Changes in Land & Economy Define the Emerging New South 1875-1898
In the late 19th century, post Reconstruction, the Overton family remained at Travellers Rest and, as did the rest of the Nashville, adapted to a nation entering a new era of industry. The city regained its economic strength and saw significant changes to its neighborhoods, way of life, and industries. The Overtons and Travellers Rest mirrored these changes. As the family grew, the land that was once a contiguous farm was divided amongst its heirs and new homes dotted the landscape.
Beginning with Judge Overton’s acquisition of Arabians, blooded horses have been part of Travellers Rest since its earliest days. Tennessee has a long history with fine horses and in the 19th century was a national leader in thoroughbred racing, a past-time President Andrew Jackson took to Washington. However, as the 19th century came to a close standardbred trotters emerged in preference to thoroughbred racing in the state partly due to the improvements of roads and an increasing middle-class interest in the horses which could be used both for harness racing and transportation.
Capitalizing on this shifting interest to standardbred trotters three of Judge Overton’s grandsons used their inheritance of land to develop their own horse operation. May Overton, Jesse M. Overton, and Robert L. Overton, in partnership with their brother-in-law John Thompson and Van Leer Kirkmann, built The Hermitage Stud on land that straddled Franklin Pike and had once been part of Judge Overton’s Travellers Rest. In 1886, to help start the breeding program at the stud, the group purchased the champion trotter and sire, Wedgewood, from John S. Clark of New Brunswick, N.J., for $25,000. The men were promoters of the Cumberland Fair and Racing Association Park and its harness racing track where the trotters performed. When a road connecting the park and Franklin Pike needed a name, the promoters honored their prize horse, Wedgewood, and thus was born the road so many Nashvillians continue to use today. The grounds of the Cumberland Park would later become the State Fairgrounds and when the street was extended the name Wedgewood stood. The Hermitage Stud was a major supplier of standardbred trotters until 1898.
General J.M. Dickinson, one of Judge Overton’s great-grandsons through his mother’s side, was the last generation of Overton descendants to continue in the business of horses at Travellers Rest. He recognized the unique characteristics and potential of Arabians and began importing stock to build his breeding farm, Travelers Rest Arabians. Beginning in 1930, he studied bloodlines and became the country’s first importer of Arabians from Poland, where the horses were tested at the track. By 1935, Travelers Rest Arabians was the fourth largest breeding operation in the United States and, Dickinson had organized the first three National Arabian Shows in Nashville. His success was proven in multiple national prizes and a breeding program that was internationally recognized selling stock to 40 states and territories and 12 foreign countries.