Nash-Chill: The Story of the Edgehill Polar Bear
We know that Nashville’s a super chill place, but have you noticed the city is literally home to polar bears? Two polar bear statues guard the corner of 12th AVE South and Edgehill Ave fully engaged in a snowball fight. Just another of Nashville’s quirks, these statues have made the polar bear the unofficial symbol of the Edgehill neighborhood, recognized even by the local neighborhood association and appearing on official signs marking the area’s boundaries. How did this Nash-chill symbol get there?
The bears’ origin lies in ice cream. The statues were created by the shop of Giovacchino Mattei, an Italian immigrant to the US, who owned a business making plaster figurines for home decor and department stores. Originally two of the bears engaged in a playful snowball fight outside of a frozen custard shop on West End AVE and two others stood guard outside of another frozen custard shop on Gallatin Road.
The frozen custard shops did not survive the Great Depression and after the creameries closed, all four of the bears were purchased by Reverend Zema Hill who relocated two to his front yard at 1408 Edgehill AVE. He placed the other two in front of a funeral home he owned on South Street.
1950’s - 2000
The Reverend’s funeral home business was sold in 1952 and the history of these two bears gets a bit murky. It appears they were purchased by individuals living in the Germantown area who intended to display them in front of their homes. Around 2000, the bears residing at the Reverand’s home were put up for sale and purchased by the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency. In 2003, the MDHA announced that the statues would find a permanent home at the corner of 12th AVE South and Edgehill AVE, to be known as Polar Bear Plaza.
There you have it, the history of Nash-chill!