Hidden Rivers

The other day Brittney Gilbert linked to a post about the hidden rivers of San Francisco.  And I’ll admit, it’s been on my mind, in terms of Nashville. There’s the now-underground creek that runs north of the Capitol. Are there others? But more than that, I’m curious about the springs. You see all these signs around town that say “north of here, thirty feet was such-and-such spring.”

Where is the spring now? I honestly don’t get it. Did they all dry up? Did someone plug them up? Pave over them? What? Could they come back? Spring forth from another place?

And who is in charge of maintaining our hidden springs?

Is this under Metro Water’s purview?


11 thoughts on “Hidden Rivers

  1. I used to spend a lot of time playing in a river/creek/whatever that runs through belle meade off harding rd which eventually flows right under the belle meade kroger and under white bridge.. which makes me realize this is probably richland creek?

    It had a lot of crawfish, and I thought that was pretty cool. Of course, I was 10

  2. In more tangentially related hidden waterways news, Town Creek in Lebanon flows underneath the square (which causes crazy flooding problems from time to time).

    It flows right through the basement of the old Capitol Theater there and in the pre-aircon days of yore, huge fans would blow the cool air up from the flowing creek into the theater. Pretty neat, huh?

  3. Shoot, you can see crawfish any time you want without the risk of hobos. Just hang out in my back yard.

    Or in the house when the Butcher brings them in to watch TV with him.

    We have a ton of them.

  4. Springs dry up sometimes when they don’t get any recharge. Meaning if the water runs off to the creek instead of soaking into the ground it can’t spring back up somewhere. So it can happen if you pave over an area.

  5. I’m not an expert on early Nashville — Paul Clements would be your man — but my understanding is that lower “Broadway” is broad precisely because developing in that direction (south from the square and out from the wharf) required the channeling of a waterway that spanned what we now consider five lanes of traffic.

    Early maps do show a creek there. I’m not sure what the early settlers actually did to gain dominion over running water. I bet Paul knows — his book is due within the next year or so, last I heard.

  6. Funny you should mention this whole underground waterway thing. I was having a discussion about the building that formerly housed Melrose Lanes… and had never had a clear indication as to why that building is in the state it is in, and never was developed.

    Perhaps everyone else knew it, but I didn’t – that there is an underground creek there – and before anything can be done, the structure would have to be brought to codes regarding the water flowing beneath the area where the bowling alley used to be. Of course, this would cost a shitton of money – and the people that own it apparently reside in Atlanta, so they don’t care if we have to deal with the eyesore of what used to be a beloved area to find entertainment.

    RIP The Sutler

  7. I did a bunch of that research about the hidden rivers in SF. The short answer is that the spring in Nashville is very likely still there, probably in a very old pipe.

    The the mid to late 1800s, as the area became increasingly urban (or at least, similar to what we would recognize as urban today), most waterways became unbearably polluted. The solution up until the 1980s was to stick them into underground tubes and forget about them. Nowadays, increasingly, we’re seeing them turned into nice landscaping.

    There are a couple good ways to locate a hidden creek. Looking at old photos and maps is the best way. You can also scout around right after it rains, asking if anyone’s basement flooded. Keep an eye out for moisture-loving plants like willows.

    Usually, the oldest parts of a city are close to water, so start by looking around the earliest settlements. Another telltale sign: an inexplicably squiggly or off-grid street, which may be a remnant of streets aligned with bodies of water.

    Nashville’s built on relatively “wet” ground so there are almost certainly lots of hidden creeks and paved-over former marshes. Good luck hunting around!

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