Zollicoffer - a Municipal Park
In the mid-1930s, some civil-minded citizens got together for the purpose of having a municipal park built near the town of Livingston. A historic site located on the Hilham road, which was once a training camp for soldiers during the Civil War, was chosen for the construction of this park. That area, known as Zollicoffer, was originally named for a General from the Civil War days. The municipal park that was constructed included a 9-hole golf course, a club house, a lodge, a lighted croquet court, and a lake stocked with bass and blue gill that covered approximately 34 acres of the area. A pier was built where boats could be rented for fishing or to those who just wanted to paddle around in the lake.
According to information obtained from records of the Register of Deeds office of Overton County, individuals involved in getting this project up and going were W. H. Estes, C.C. Taylor, W.L. Holman, Roy H. Smith, Artie Hodges, Roy Eubank, C.B. Arnold, W.H. Winningham, G.F. Winningham, H.P. Howard, Mrs. Clarice Brown, James H. Myers, Charlie Day, H.B. Nevans, C.H. Dowell, Dr. W.M. Breeding, Arlice Hodges, J.B. Young, Walter Eubank, H.H. Patterson, A.F. Officer, P.W. Maynord, Mr. and Mrs. Addison Bilbrey, Benton McMillian, Jesse T. Mitchell, Ernest Reed, and M.F. Hankins. This group of people conveyed the site of approximately 140 acres to the Town of Livingston in 1935, and this property was owned by the town until September of 1946. I am told that the WPA provided the labor for this project. Zollicoffer springs provided the source of water for the lake, and a dirt and rock dam was constructed to form the lake.
E.B. Gray shared with me some of his memories of going to Zollicoffer for the purpose of fishing as well as hunting. E.B. began fishing at a very young age, and through his father, he made the acquaintance of a man from Nashville by the name of John Prichett. Mr. Prichett had a heart condition and was advised by his doctor that he needed to take life easier. Following his doctor’s instructions, he came to Livingston looking for a fishing companion. In talking one day with E. B.’s father, he told Mr. Gray how he was in need of someone to fish with. In response, Mr. Gray recommended his son for the job. Upon being asked about this, E.B. happily agreed to take on the task. Mr. Prichett instructed him to call him collect at his home in Nashville whenever E.B. determined that the water was just right for fishing, then he would drive up the following day and pick E.B. up at his home at 7 a.m. prompt. Although on the first occasion E.B. called Mr. Prichett about going fishing the next day, he was very doubtful that Mr. Prichett would keep his word about being at E.B.’s home by 7 a.m; however, he was quite surprised when Mr. Prichett drove up at 6:55 a.m. that next morning. That began a long friendship between the two, and not only did they fish together, E.B. would caddy for Mr. Prichett when he came to play golf at Zollicoffer. E.B. also told me duck hunting was also a popular sport at Zollicoffer and that several men in the area participated during that season each year.
Another story E.B. shared with me was how he, Hubert Patterson, and Houston Hodges decided to build a pressurized suit or a diving suit to be used for going down and exploring the bottom of the lake at Zollicoffer. They constructed this homemade suit out of an old water heater, rigged up with water hoses, an air tank, and a pressure gauge. Before trying it out in the lake, E.B. was selected as their guinea pig to test out the rigging they had built, and the test took place in a rain barrel. The homemade suit passed the rain barrel test with flying colors, so they all agreed the suit was ready to be tried at Zollicoffer.
Bill Estes oversaw some of the activities at Zollicoffer, and although he was hesitant to go along with their plan, he agreed that they could give it a try. Hubert Patterson got into the suit to begin this adventure on the bottom of the lake. Everything worked perfectly until he stepped into a sink hole. After a few minutes, he realized that the only way he could free himself from the sink hole was to get out of the suit, and to do so, he had to release all the air out of the tank. When he began letting the air out of the tank, a large quantity of air bubbles began coming to the surface. Upon seeing this, Bill Estes nearly panicked thinking something was terribly wrong. He was pacing back and forth, back and forth, probably feeling helpless, when Hubert Patterson finally appeared at the top of the water. Although no harm came to Hubert, this ended the adventures with the rigged-up water heater for these young men.
Sam Coward Jr. remembers when he was a student at Livingston Grammar School, probably in the third or fourth grade, the class trip was to walk from the school to Zollicoffer for the day. Each student took lunch in a brown paper bag to have at noontime. He told me there were probably 20 students in the class and he believes Mrs. Jessie Ledbetter, wife of Carl Ledbetter and mother of Carl French Ledbetter, was the teacher that year. He can also recall going with his father, Sam Coward Sr., to watch the croquet games on the lighted court. Judge Lee Bohannon and Dr. Breeding were probably the biggest fans of this particular sport, and played not only at Zollicoffer, but at Dr. Breeding’s residence also.
Buck Ward recalled how the freshman class at Hilham, in which he was a member, went on their class picnic to Zollicoffer. He also told me how lettering with rocks was placed on a hillside that read “Zollicoffer Lake”, and those words could be seen from some distance away. He remembers that folks could fish in the lake all day for just $1, and he did quite a bit of fishing there while he was growing up. He said the club house, as he remembers it, contained some beautiful antique furniture.
Zollicoffer Lake was evidently a place used for lots of social gatherings, parties, and get-togethers, in addition to school outings and trips. It has been described as a very beautiful place by everyone I’ve talked with who had been there during the years it was in operation. But for some reason, a dispute of some kind arose between some of the parties, and as a means to resolve whatever problems there were regarding the matter, a partition lawsuit was filed in the Chancery Court of Overton County.
When all the dust settled from the disagreements that came about, the property was sold and divided into three tracts. Tommie Neely and wife Attrice (Ledbetter) Neely bought the largest of the three tracts that were sold. Will Day also bought a tract and Erby Smith bought the third. Judy Neely Simmons, daughter of Tommie and Attrice Neely, now owns the property her parents bought. The stone columns, although crumbling away, that served as the entrance to the lake still remain near the Neely home. She told me in a recent letter I received that she and her husband have been encouraged to have the lake reconstructed. If they did decide to rebuild the lake, it would be nice if at the same time, we could turn the hands of time back to a time when a third grade teacher could take a class on a trip that she and the students walked all that distance for an all day picnic. The planning of the day-long event would not have included the worries and concerns about the safety of small children we hear about today.
It isn’t likely that any teacher today would even remotely consider such an outing that involved at least a 3-mile hike with 20-plus students and no other adult along. A trip such as Mrs. Jessie Ledbetter’s class took, which was thought as nothing out of the ordinary then, probably wouldn’t even be permitted by the school system today, for more reasons than one.
How different our world is from the one that is described in this story. While I certainly appreciate many things our world has to offer, I truly believe the days when Zollicoffer was a place families enjoyed calm, serene days had in many respects more to offer than ours do today.
Our daily lives may have many luxuries that weren’t available in the days when Zollicoffer Lake was in operation, but the more peaceful and less stressful lives that were lived then I think are something we could all benefit from today.
A chimney is all that remains of the old club house that used to overlook the Zollicoffer lake.
The lodge in the old municipal park of the Zollicoffer Community still stands today, though the structure is wearing down, its stone floors are cracked, and vines and weeds are growing up the chimney.
Above is the main door to the old lodge that still stands in the Zollicoffer Community.