There was nothing haphazard about the founding of Nashville. The Cumberland Valley was scouted and a settlement party organized. James Robertson, a man who President Andrew Jackson would refer to as “The Father of Tennessee,” led pioneers overland in the fall of 1779 to a verdant valley he had selected months earlier. The settlers drove herds of horses, cattle and sheep to the west bank of the Cumberland River, cleared land and constructed cabins. The following spring Colonel John Donelson commanded a flotilla of 30 flatboats containing the women, children and household goods for the settlement. It was called Fort Nashborough at first, for recently killed Revolutionary War general Francis Nash, but when North Carolina, which then legislated all lands to the Mississippi River, set aside 250 acres on the west side of the Cumberland River for a townsite the name was massaged to “Nashville” which didn’t sound so English.
By the time Tennessee was admitted to the Union as the 16th state, Nashville was a trade and manufacturing center with mills, foundries and smithies supplying the frontier. The state government spent time in Kingston and Knoxville and Murfreesboro and Nashville before settling here in 1843. At the time Nashville was experiencing a boom period borne of profitable steamboat trade on the Cumberland River.
Today Nashville basks in its image as Music City. But its musical roots do not run deep. Histories of the town written in the mid-20th century mention nary a word about music. The town was built on transportation and banking and publishing. From the 1850s onward, in fact, Nashville cultivated its image as the “Athens of the South.” It was the first Southern city to establish a public school system and a half-dozen colleges would open their doors in Nashville before 1900. In 1897 the city strutted its stuff before an estimated six million people during the Centennial Exposition celebrating the 100th anniversary of Tennessee statehood. In a bit of 19th century wizardry, President William McKinley kicked off the festivities by pressing a button in Washington that triggered a gun in Centennial Park; McKinley would later join the throngs at the fair.
Nashville’s ascendancy to music mecca in America began with the Great Depression. Economic hard times stifled record sales and helped popularize radio. In 1932 station WSM in Nashville boosted its power to 50,000 watts becoming a clear channel station whose signal at night could be picked up almost across the country. In those dusky hours WSM played country music mostly and on Saturday nights it aired a program it had begun in 1925 called Barn Dance, which would become known across America as the Grand Ole Opry. In the 1950s record producers in Nashville began smoothing out traditional instruments such as fiddles from “hillbilly music” to create a “Nashville sound” that meshed with new record buying public tastes of the times. By 1960 only New York was producing more recorded music than Nashville.
The 1950s were the only decade in the town’s history when Nashville lost population. In the 1960smore than 250,000 people moved to the city, a increase of 162%. They couldn’t all be songwriters, could they? Maybe. Our walking tour will see what the popularity of country music has wrought in downtown Nashville but first we will start where the town began, down on the west bank of the Cumberland River...
170 First Avenue between Broadway and Church streets
This is a reproduction of the log blockhouses and stockade built around a freshwater spring in 1780 from which the town of Nashville evolved. Founders James Robertson, who led a settling party overland, and John Donelson, who brought the women and children via water on flat boats, named the settlement for Francis Nash, a Revolutionary War general from North Carolina who had died a few years earlier leading his troops on the field in Germantown, Pennsylvania. The reproduction itself is now over 80 years old, having been constructed in 1930.
ACROSS THE CUMBERLAND RIVER IS...
east bank of Cumberland River
The Houston Oilers, with 37-year old oilman Kenneth Stanley “Bud” Adams, at the helm, were a charter member of the American Football League (AFL). With George Blanda under center the Oilers won the first two AFL championships. By the mid-1990s Adams chafed under the city of Houston’s reluctance to replace the aging Astrodome with a new stadium. After a 1995 pre-season game at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville Adams pursued the idea of moving the franchise to Middle Tennessee. Voters approved the construction of a $290 million stadium and the newly named Tennessee Titans moved in for the 1999 season. The Titans won their first 16 games here and went to Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000.
WALK SOUTH ON FIRST AVENUE, THE CUMBERLAND RIVER IS ON YOUR LEFT AND ON YOUR RIGHT IS...
2nd Avenue Warehouses
First Avenue between Broadway and Church streets
You are looking at the backs of century-old brick warehouses that backed up to busy wharves on the Cumberland River for easy loading of hogsheads and wooden crates onto and off of packet boats. In the 1980s these cavernous abandoned buildings began to be converted into clubs and shops and living space. Not too long ago the number of people living in the core of downtown Nashville could be counted in the hundreds - fewer than those living in some of these buildings.
AT BROADWAY, TURN RIGHT, AWAY FROM THE RIVER.
Acme Farm Supply
101 Broadway at southwest corner of 1st Avenue
The Acme Stock and Poultry Company opened in 1907 off the City Square. In the early 1940s the seed and farm tools moved to this location. Acme Farm Supply fell just short of celebrating its 100th birthday - it closed in 1999. The building was constructed as a riverside flour warehouse and did duty as a buggy works, drug warehouse and storage before Acme moved in.
TURN LEFT ON THIRD AVENUE SOUTH.
Silver Dollar Saloon
100 Second Avenue North at northeast corner of Broadway
This three-story dark brick building anchors a block of the best-preserved Victorian storefronts in the city. Julian G. Zwicker designed this saloon in the Romanesque style; most of the buildings on the block show a similar form dominated by arched openings and the Italianate style characterized by festive window hoods. The Silver Dollar was one of the first watering holes the rivermen would see coming up from the docks a block away on the Cumberland. Today part of the Hard Rock Cafe complex, the silver dollars can still be seen in the floor of the former barroom.
The Pinnacle at Symphony Place
150 Third Avenue South
This 417-foot office and retail skyscraper was raised in 2009 on plans by New Haven, Connecticut architect Jon Pickard, who attempted to replicate the appeal of classical skyscrapers with glass.
TURN RIGHT ON DEMONBREUN STREET.
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
205 Fourth Avenue South at southwest corner of Demonbreun Street
The Country Music Hall of Fame organized in 1961 with Jimmie Rodgers, Fred Rose and Hank Williams as the first three inductees. The museum opened on Music Row (Music Square East and Division Street) in a building that has since been demolished for a parking lot. In 2001 the Hall of Fame moved into this $37 million home, designed with windows to resemble piano keys and a diamond-shaped radio mast that is a miniaturized replica of the WSM tower, the station that popularized country music through its weekly Saturday night program the Grand Ole Opry, that began as the WSM Barn Dance. It is the longest-running radio program in history.
TURN RIGHT ON 4TH AVENUE.
Schermerhorn Symphony Hall
One Symphony Place
Opened in 2006, Nashville’s Neoclassical symphony center tips an architectural hat to such iconic city structures as the Parthenon, the state capitol and the city’s main public library. It carries the name of Kenneth Schermerhorn who was the music director and conductor of the Nashville Symphony from 1983 until his death in 2005.
CONTINUE TO BROADWAY. AT THE INTERSECTION LOOK ACROSS TO YOUR RIGHT TO SEE...
333 Commerce Street
This has been Tennessee’s tallest building since 1994. South Central Bell went looking for a building of architectural significance for its headquarters and got it with this 617-foot tower locally known as the Batman Building for its distinctive profile.
TURN LEFT ON BROADWAY.
401-403 Broadway at southwest corner of 4th Avenue
This brick building began life in 1870 when a pharmacy occupied the first floor, tools were manufactured on the second and the opium-and-alcohol based “Blood medicine” that was advertised on the walls was concocted on the third floor. In 1892 the whole shebang was transformed into the Merchants Hotel. Over the years most of the legends of country music signed the guest register.
Ernest Tubb Record Shop
This commercial block of nearly identical brick facades gained notoriety in 1951 when Ernest Tubb, the Texas Troubador, moved in with his record and mail-order business. Tubb, who joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1943 and hosted the long-running Midnight Jamboree on WSM Radio, started the operation four years earlier.
Tootsie’s World Famous Orchid Lounge
422 Broadway at northeast corner of 5th Avenue
This was Mom’s when Big Jeff Bess and his wife Hattie, who went by the name of Tootsie, bought the place back in 1960. At the time Nashville wasn’t Music City; in fact, besides the Ryman Auditorium across the back alley there was no live music to be found in town. After shows at the Ryman performers would start to hang at Tootsie’s with Jeff Bess who had a background in hillbilly music. Songwriters like Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Kris Kristofferson, Mel Tillis and Tom T. Hall joined in the crowd as Tootsie’s became a celebrated honky tonk. Tradition holds that a miscommunication led to a painter coating the old Italianate building in the signature light purple that created the name.
TURN LEFT ON FIFTH AVENUE AND WALK A FEW STEPS UP ON THE RIGHT.
116 Fifth Avenue North
Thomas Ryman, a riverboat captain and Nashville saloon owner, constructed this brick auditorium in 1892 as the Union Gospel Tabernacle after a reported religious conversion. Nashville architect Hugh Cathcart Thompson drew up the Gothic-flavored plans for the building. The auditorium was named for Ryman after his death in 1904 at the age of 61. With seating for more than 2,300 and superb acoustics, the hall served as the city’s performance showcase. In 1943 the Grand Ole Opry began broadcasting from the Ryman Auditorium and continued until 1974. After the Opry departed for Opryland USA outside Nashville the building slid into decline. A full facelift in the 1990s returned the Ryman to its esteemed place in Music City while retaining its historic pew seating that earned the hall the moniker of “The Mother Church of Country Music.”
RETURN TO BROADWAY AND CROSS. CONTINUE A FEW STEPS ON YOUR LEFT.
Oldest Residence in Nashville
104 Fifth Avenue South
This is the oldest remnant of 1810s Nashville when two-story, Federal-style buildings like this dominated the town streetscape. Despite being only a few steps from Broadway and now in the shadow of a major sports arena, the heritage brick building has survived 200 years.
RETURN TO BROADWAY AND TURN LEFT.
501 Broadway at southwest corner of Fifth Avenue
The Sports Authority of Nashville and Davidson County constructed this $144 million multi-purpose facility in 1996 as the Nashville Arena. It was designed at an angle on the corner of Broadway and 5th Avenue, with a symbolic radio tower, as a tip of the roof to the historic Ryman Auditorium up the hill.
First Baptist Church
108 Seventh Avenue South at southeast corner of Broadway
Born, raised and educated in Nashville, Edwin A. Keeble picked up his architectural training at the University of Pennsylvania and in Italy. In the 1960s he was called on to modernize the facilities of the First Baptist congregation that started with 35 members back in 1820. Most of the previous church, an exuberant Gothic structure from 1886, was torn down but the belltower was left to stand in contrast to the new structure.
Grand Lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons of Tennessee
100 Seventh Avenue at northeast corner of Broadway
Local architects Asmus and Clark sent a platoon of Ionic pilasters and engaged columns marching around this four-story Neoclassical cube for all Tennessee Masons. The interior, which can be visited, is generously appointed in marble. The final price tag was $736,000. The first lodge meeting here took place here on February 10, 1925 with an estimated 3,000 in attendance.
Hume-Fogg High School
In 1852 educator Alfred Hume was sent on a tour of cities in the Northeast to draft a plan for the nascent Nashville public school system. In the end Hume drafted a plan based on the Boston school system. The town’s first public school opened in 1855 but the Father of the Nashville Public School System was not there for the first class bell - Alfred Hume passed away at the age of 44 two years earlier. Francis Fogg was the first president of the Board of Education. The castle-like five-story Hume-Fogg High School was constructed between 1911 and 1917 in the Collegiate Gothic style pioneered at elite Eastern universities at the turn of the 20th century.
United States Customs House
Municipalities are often quick to demolish their spectacular Victorian stone public buildings once the non-air conditioned, high-maintenance dinosaurs outlive their usefulness. Not so Nashville. The core of this federal office building dates to the 1870s when it was constructed from plans drawn by Department of the Treasury architect William Appleton Potter, known for his affection of the Gothic style. The central clock tower soars to 190 feet; an addition which doubled the amount of office space was attached to the back of the original building between 1903 and 1905. Construction on the East and West wings began in 1916 and was completed in 1918. The post office that operated here moved out in 1934 and in the 1990s the Customs House was declared surplus property by the federal government and sold to the City for $1.
Kefauver Federal Building
Estes Kefauver, a United States congressman and senator from Tennessee, garnered national attention in the 1950s when he led a U.S. Senate committee investigation into organized crime and made most Americans aware of organizations like the Mafia for the first time. The block-swallowing International Style federal building named in his honor was completed in 1952 on plans from Nashville firm Marr and Holman.
Southern Methodist Publishing House
The Methodists first began publishing religious material in Philadelphia in 1789 with its publications delivered by horseback-riding preachers. After a rift in the church over slavery the Southern Methodists sought the right to publish their own material and fought all the way to the Supreme Court to win the right to establish its own publishing house. The cities of Atlanta, New Orleans, St. Louis, Memphis and Louisville all competed for the first major publishing house in the South and when Nashville won the City declared its property would never be taxed. The first printing presses were set up in an old sugar refinery. The Methodists moved into this five-story home in 1906 with Nashville then firmly entrenched as a center of religious publishing. In 1957 the Southern Methodist Publishing House moved to more spacious digs a few blocks away.
Christ Church Cathedral
The first church for this congregation was erected in 1830; the current sandstone structure dates to 1892. Francis H. Kimball, a New York architect best known for his skyscraper work in lower Manhattan, contributed the English Gothic design. Kimball included plans for the square tower but it wasn’t added until 1947.
This building was constructed as the city post office in 1934 after about a half-century in the U.S. Customs House. The postal service would spend about a half-century here as well. The spare, streamlined exterior-faced in white Georgia marble with gray-pink Minnesota granite is an example of the “stripped” classicism of the Art Deco style. This was one of the last projects in the 23-year collaboration of local architects Thomas Marr and Joseph Holman. Marr, who did most of the design work, died in 1936. After the government moved out Thomas Frist, a physician, spearheaded the drive to convert the post office into a visual arts center.
Critics were falling all over themselves with superlatives when the Louisville & Nashville Railroad opened this monumental station in 1900. Many agreed it was the handsomest train station in the South; others promoted the 65-foot, barrel-vaulted lobby as the finest in America. Richard Monfort, an engineer for the road, provided the grand Romanesque style plans and used Bowling Green limestone and a slate roof to construct the building. The square tower above Broadway stands 220 feet tall. Out back the train shed with a clear span of 200 feet was the largest unsupported span in the country and capable of housing ten full trains at once (it burned in 1996 and was demolished). The last passenger trains rolled out of Nashville in the 1970s and Union Station was abandoned. It dodged the wrecking ball, however, and has been redeveloped as a luxury hotel.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO EIGHT AVENUE AND TURN LEFT. CROSS COMMERCE STREET.
162 Eighth Avenue North
This festive little commercial property was constructed by merchant Samuel Berger as investment property in 1926, information revealed in the decorative center cornice. The building is attributed to local architect O.J. Billis and is outfitted with an array of colorful terra cotta tiles.
Frost Building (Baptist Sunday School Board)
161 Eighth Avenue North
The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention began in 1863 but found its legs under the leadership of James M. Frost in 1891. After purchasing this lot for $60,000 the Convention spent another $160,000 to construct the Beaux Arts “Frost Building” in 1913 as its first permanent home. Local architectural firm Hart & Gardner provided the classical design, highlighted by a quartet of full-height Corinthian columns.
167 8th Avenue North
Here is a rare glimpse at the mid-19th century Nashville residential streetscape when most of town’s buildings were two- and three-story structures, many in the Italianate style like this one. The dark red brick townhouse is thought to have been constructed in the years before the Civil War. It was used as a boarding house and in the 1890s did duty as a clubhouse for the Standard Club, a leading Jewish social club. An addition to the rear at this time contained the town’s first bowling alley. The Savages bought the house in 1898 and the family resided here until 1980.
TURN RIGHT ON CHURCH STREET
710 Church Street at northeast corner of Polk Avenue
This building began as a classy terra cotta-covered Renaissance Revival home for most of Davidson County’s doctors, created by Edward E. Dougherty in 1910. Things went well enough that another three stories were added up top. Look up to compare the two halves. Beneath the decorative cornice, topped by a balustrade and punctuated by classical urns, are carved shields based on the crest of the Medici family, fifteenth-century Florentine healers who inspired the term “medicine.”
700 Church Street at northwest corner of Seventh Avenue
William Dillon, a real estate developer, brought his friend George Bennie, a president of the Chamber of Commerce, into this project in the early 1920s to provide working space for doctors, lawyers, and financial companies. Bennie passed away in 1924 but plans forged ahead and the 12-story building was completed in 1927. Designed by the Nashville firm of Asmus and Clark, the Italian Renaissance Revival skyscraper with dashes of Gothic detail is liberally adorned with glazed terra cotta tiles. The Bennie-Dillon Building was transformed into residential living quarters in 1984 and was completely renovated in 1999.
616-618 Church Street at northeast corner of Seventh Avenue
Charles Castner and William Knott founded a dry goods business in 1898 and when the store moved here in 1906 into a previously residential district, it triggered a commercial stampede that transformed the face of Nashville. By 1911 Castner and Knott had expanded into the Italianate style building next door - a renovation in the 1950s would connect the floors of the two buildings and unify the fenestration but leave the original forms intact. The iconic Castner Knott flagship store closed in 1996, just short of the firm’s 100th birthday.
Nashville Public Library
615 Church Street
The first books were lent in Nashville in 1813 but a public library was not organized until 1898. The town’s first library building came in 1904 courtesy of a grant from steel magnate-turned philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, one of some 2,500 such libraries the Scotsman funded worldwide. This 300,000 square foot library came along in 2001, created in what architect Robert A.M. Stern described as “modern classical.” The building, whose Ionic facade harkens back to the town’s days as the Athens of the South, is sheathed with Alabama limestone and features floors of Georgia marble inside.
McKendree United Methodist Church
523 Church Street at southeast corner of Sixth Avenue
This is the fourth building constructed for the congregation; the first had been a 400 square-foot structure on the southeast corner of the courthouse square made of stone with a dirt floor in 1789. The land had been donated by the town which wanted the space back and tore down the building in 1807. After that the congregation met in members’ homes around town, including the jail since a congregant was the Nashville jailer. The church building was completed in 1910 and given a new front 50 feet closer to the street in the 1960s. The church is named for William McKendree, a preacher who was elected the first American-born bishop elected to the the Methodist Episcopal Church. McKendree spent most of his days traveling, spreading the word of Methodism and when he wasn’t traveling he called Sumner County, where his family had moved in 1810, home.
TURN LEFT ON SIXTH AVENUE.
231 Sixth Avenue North at southeast corner of Union Street
In the early years of the 1900s, Nashville promoters realized the need for a first-class hotel and 250 citizens pooled their money to build this 11-story guest house, named after Andrew Jackson’s estate, in 1910. J. Edward Carpenter designed the hotel in the image of an Italian palazzo to project an aura of luxury to the arriving guests. Following a familiar arc for large downtown hotels in America, the Hermitage was crumbling and in disrepair by the 1970s as it was being added to the National Register of Historic Places. It was brought back to life and returned to its original splendor and today reigns as the only AAA Five-Diamond hotel in Tennessee.
War Memorial Building
301 Sixth Avenue North between Union Street and Charlotte Avenue
The War Memorial Auditorium was authorized by the Tennessee Assembly in 1919 to honor the veterans of the just completed European War. Nashville architect Edward E. Dougherty provided the monumental Neoclassical design with a hall seating 2,200. The building would be recognized with a Gold Medal Award by the American Institute of Architecture, its highest honor, in 1925. A central courtyard surrounded by Doric columns features tablets inscribed with names of 3,400 Tennesseans who died in World War I. During the dedication ceremony the war’s most decorated hero, Sgt. Alvin C. York from a hollow near Pall Mall, Tennessee, was escorted down the aisle as the band played Dixie.
CONTINUE ACROSS CHARLOTTE AVENUE AND CLIMB THE STEPS UP TO THE GROUNDS OF THE TENNESSEE STATE CAPITOL.
Tennessee State Capitol
overlooking Charlotte Avenue between Sixth and Seventh avenues
Nashville bought Cedar Knob, the highest point in the city, for $30,000 and presented it to the State as the site for the Capitol. William Strickland did the design honors and created a pedimented Ionic Greek temple modeled after the Erectheum at Athens. The front and back facades boast eight fluted columns with hand-carved capitals of solid limestone, the side porticos have six. The lantern lording over the capitol is a copy of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens. The cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1845 but Strickland, a Philadelphian who had moved to Nashville for the project, was not there for the official completion fourteen years later. He died in 1854 at the age of 65 and was buried inside the northeast wall of the Capitol. Monuments on the Capitol grounds include statues of two of the three Tennessee residents who served as President of the United States: Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson; the other, James K. Polk, is buried in a tomb on the grounds.
WALK OVER TO THE SEVENTH AVENUE SIDE OF THE CAPITOL GROUNDS TO SEE THREE BUILDINGS. THE TOWER TO YOUR LEFT IS...
312 8th Avenue North
The Tennessee Tower was designed by the firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, known for constructing some of the world’s tallest buildings, and reigned as the state’s sky king from 1970 until 1986. Outfitted with travertine limestone and glass, the building was constructed for the National Life and Accident Insurance Company but now many of the state’s offices are consolidated here.
THE BUILDING ON THE CORNER, NEXT TO THE CAPITOL, IS...
Tennessee Supreme Court Building
401 Seventh Avenue North at northwest corner of Charlotte Avenue
The stripped classicism of the Art Deco style is in evidence on the Tennessee Supreme Court Building that was created by local designers Marr and Holman in 1937. The classic proportions and symmetry are retained but, in step with the austere times of the Great Depression, the ornamentation has been sacrificed.
NEXT TO THE SUPREME COURT BUILDING IS...
Tennessee State Library and Archives
403 Seventh Avenue North
The Tennessee State Library and Archives was established in 1854 and moved into this Neoclassical home in 1953. The $2.3 million building was intended as a memorial to the veterans of World War II. One of the library’s crown jewels is the state’s most comprehensive collection of Tennessee newspapers that date to 1791.
WALK BACK DOWN TO CHARLOTTE AVENUE AND TURN LEFT.
John Sevier State Office Building
500 Charlotte Avenue on north side of Charlotte Avenue
The tandem of Nashville architect Emmons H. Woolwine and New York designer Frederic C. Hirons created the Art Deco-flavored Tennessee State Office Building in 1940. The symmetrical winged building features limestone facing highlighted by full-height flute pilasters. Early on the office building adopted the name of John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee. Some of his adventures were depicted on the Depression-era murals in the ground floor lobby.
TURN RIGHT ON FIFTH AVENUE.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church
330 Fifth Avenue North
This is the first permanent Catholic church erected in Tennessee, with the first services taking place in 1847. The architect was Adolphus Heiman, the go-to designer in Nashville in the Antebellum period. Heiman was born in Prussia in 1809 and sailed to the United States in 1834. Three years later he was in Nashville working as a stonecutter. He migrated into building design, incorporating the popular Greek Revival and Gothic Revival and Italianate styles of the day into his buildings. Here he worked primarily in the Greek Revival form. Heiman, who had won laurels for his service in the Mexican War, was killed in action fighting for the Confederacy in 1862.
Jesse French Piano Company Building
242 Fifth Avenue North
There was music in Music City before country music and this structure was familiarly known as “the piano building” for the instruments sold here. It was constructed in 1889 for the Jesse French Piano Company. Based in Nashville, it had branches in Memphis, Little Rock, St. Louis, Dallas, Birmingham, and Montgomery, with a force of one hundred traveling salesmen. The company grew large enough that it decided to manufacture its own line of pianos. To further his own business, French involved himself indirectly with the publication of key Mississippi Valley ragtime composers. The music has long since stopped playing in this mostly vacant building but the carved facade remains one of the town’s finest. Look up to see bearded faces, scallop shells, stylized cherubs and Corinthian columns.
237-239 Fifth Avenue North
Samuel H. Kress started his chain of five-and-dimes in 1896, paying as much attention to the appearance of his stores as to the bottom line. His in-house architectural staff embraced the Art Deco style of the 1930s, such as this store from 1935. Follow the stylized windows up to the signature gold “Kress” badge at the roofline.
entrances on Fourth and Fifth avenues North between Union and Church streets
Enclosed shopping malls became popular in American cities after the first one was built in Providence, Rhode Island in 1828. Often they featured classical details in the image of their ancient Greek shopping plaza models. Nashville’s opened in 1903 and boasted identical Palladian facades on either side. The steel framing for the peaked glass roof was crafted by the Nashville Bridge Company.
St. Cloud Corner
500 Church Street at northwest corner of Fifth Avenue North
This collection of buildings began with a private residence in 1830 that became a boarding house and then the St.Cloud Hotel. The 20th century saw the property expand for the Cain-Sloan Department Store and then a conversion into an office-and-retail complex.
TURN LEFT ON CHURCH STREET.
Downtown Presbyterian Church
southeast corner of 5th Avenue North and Church Street
As an architect and engineer, Philadelphian William Strickland was the nation’s leading cheerleader for the Greek Revival style in the early decades of the 19th century. For this church building in 1849 he instead tabbed the Egyptian Revival style which stirred negative murmuring at the time but is now widely recognized as a masterpiece of the form. It survives as one of the few Egyptian Revival ecclesiastical works in the country. Between the 104-foot towers is a half-portico with two Egyptian columns supporting the pediment. The First Presbyterian Church, which had worshiped on this site since 1816, chose not to remain in their landmark building after the Supreme Court made desegregation the law of the land in 1954 and fled to the suburbs. They planned to bulldozethe National Historic Landmark for a parking lot but were persuaded to sell the property to the congregants who chose to stay behind and form the Downtown Presbyterian Church.
Third National Financial Center
424 Church Street at northeast corner of Fifth Avenue North
When this 30-story tower was raisedin 1986 it was considered the town’s first Postmodern skyscraper. Its design incorporates interpretations of other Nashville landmarks, most noticeably the Egyptian-flavored Downtown Presbyterian Church across the street. The bank office reigned as Tennessee’s tallest building until 1994.
421 Church Street
Meyer Cohen was a New Yorker who found success in Nashville as a successful jeweler and pawnbroker. He built this eye-catching Renaissance Revival structure in 1890 which housed his business on the ground floor and living space upstairs. The townhouse featured a marble stairway and carved oak mantelpieces for the fireplaces in every room. After the Cohens passed away the building was willed to George Peabody University and formed the foundation of their fine arts department.
Life & Casualty Tower
401 Church Street at southwest corner of Fourth Avenue
This was Tennessee’s tallestbuilding when it soared to 410 feet in 1957. Sheathed in limestone and black granite, the building commands its corner with an angled entrance. Architect Edwin Keeble, working with a Vanderbilt University astronomer, gave his tower vertical aluminum fins that controlled the amount of light streaming through the bright green window glass. This was the first building to muscle its way into the Nashville skyline beside the hilltop Tennessee State Capitol. In the building’s early days, the L&C sign at its apex functioned as a weather beacon, changing color to indicate the weather forecast.
Third National Bank Building
170 4th Avenue North at southeast corner of Church Street
This was Nashville’s first steel-framed skyscraper, erected in 1905. In the 1930s all the ornamentation was stripped from the Neoclassical building, the size doubled and a new Art Deco facade installed. In 1998, after a decade of vacancy, the building was reinvented as a hotel.
TURN LEFT ON THIRD AVENUE.
206 Fourth Avenue North
This Romanesque six-story building of rough-faced limestone, designed by Hugh Cathcart Thompson of Ryman Auditorium fame, was constructed in 1892 in anticipation of the business coming for the Centennial Exposition, the state’s 100th birthday celebration. The hotel shuttered in the 1930s and has laid mostly fallow until a recent conversion to lofts.
210 Fourth Avenue North
This Romanesque-flavored building was constructed in 1887 as the Climax Saloon where patrons could find liquor on the ground floor and gamble upstairs. The Climax was an anchor of the Men’s Quarter, so named because a woman could not come to this block without leaving with a reputation.
222 Fourth Avenue North
This Queen Anne structure marked by a distinctive corner tower was constructed in 1895 by Marcus Cartwright, a wealthy bookmaker. The Southern Turf offered patrons the sinful trifecta of a saloon on the ground floor, a gambling room on the second floor and a bordello on the third floor. The operation was managed for most of its existence by Ice Johnson, who lived on the premises in an upstairs room. When the saloon was put out of business in 1916, Ice sat down and wrote out a note indicating he preferred death to giving up his treasured job and building, and blew his brains out with a pistol. His ghost is still said to patrol the premises.
TURN RIGHT INTO THE ALLEY NEXT TO SOUTHERN TURF AND WALK A HALF BLOCK TO...
between Third and Fourth avenues, from Union Street to Church Street
In the early 1900s this claustrophobic alley was the home to 13 publishers and 10 printers, including the town’s two largest newspapers, the Tennessean and the Nashville Banner. By the 1940s the alley began to be infiltrated with saloons and speakeasies where the liquor flowed freely despite a Tennessee law that banned the sale of liquor in restaurants from 1909 until 1968. The speakeasies morphed into clubs in the 1940s featuring the leading acts of the day. Although Nashville was still home to three dozen printing companies in the 1960s, Printers Alley had become firmly established as an entertainment district.
EXIT PRINTER’S ALLEY AT THE NORTHERN END ONTO UNION AVENUE. TURN RIGHT.
Central National Bank/Nashville Bank and Trust Building
315 Union Street
The Nashville Bank and Trust Company took its first deposits in 1889 and continued to operate until the 1960s. In 2004 its name was resurrected and brought back to the Nashville business landscape by a different organization. In its heyday the Central National Bank and its affiliate the Nashville Bank and Trust settled into this Neoclassical tower in 1926, designed by local architects Asmus and Clark. More restrained than its neighbors on the “Wall Street of the South,” the 14-story skyscraper is distinguished by oversized arches at the street level and rises to an understated cornice. Look around the corner into Printer’s Alley and you can see how the decorative stone base was not continued beyond the front facade.
American Trust Building
301 Union Street at southwest corner of Third Avenue
New Jersey-born architect Henry C. Hibbs was toiling in New York when he was tabbed in 1914 to oversee construction of the George Peabody College. The 42-year old Hibbs never left, hanging out his shingle in 1917 and becoming one of the town’s busiest designers. He gave the American Trust Building a bold four-story base of Ionic columns that project the impression that this is a bank that wasn’t going to fall down anytime soon. In fact that was the height of the original American Trust Building here when it was founded in 1920 by the American National Bank. Six years later when the rival Nashville Trust, which had a stranglehold on the town’s trust business before American showed up, erected its 14-story headquarters next door American Trust president Paul Davis quickly added eleven stories to make sure his building was taller. To sabotage any chance the two banks might someday merge, Davis even directed Hibbs to design the tower so the floors did not match up with the NashvilleTrust Building.
TURN RIGHT ON THIRD AVENUE AND WALK A FEW STEPS DOWN ON THE LEFT.
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Building
226 Third Avenue North
This Greek temple bank vault appeared on the Nashville streetscape in 1922, helping establish the town as a regional banking center. It sprung from the pen of Albert Anthony Ten Eyck Brown, born the son of an architect in 1878 in Albany, New York. Brown based his own practice in Atlanta where he became an important designer of public buildings. The quartet of Ionic columns supporting a building-width pediment help the ban hold its own next to its taller neighbors.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO UNION STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
211-219 Union Street at southeast corner of 3rd Avenue North
Edward B. Stahlman sailed with his family from Germany in 1853 when he was ten years old. A few years later his father died and he went to work as a cart driver on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, beginning a railroad career that led him to the vice-presidency of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. In 1881 Stahlman purchased a minority interest in the Nashville Banner, gradually increasing his stake until by 1893 he was the majority stockholder and publisher. He helmed the paper for 37 years until his death in 1930, becoming the people’s voice for judicial reform in Tennessee. Stahlman commissioned the construction of this office tower in 1907. Otto R. Eggers of New York City traveled south to team with Nashville architect James E.R. Carpenter on the Classical Revival design with a parade of engaged square Doric columns around its base. The building was shorn of much of its ornamentation in an Art Moderne re-do in the 1950s. The Stahlman Building, which introduced Nashville to the wonders of the modern elevator, first housed the Fourth National Bank; the bank’s original vault is still in the basement. In 1971 Metro Government purchased the Stahlman Building, and the building housed offices and courtrooms until 2003.
BEHIND THE OPEN SPACE ON YOUR LEFT IS...
Davidson County Public Building and Courthouse
100 Public Square
Public Square was cleared of all its previous buildings to make way for this office building and courthouse in 1936. After a juried design competition local architect Emmons H. Woolwine and Frederic C. Hirons of New York were presented with a $2 million budget and they delivered an epic building with 12 enormous fluted Doric columns framed by an Art Deco form. This is the fifth courthouse to grace this space in Nashville.
TURN RIGHT ON FIRST AVENUE. CROSS CHURCH STREET.
As evidenced by the parade of brick warehouses along First Avenue, Nashville’s waterfront has historically been a working district. In recent years concerted efforts have taken place to transform both sides of the Cumberland River into a destination of parkland and waterfront access. The heroic bronze figures of James Robertson and John Donelson reuniting to found Nashville was created by celebrated local sculptor and educator Thomas Puryear Mims. The contemplative statue of Timothy Demonbreun, a French-Canadian fur trader who settled on the banks of the Cumberland in 1766, is by Nashville sculptor Alan LeQuire. LeQuire’s works can be seen across the city, most notably his 42-foot rendering in gypsum and fiberglass on a metal frame of the Greek goddess Athena in the Parthenon in Centennial Park. It is the largest indoor sculpture in America.
CONTINUE A FEW MORE STEPS TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.