Inhabitants may have enjoyed hunting and camping in the lush rolling woodlands comprising Forest Hills as long as 12,000 years ago when Paleo-Indians moved throughout the area. As changes in climate and vegetation affected the way native peoples lived and found food, the Early and Middle Archaic dwellers up to 5,000 years ago relied on this region for abundant white-tail deer as a staple food source, supplemented by nuts and acorns.
The area remained popular as tribes of communities were created in the Woodland period, and by the Mississippian period, Forest Hills was home to the thriving village now called Aaittafama'.
Nashville was founded in 1780, and over the next two decades settlers staked claims on what was originally land cultivated and hunted by Native Americans. In addition, land grants were awarded to Revolutionary War veterans.
In the Forest Hills area, William Nash received a 640-acre grant in the late 1700s along what is now Granny White Pike south of Tyne Boulevard. Nash sold his parcels including a 160-acre tract to Henry Compton in the early 1800s. Much of the land west of Hillsboro Road was part of a grant awarded to James Robertson. A veteran named McCrory gave his grant to his son Thomas, who acquired some 3,700 acres in Davidson and Williamson Counties, including acreage along what is now Old Hickory Boulevard where he built a two-story log dwelling in 1798. This is the oldest building remaining in Forest Hills, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
The U.S. Army built the Natchez Trace to connect Nashville with Natchez, Mississippi, from 1802 to 1809. The Trace was included in at least three different routes in Davidson County, two of which ran through Forest Hills. A recent study identifies one of the main routes along either side of Hillsboro Pike. The City's Bison Meadow park is sited on a terminal branch of the Trace.
The Nashville and Hillsboro Turnpike Company was incorporated February 3, 1848, to build a 28-mile macadamized road from Nashville through Hillsboro (renamed Leiper’s Fork) to the foot of Duck River Ridge in Williamson County. The Granny White Turnpike Company was incorporated in January 1850, and the road was completed in 1855. This improved roadbed was completed with several toll houses erected along its route, one of which was located on the east side of Hillsboro Pike to the north of Otter Creek Road.
Granny White Pike was named in honor of Lucinda (Lucy) White, who operated a popular inn along the route. During much of the nineteenth century, the Forest Hills area was bordered on the west by Belle Meade, the 5,000-acre plantation and stud farm operated by William Giles Harding. On the east, the lands of Forest Hills were bounded by the John N. Lea estate of 1,000 acres, known as Lealand. Numerous small farms also were scattered throughout the hills, as original grants and estates were subdivided.
In the Civil War, the Forest Hills area played a role in the Battle of Nashville on December 15, 1864. The Confederate defense line under the command of General John Bell Hood extended along what is now Woodmont Boulevard. To protect his left flank, Hood built a series of forts, known as redoubts, to the southwest of this line towards Belle Meade. One of these, Redoubt #5, was built on the Henry Compton Jr. property on the hill at the northwest corner of Hillsboro Pike and Harding Place. Union cavalry and infantry commanded by General George Thomas easily captured this redoubt and outflanked the main Confederate line.
On the second day of the battle, the Confederate line was just south of what is now Harding Place, with its left anchored on Shy’s Hill. Union General James Wilson’s cavalry swept through the Compton estate and occupied the gap in the hills, blocking Granny White Pike. Following the collapse of the Confederate line at Shy’s Hill, many Confederate soldiers surrendered when they found this escape route cut off; the rest of the army retreated down Franklin Pike.
Following the Civil War, the lands of Forest Hills remained a rural section of Davidson County, with a few prominent landowners in the fertile watershed areas and a scattering of smaller farms throughout the rolling countryside. An 1871 map of Davidson County shows the Compton houses and approximately twenty-five other farms in the Forest Hills area.
In 1880, the Forest Hills area had three schools: the Hopewell School at the northeast corner of Hillsboro Pike and Otter Creek Road, the New Hope School on the west side of Hillsboro Pike south of Tyne Boulevard, and the African-American Otter Creek School on the east side of Granny White Pike, to the north of the intersection with Otter Creek Road.
Industry in the Forest Hills area in the late nineteenth century consisted of the Murray Company mill on the west side of Hillsboro Pike and a wagon and saddle shop on the east side of Granny White Pike near present-day Otter Creek Road.
Forest Hills remained largely rural in character in the early twentieth century, but as the automobile became increasingly common, a new wave of residential construction took place during the late 1920s and early 1930s. The picturesque countryside of the area appealed to a number of Nashville’s prominent citizens. Many constructed large estates along the major thoroughfares of Hillsboro Pike and Old Hickory Boulevard.
One of the first subdivisions in the area was the West Wood Subdivision built in 1936. Other early subdivisions include Tyne Meade and Harpeth Valley, developed in 1951. Larger areas such as Chickering Hills, Chickering Valley, Chickering Park, Chickering Estates, and Otter Creek Estates were developed in the 1950s.
The City of Forest Hills emerged in 1957 from the suburbs located between Belle Meade and Oak Hill. But it did not arrive without controversy. The first efforts to form a city began in 1956 in a desire to control zoning and resist annexation to Nashville. An election was held in November 1956 to incorporate the area as the City of Harpeth Hills. Area residents defeated the plan by a mere three votes.
Proponents altered the boundaries of the plan to exclude opponents of the issue and renamed it Forest Hills; the new plan was approved seven weeks later. Forest Hills was officially incorporated February 15, 1957.
Forest Hills zoning requires that the City be residential only and prohibits all commercial and industrial interests within the City. In the 1980s, citizens of Forest Hills wanted stricter planning and zoning regulations in order to retain the rural and suburban character of the city. Since that time, the City of Forest Hills has implemented zoning regulations that do not permit high-density cluster housing within the city limits.
When the city of Nashville consolidated with Davidson County in 1963, Forest Hills was one of six existing cities (now five) that maintained its identity. Residents do not receive access to all city-county combined services: the City of Forest Hills provides many services such as chipper service, road maintenance, and stormwater management. Residents pay no property taxes to the City of Forest Hills; its funds come primarily from a share of the taxes collected by the state of Tennessee.
Years of planning and months of construction came to fruition in November 2011 as City officials moved into the new Forest Hills City Hall, located at 6300 Hillsboro Pike.
Plans to make the City Hall a reality date back to June 2009, when the Board of Commissioners recognized that the City needed better facilities to serve residents. The Commissioners approved the project to build a City Hall on eight acres of land leased from Nashville Electric Service. The Board appointed a task force led by David Waller and in November 2009 accepted its recommendation to hire Allard Ward architecture firm to design the new structure. Hodgson & Douglas Landscape Architects designed a comprehensive site plan, and R.C. Mathews Contractor was construction manager.