Ben Chrismon (1877-1963), a highly respected and successful shoe cobbler, with the help of his wife, Mary Polk Chrismon, founded Sunset Park in Nolensville sometime between 1909 and 1929. Before integration, this park was a popular recreation center for the African-American community throughout Middle Tennessee, but almost a century ago, this land was more than just a sports field. Hundreds of people gathered there every weekend for games and picnics because they had nowhere else to go. It was a time of segregation in the South, and this lot, known as Sunset Park, was a meeting place for the black community throughout Middle Tennessee in the early part of the last century.
From the horse and wagon era to chartered buses, this 11-acre park was a place of enjoyment for many generations. Sunset Park was the site for many outings, including golfing on the 3-hole golf course, picnics, ballgames, and family reunions. Concession stands offered fried fish and homemade ice cream. Greeting visitors to the park were an historical rock fence and whitewashed tree trunks. In 1947, The Tennessean printed articles announcing a Fourth of July picnic, under sponsorship of the Nolensville Baseball Club, featuring a prize-winning baseball game between the Nolensville Giants and C. B. Ragland club, where pit barbecue and refreshments of all kinds would be served.
On September 5, 6, and 7, 1929, the second Annual Williamson County Colored Agricultural Exhibition was held at this park and sponsored by the Williamson Fair Association. Progress and achievements along agricultural and other lines of industry were exhibited. Show events spotlighted horses, cattle, and automobiles and there were contests in canned and baked goods and produce. Special entertainment included a band concert and a carnival. Admission to the fair was 15 and 25 cents; children free.
At the park was the first ball diamond in Middle Tennessee that was for African-Americans; due to segregation, they were not allowed to play in the community parks. Among the ballplayers that played at this park was Woodrow Williams (1917-1990), a native of Nolensville. He began his career with the Nashville Stars Southern Association and went on to play professional baseball as a pitcher with the Baltimore Elite Giants, a Negro National Triple League, from 1935 to 1941. His career ended when he was hit by a ball that broke his arm.
Ted Rhodes (1913-1969), the nation’s first black professional golfer, was born in Nashville. He attended the city’s public schools and learned the game of golf in his teenage years while working as a caddie at the Belle Meade Country Club, where African-Americans were not allowed to play golf or even belong as a member. Ted practiced the game with other caddies and developed his swing by hitting shag balls at Sunset Park, as well as practicing in East Nashville’s Douglas Park and North Nashville’s Watkins Park. He became recognized as the first African-American professional golfer when he was invited to play in the U. S. Open at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles in 1948. That same year, Rhodes and fellow golfer Bill Spiller initiated litigation against the PGA seeking removal of the association’s “Caucasian only” clause (it was rescinded in November, 1961, the last major sport to desegregate its ranks). Rhodes won over 150 United Golfers Association tournaments, as well as collecting crowns in the Negro National Open in 1957 and the Gotham Open and Progressive GC Championship the following year. Rhodes was inducted into the Tennessee Golf Hall of Fame in 1998 and was granted posthumous membership in the PGA in 2009.
The park was purchased in 1965 by Thomas A. Brown and his wife, Jessie Boyd Brown, and remained in operation for 10 years. The Browns raised their family in a home adjacent to the park. As time passed, fewer people visited the park to utilize the grounds and the Browns turned the land to cow pasture before ceasing use altogether.
In the early part of the next century, Encore Construction wanted to use the name “Sunset Park” for a new planned subdivision to be located in a separate area west of the park. Locals tried to convince the developer to change the name, but were unsuccessful, and Encore built the first home in 2008.
A sign for Sunset Park stands just down the road from the park and notes its importance in segregated recreation in the county’s history. On October 1, 2006, more than 100 people from the Nolensville Historical Society, the Williamson County Historical Society, and the African-American Heritage Society of Franklin and Williamson County were on hand to dedicate the site’s marker.
Improvements for a nearly two-mile portion of Sunset Road have been proposed. By February, 2018, right-of-way acquisition funding for 16 of the necessary 26 parcels had been approved by the Nolensville Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BOMA). The appraisal value for Parcel 35, which encompasses the stone entryway in front of the Sunset Park baseball field and recreation site has caused considerable discussion. The BOMA voted on February 1, 2018 to defer the resolution authorizing the use of funds for one month to glean more information from the appraiser about how he arrived at the $148,500 value, of which $80,000 was attributed to the stone wall. The town later approved part of the contract, but as of August, 2018 has been working with the builders to determine if there is a cheaper way to create a pedestrian and bike path crossing Mill Creek than what had been originally proposed.
Information compiled from sources listed by
Michelle Jenkins, Director, Nolensville Historical Society
and NHS members David and Lynn Granniss
Most recent revision: October 17, 2018
Author Unknown (1963), July 30). Ben Chrisman rites set in Nolensville. The Tennessean, p. 17.
Author Unknown (1938), May 28). Craws win twice from Baltimore elite giants; lose 10-inning thriller. The Pittsburgh Courier, p. 17.
Author Unknown (2006), October 15). Historic groups dedicate Sunset Park marker. Williamson Herald, p. A12.
Author Unknown (1990), May 25. Woodrow W. Williams, Sr. Obituary. The Tennessean, p. 30.
Blois, Matt (2018), August 2). Nolensville to discuss changes to zoning, Sunset Road improvements at August meeting.
Nolensville Home Page. https://nolensvillehome page.com/nolensville-to-discuss-changes-to-zoning-sunset-road-improvements-at-august-meeting, July 30, 2018.
Booth, Charles (2006), April 21). Park was destination in days of segregation. The Tennessean, pp. 12 and 14.
Booth, Charles (2006), October 3). Old park gets its day in the sun. The Tennessean, p. W1.
Carter, M. M. (Photograph). (1950, August 10). Nolensville Stars. Nolensville, Tennessee: Publisher Unknown.
Lewis, Dwight (1998). Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture: Theodore “Ted” Rhodes. Retrieved from http://tennesseeencyclopiedia.net/entry php?rec=1125, January 6, 2018.
Nolensville Historical Society (2006). Sunset Park Historical Marker: Dedication Program, October 1, 2006.
Robinson, Carole (2017), June 23). Early African American business sets the stage for future. Williamson Herald. http://www.williamsonherald.com/feature/special_ sections/article_46d39ca2-57d4-11e7-b1, January 6, 2018.
Shackleford, W. H. (1947, June 29). Happenings Among Colored People. The Tennessean, p. 25.
Sunset Park Subdivision, Nolensville, Tennessee. Retrieved from www.homesinnolensville.com/local/sunset-park-subdivision, 2018.
Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame: Ted Rhodes. Retrieved from http://tshf.net/halloffame/rhodes-ted, January 6, 2018.
Travis, Vicky (2006), October 11). Backstop now has a fitting backdrop. The Tennessean, p. 16.
Warwick, Rick (2010). Historical Markers in Williamson County, Tennessee: A Pictorial Guide (Revised). Franklin, Tennessee:Hillsboro Press, p. 40.
Woodroof, Landon (2018), February 2). Mayor and aldermen want more answers before approving further acquisition funding for Sunset Road project. Nolensville Home Page. Retrieved from https://nolensvillehomepage.com/boma-defers-on-row-acquisition-funding/