Belle Meade roads double as neighborhood attractions

By Marissa DeCuir
THE TENNESSEAN
November 19, 2008

On Saturday mornings, Neil Master dines with his 5-year-old daughter for breakfast in Belle Meade.

The Forest Hills resident then drives Elizabeth to Clarendon Avenue, pulls over, takes off their shoes and walks down the creek.

“We saw a snake one time,” Elizabeth said.

The Belle Meade road and its sister, Evelyn Avenue, double as area attractions, head-turners for newcomers driving by and extra jobs for the satellite city’s police department.

Part of each road dips underneath Richland Creek, unlike the Jackson Boulevard bridge one block down. The city built that bridge around 1910, but area historian Ridley Wills said Evelyn and Clarendon roads were paved across the creek a little later.

“I just don’t think they wanted to spend the money for the handsome bridge,” Wills said.

The roads have become a weekly adventure of shell searching and leaping over rocks for the Masters.

“One time we just decided we’d stop,” Master said. “We just come down and walk in the creek.”

Roads keep police busier during winter

Water usually falls off either side of the two roads, creating a serene sound and sight.

When the water is so high that it creates a smooth surface with no waterfall, the police close access to the roads with gates installed in the early 1990s.

Public works and the police department monitor water and ice levels to see if the gates should be shut for safety. The gates remain closed until the water recedes or the ice melts.

Earlier this year, police had to help a driver who stalled on one of the roads.

“The person’s tires were a little thin,” said Belle Meade Police Chief Tim Eads. “The officers were able to give the vehicle a push by hand, and the driver was able to drive out of the water.”

Eads said some drivers get too scared to finish crossing the creek in high waters.

“They can get a little slick if you stop,” Eads said. “It would probably wash you off the bridge.”

Master agreed, especially when walking across the slime.

“It is slick,” he said, shortly before catching his daughter from a fall.

Resident likes living next to unique feature

Even when the roads close, it’s no hassle for Vaden Lackey Jr., who lives on Clarendon with his wife, Nancy.

“Instead of turning right and going to Harding Road, I turn left and go on Belle Meade Boulevard,” said Lackey, 80. “It doesn’t bother me.”

The unique road actually gives him some laughs.

“Sometimes the gates are closed and people pass by. They’re not familiar with this,” he said. “And all of a sudden they come down to this blockade.”

Years ago, Lackey said the city built a road over the avenues with large culverts underneath so the water could rush through. But he said they took them down because debris was collecting on the roadway.
The attraction was saved.

“When the water gets pretty high, people come down the creek in canoes,” Lackey said.

Others prefer boats. Some, like the Masters, have just as much fun walking.

And when they’re done, they put their shoes back on and drive their car right through the creek.

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