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Oliver Bliss Hayes

Artist: Washington Cooper, Nashville, Tennessee (1802-1888)
Year: ca. 1840
Medium: Oil on Canvas with original frame
Frame Original
Size: Height - 47”, Width - 39”
2014.05.75 EL The Mr. & Mrs. Franck H. Kaiser, Sr. Collection

This is one of several portraits of O. B. Hayes that has survived. Washington Cooper did two known portraits of O. B. Hayes this one for Adelicia and another that survives in the decedents of one of her siblings. There is a portrait, also by Cooper that is part of a series of the Grand Masters of the Nashville Masonic Lodge. This portraits hangs at the downtown Masonic Hall.

Oliver Bliss Hayes was born in South Hadley, Massachusetts in 1783 to Mary Bliss and the Reverend Joel Hayes. As an adult he practiced law in Baltimore and moved to Nashville in 1808 where he continued his law practice. He also was successful in land speculation.

In 1812 he married Sarah Clements Hightower of Williamson County. They moved into a house on High Street; that location today is the Hermitage Hotel parking garage on 7th Avenue North. In 1827 he purchased the Rokeby Estate; the residence stood on present-day Grand Avenue where The Upper Room is now located.

Hayes, an ordained Presbyterian minister, was heavily involved in the work of the Presbyterian Church. In 1816 he was a founding stockholder in the Nashville Female Academy; though non-denominational it had strong Presbyterian influence. He was elected to the Board of Trustees in 1819 and served as an active trustee through 1826. While a trustee the Academy grew to be Nashville’s premiere female educational institution. [1] He chaired the first meeting of the newly formed Sunday School Society in 1829 and was elected one of its managers.[2] These societies used the Bible and religious literature to teach reading to the poor who had no chance of attending week day schools. He was a founding member and curator of the Tennessee State Lyceum in 1832 whose purpose was advancing education and learning throughout the state with schools and town or county lyceums.[3] By 1836 he was pastor of the Harpeth Presbyterian Church in Williamson County, TN, when the present building was under construction. In 1849 he was a charter member of the Tennessee Historical Society as well as a member of its predecessors, the Tennessee Antiquarian Society (1820) and the Society for the Diffusion of Knowledge (1835).

His membership in the Freemasons, for which he was Grand Master of the Nashville Lodge in 1819, provided contacts for some of his other business enterprises. In 1835 Hayes was one of three investors in a major paper mill (possibility the first) built in Nashville and held interest in it for 12 years before selling.[4] He was a Director of the State Bank of Tennessee in the 1830s. By 1836 he was pastor of the Harpeth Presbyterian Church in Williamson County, TN, when the present building was under construction. Hayes also served on the Board of Directors of the Sewanee Mining Company in 1855.[5]

One of his lasting contributions to Nashville standing today is his service on the building committee for First Presbyterian Church (now known as Downtown Presbyterian Church) when William Strickland was commissioned to design the Egyptian Revival-style building.

Hayes was the father of eight children. He died at his home Rokeby in 1858 and is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery.

Mark Brown

[1] TSLA Elliott Papers
[2] National Banner & Nashville Whig Jan. 3, 1829
[3] The American Annals of Education and Instruction for the Year 1832, Vol. II. Edited by William C. Woodbridge.
[4] The National Banner and Nashville Daily Advertiser October 29, 1833
[5] Journal of Mining Laws and Regulations Vol. IV January to June 1856

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