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Cheekwood: Coffee and Arts are Good!

Updated: May 21

Cheekwood, built by Leslie Cheek, Sr. (1875-1935) & Mabel Wood Cheek (1874-1946) in 1932, is located at 1200 Forrest Park Drive off Page Rd. They had lived in town at a fine home at 2304 West End Ave. - corner of 23rd Ave. South and West End Ave.

They were married in 1896. Leslie had seen Mabel while he was traveling from New York to Nashville. He learned that she lived in Clarksville and commenced courting her. Eighteen months later, they wed in Clarksville. The home is inspired by English Baronial houses and originally contained 36 rooms and 4 stone chimneys. The estate plans included a multi bay garage as well as the extensive gardens that visitors continue to enjoy to this day.

Leslie’s uncle and father Joel Owsley Cheek and Christopher Tompkins Cheek developed a prosperous wholesale grocery and coffee business in 1890. They soon focused on coffee and established Nashville Coffee and Manufacturing Co. which marketed, prepared, roasted and blended coffee when few did that. The business took off and in 1904 they partnered with James Neal and expanded Cheek-Neal Coffee. They opened factories across the U.S. and got exclusive serving rights in Nashville’s Maxwell House Hotel. Later they named their coffee Maxwell House and made use of the marketing slogan “Good to the last drop” supposedly attributed to Pres. Theodore Roosevelt. Leslie worked in various roles in the company. In 1915, Leslie was president. By the late 1920s, Cheek-Neal Coffee had ⅓ market share in America.

In 1928, they sold to Postum Comp. (later General Foods) for $42 million. Christopher’s son Leslie Cheek, Sr. and Mabel Wood Cheek reaped great reward from selling their investment in Cheek-Neal Coffee and putting the proceeds into a new company - International Business Machines (IBM). They bought 92 acres of land from Luke Lea’s new Belle Meade Land Company, Hillsboro Land Company and L.E. Burch for a new mansion.

Photo from Tenn. State Lib & Archives

The Cheekwood estate was at the southern end of the new Belle Meade development. It abuts the huge tract of land that Lea donated to Nashville to establish a gigantic park named subsequently for his father-in-law, Percy Warner. Sadly, Leslie was able to reside in his new estate for just a couple years until he died in 1935. Mabel continued residing at Cheekwood for another nine years until 1944, when she moved to an apartment.

The property then passed to their daughter, Huldah Cheek Sharp (1915-2000), and her husband Walter Buchanan Sharp (1911-1970) in 1944. They had wed 4 years earlier. Walter Sharp was a major arts contributor, founded and promoted the Nashville Symphony, was a founder of the Tennessee Commission on the Performing Arts (now the Tennessee Arts Commission) and was chair of the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts and Music Dept. The Sharps supported a number of artistic endeavors.

In 1957, they deeded 55 acres for the creation of the Tennessee Botanical Garden and Fine Arts Center. Through varied non-profit organizations including the Exchange Club of Nashville, the site was developed as a botanical garden and art museum and opened in 1960. The name combines Cheek with Mabel’s maiden name, Wood. Cheekwood is a major cultural site in west Nashville and one of Tennessee’s most popular tourist attractions with a regular slate of exhibitions for Cheekwood members and guests. An attached arts center provides various classes and summer camps for youth. NRHP 2000 See Wildings, Sherwood Forest, Oak Hill, Overton Hall/ Crieve Hall, Frank Runyon House

After the Sharps sold Cheekwood, they moved a little southeast to buy Dr. Roy Elam's farm on Murray Lane in Williamson County. On the 140-acre farm, they built a new stone home. Hearing a Great Horned Owl, they realized their farm was on his hill and called their place Owl's Hill Farm. They continued their conservation efforts on the new property. In 1983, they gave Owl's Hill to Cheekwood. Five years later, in 1988, the place was renamed Owl's Hill Nature Center and had 125 acres.

[Cousins Chris and Joel Cheek were Kentuckians. Chris wed Ann Valeria Leslie Cheek, daughter of Kentucky Gov. Preston H. Leslie from Glasgow. Christopher T. and Ann Valeria Leslie Cheek had built an imposing 2 story mansion at 2218 West End Ave. with his fortune in 1910. He only enjoyed it 5 years prior to his passing in 1915.

Joel was the financial partner with his son-in-law Herbert Farrell in Farrell-Cheek Steel Company in OH.

Other cousins:

Newman Cheek - Sherwood Forest

Richey Cheek Farrell - Overton Hall

Frank Runyon - Clarksville

John and Susan Cheek - Oak Hill

Herbert and Helen Cheek Farrell built a mansion in 1941 in Sandusky, OH and gave it to their youngest son Herbert, Jr. and his new bride Sonia Phipps Farrell. Sonia was the granddaughter of Harry Phipps, the business partner of Andrew Carnegie. Both husband and wife shared the nickname "Sonny" and the estate was called Sonny Brook Farm. It is now known as the Farrell House Lodge.]


Cheekwood communication department

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