks to display the general character of a particular city. But is that view necessary? Looking toward downtown from where the proposed home plate would be, looking to the south directly down Fourth Avenue, is not necessarily the best showing of Nashville’s skyline.


Mayor’s Office, Ballpark Site Evaluation Study, November 2011, E-2

Placement of the grandstand and field in 1927 must still have merit. Nashville has commissioned many iconic art displays; why not do the same for something to be viewed to the northeast beyond center field, such as a beacon tower that calls attention to the Cumberland River?

The preliminary concept plans have been published, and eventually they will develop into a final plan. Perhaps the public is just being teased with the original designs.

The question remains: Should Rule 1.04 be merely a suggestion?

© 2014 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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