Cheekwood: Collecting a Family History

Written by Natalie Goodwin, Assistant Archivist for Political Collections

One of the projects we have been working on lately is helping Cheekwood to collect documents about the Cheek family. I have been working with the Cheeks to scan images of their photographs and news clippings detailing the history of their family. I also have been going to the library to research issues of the Nashville Banner from 1928-1930 in search of information about the family in the news. So far what I have come up with are articles in the society page. Most of what I have found is about Joel Cheek’s side of the family. Joel was the inventor of Maxwell House Coffee. His cousin Leslie Cheek later profited from the stock and built Cheekwood.

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One of the challenges I have found about the project is how much information there is about Joel’s side of the family and how little there is about Leslie’s family. This has left gaps in understanding the family history as it relates to Cheekwood. As an example, one of the stories I’ve heard was that during the building of Cheekwood, someone calling himself “The Black Hand” sent letters to Leslie Cheek demanding money and threatening to cause mischief.  So I’ve been looking through the Nashville Banner searching for this story, and have had difficulty finding anything. These letters were common in the late twenties and early thirties, and I have found articles about other people who received letters from “The Black Hand.” However, it’s been a challenge finding anything about Leslie Cheek. Hopefully, before the project is complete we will have found some more information to fill in some of these gaps.

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