This house most likely dates from the 1840's and there are really two stories about why, for over 20 years, there was a sign hanging in front of the building that announced to the world, "Toll House."
The first story came from former owner, Charles Ritzen, who reported the building was used as a Toll House around 1900 for people traveling from Nashville to Murfreesboro. About this time, roadway companies were charging for the use of roads they owned to pay for the clearing and expansion of new ones, so this is a definite possibility about the name. The second story came from a former tenant of the building who claimed the property was once used as a Toll House back in the 1800's for people with Heavy Loads wishing to cross the Cumberland River by barge. Given the proximity to the river this is also a likely possibility. We've yet to find proof for either of these explanations, but they haven't been disproved, either.
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning:
-The earliest record of the property goes back to the late 1700’s when a land grant was given to a veteran soldier of the Revolutionary War from North Carolina. No doubt the grant was for a much larger track of land and the place was originally either a plantation or farm.
-Records from Nashville’s Register of Deeds Office show that in October 1829, the land around the Toll House was subdivided into lots. These records also indicated that a building already sat on the property where the current Toll House sits. So, is it the same building? Well, parts of the foundation might be from 1829, although the brick half of the building, built over the 1829 structure, is most likely from the 1840’s.
-The current building looks like it was once two separate houses now joined together. But in truth, they were never separate buildings. The brick half of the Toll House (closest to downtown, Nashville) was built first, most likely in the 1840’s. A second house was built off a small “extension” of the brick structure. Why would a separate home be built yet connected to the first? Probably because one house belonged to a father, the other to a son, and both generations lived in a “family compound” just as some families still do today.
-Speaking of the brick half of the building, the brick wasn’t added until sometime after the Civil War. The entire building was wood. The brick was probably added to distinguish one house in the “compound” from the other.
-In 1864, after the battle of Nashville, wounded Union soldiers were taken to many homes, schools and churches in the South Nashville area. We’re sure soldiers were housed in the building both in front of and behind the property. So, was the Toll House involved in some sort of Civil War activity? Read on.
-When you stand in back of the Toll House, it looks as if additions or “wings” were added on both sides giving the building a “square horseshoe” shape. These wings look somewhat new. But in truth, they’re not. According to records from the Nashville Fire Department, the current shape of the building has been the same since 1908.
-Although families continued to live in the neighborhood, the area started a decline between the 1940’s and 1960’s. In fact, a double homicide happened in the back alley just yards from the property in 1947. By the early 1960’s, the building was occupied by one family living downstairs and another upstairs.
-In 1963, a seven year-old boy named”Bo” Andrews and a buddy of his who lived with his family in the bottom half of the Toll House, got into the crawlspace under the building. They found bags of Confederate money. Most was Tennessee script but some was issued from other states. Meaning, no doubt the building was involved in some aspect of the Civil War.
-By the late 1960’s and into the 70’s, the place had been converted into a one-room boarding house. The back exterior had first and second floor balconies that ran the length of the building and emptied into a side staircase. Doors replaced rear windows as separate entrances for tenants.
-In the Early 1980’s, Charles Ritzen bought the property and refurbished it, turning it into office rental space for small businesses. Businesses ranging from substance abuse counselors to a film production company occupied the offices.
-Then in 2006 Frank Best International Properties bought the building, refurbished it again, into the current look and design of the space. During recent remodeling around and under the structure, over 50 artifacts from the Toll House’s past were excavated. The oldest of these, it is believed, dates back to May of 1807.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions about the building. Like, was it really a Toll House? Or, what’s up with all those rather large bones that were unearthed in the crawl space? A doctor from Vanderbilt examined the bones and most of them were the remains of farm animals. But there were also a couple that were “suspect.” Hmmm, interesting. These and other mysteries will probably be revealed in good time. But one thing’s for sure, the Toll House has enjoyed a long and colorful past.
Reported and written by the previous tenants, Frank Best International Properties