Q. How did Montague Beach mix pleasure and danger during '40s, '50s

------from The Tennessean, August 2002

My husband's parents both spoke of ''Montague.'' They met there. Was this an old movie theater? Any history known on it? — Pam Thomason, Springfield.

The answer to your puzzle might have remained elusive without a lucky message from Nashvillian Herb Summar. A former East High School student, he fondly recalled youthful trips to ''Montague Beach'' and wondered if that topic might interest others who knew of it.

The rocky spot on the Cumberland River in the Madison area was popular with East and Litton High students seeking sun and a swim in the 1940s and 1950s. ''There was a lot of courting going on,'' Summer said.

It was also a fishing spot for some. Summar, who learned to swim there, can't forget once becoming tangled in the hooks of a trotline strung across the river.

The mighty Cumberland, despite its hidden currents and other river hazards, once attracted more swimmers and pleasure boaters throughout its Nashville run than many can imagine today. Not all of them had happy and carefree experiences.

Phillips-Robinson Funeral Home was frequently called to launch its boat with dragging equipment to search for some of the unfortunates.

In September 1950, Herbert G. Jones, a retired railroader who lived on Indian Trail, ''toppled from his fishing boat … below Lock 2 at Montague.'' A ferry operator spotted some of his fishing equipment, initiating the recovery effort for his body.

Three years later, Montague-Madison police — a private police force — searched the Cumberland for the body of a woman pulled ''almost to the surface'' when caught on a fisherman's line before pulling free. ''Several strands'' of long, black hair remained on his hook, a newspaper article reported.

But Montague was a pleasant place for most visitors, and a lucky one for those who got to know future spouses there.

The community started in 1919 with Montague Subdivision, which became something of a fashionable resort for the city dwellers who kept riverside cottages there for summer use. ''You couldn't even visit Montague unless you had scads of money,'' Lillian Barrett Taylor confided in Guy Alan Bockmon's recent book, Madison Station.

One of the area's two boat landings ''for the weekend skippers'' was at the south end of Fernbank Drive, Bockmon wrote.

The subdivision was named for Montague S. ''Monty'' Ross (1880-1972), an attorney who was one of its developers. Its early boundaries were Gallatin Pike on the west, Gibson's Creek on the north, the river on the east, and East Due West Avenue (formerly Belle Camp Highway) on the south. It lies across the river from Pennington Bend, part of which is now home of the Opry complex.

Today Montague is a quiet residential area off the beaten track. A few old cabins remain, and some homes display names like ''River View'' and ''High Bluff.'' Its ''beach'' remains only in the memories of those who once frolicked there.

Of course, if your in-laws are or were a bit younger, they might also have met at the Montague Drive-In Theater. Once located at 1020 S. Gallatin Pike, it showed movies through the 1960s until its closing about 1976.

Write to Learn Nashville, 1100 Broadway, Nashville, Tenn. 37203. E-mail

Sources: newspaper archives; Madison Station, Guy Alan Bockmon, 1997. George Zepp writes about the people, places and things that make Nashville unique.

Mike Burroughs:

I remember Montague Beach as a VERY little boy. My parents (Litton High Class of '46 and '48, respectively) went there all the time, and I was born in '50.  It was at the end of East Due West Ave.  My grandfather, E.C. Chance lived in several houses on the River, but not at that time; he lived on West Due West Ave. in the house that is now owned by the guy who was the CEO of Nashville Memorial Hospital and an Elder at Madison Church of Christ (name escapes me at the moment). It was a stone house.  My grandfather had a cabin cruiser that he built himself and launced at one of those boat ramps. Homer Chance had one just like it. Both had "Scott-at-Water" engines on the back and were "deadly" contraptions becasue the center of gravity was too high, so when the boats turned, they would yaw the opposite direction of the turn and with a bit more speed would have easily capsized.   

The River in those days (before the Old Hickory Dam was built) bore no resemblance to the river of today. It had shallows on each bank and was very green. There were lots of big rocks that protruded from the shore. The bottom was of brown gravel about the sise of almonds and pecans-- very smooth on your feet, so it was easy to walk around on the "beach."  I remember that a bit "off shore" there were huge mussels to be found quite easily by the men who would dive down to get them. Each was the size of a man's hand or larger. They would open them with hunting knives so the children could see the pretty colors on the inside of the shells. I can still smell the odor of the mussels themselves which were very hard to cut out and were discarded so that we could keep the shells for awhile.   There was a simple dam and lock system very close by and a small channel that was dredged by the Corps of Engineers. I remember barge traffic, but the towboats that pushed them rarely had more than two barges in front of them, and only single file. I do not remember the channel being wide enough to accommodate anything wider than that.  I remember a flood and that the water was high enough to go completely over the dam at that location. My grandfather, uncle and father (and cousin and I and who knows who else was in the boat) actually went over the dam in the boat without the prop hitting the dam. I remember to this day the sensation of the "wave" as we rode up and then down going over the dam (I do not remember the trip back).  

I also remember going to the site of where the Old Hickory Dam is now, and watching the River change its shape and color as the new dam and lake took form. What transpired was the ugly, brown, fast flowing, transportation system now known as the Cumberland River. It looks nothing like what kids enjoyed at Montague Beach.  It became even more treacherous with no redeeming qualities except that it was "water" and boats pass by if you have a house on it.  I remember a friend of my father's (Claude Burrow) who owned a beautiful, wooden runabout. We took a long ride on the "new" lake as the water was rising to its eventual consistent level. He knew of an old indian mound that was at that point an island that in a week or two would be submerged.  We went to it and the water had eroded the dirt all around it to form a verticle bank about two feet high. All around that island there were graves that were open. Each had a flat stone lining. Most had been washed open to the point where there was little in them but some bones and broken artifacts.  We stayed only a half hour or so and brought back some bones-- about a shoebox full (I remember finger bones and lumbar bones). We kept them in the garage. My sister had nightmares about them and we had to eventually throw them away so she could sleep.  

My parents have pictures not only of themselves as kids at the Montague beach, but of THEIR parents sunning themselves there. It truly was a popular spot. I'm glad that I had just a little bit of time to remember it. I was just a toddler, but I DO remember it.  

Of course, the Montague that I remember most vividly, was a drive-in movie theater...but that's another story.


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