African American businessman and religious leader Preston Taylor was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, on November 7, 1849, of slave parents. Taylor served as a drummer boy in the Union army during the siege of Richmond, Virginia. After the Civil War, he traveled throughout the North, settling in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, where he served as a minister. Taylor also secured a contract to build several sections of the Big Sandy Railway from Mount Sterling to Richmond, Virginia. After this business venture and extensive work in the Christian (Disciples of Christ) church, he moved to Nashville in 1884. He soon emerged as one of the city’s most influential African American business and religious leaders.
In 1887 Taylor purchased thirty-seven acres of land at Elm Hill Pike and Spence Lane and established Greenwood, Nashville’s second oldest black cemetery, on the property. In 1888 he founded Taylor Funeral Company at 449 North Cherry Street (now Fourth Avenue). In 1905 Taylor purchased land at the corner of Spence Lane and Lebanon Road and established the Greenwood Recreational Park for Negroes. The park contained elaborate fountains, gardens, a baseball park, rides, bandstands, and special attractions. The annual State Colored Fair, which attracted as many as fourteen thousand attendees in a single day, was held on the site. Taylor’s horse-drawn “pleasure wagons” met streetcars at the Green-Fairfield Street turnaround and took customers to the Lebanon Road park entrance. Twice mysterious fires threatened to destroy the park. Otherwise, there was no challenge to Greenwood Park until Hadley Park, the first city-owned park for blacks, opened in 1912.
Taylor also served as minister of the Gay Street Christian Church, founded in 1855 as the African American congregation of the white Vine Street First Christian Church. Following an 1891 controversy, Taylor and a part of the congregation left the Gay Street Colored Christian Church and established a church in a doctor’s office building on Spruce Street (now Eighth Street). In 1903 the congregation completed a church building on Lea Avenue near Lafayette Street. After Taylor’s death, the two congregations united into today’s Gay-Lea Christian Church located on Osage Street.
Among his other activities, Taylor organized the 1917 National Colored Christian Missionary Convention. He also was involved in the establishment of the Tennessee State Agricultural and Industrial State Normal School. He helped to organize several other Nashville black businesses, including the One Cent (Citizens) Savings and Trust Company Bank. As a businessman, undertaker, and influential minister, Taylor was one of Nashville’s most powerful black leaders.
Taylor married Georgia Gordon, one of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers. Their son, Preston, died as an infant in 1891, and Georgia Taylor died in 1913. Taylor then married Ida D. Mallory. When Taylor died in 1931, week-long ceremonies were held before his interment in Greenwood Cemetery. In 1951 a public housing project was named in his honor.