Nashville, Tennessee: A little Greece and a lot of Country Music

Part of Music Row in downtown Nashville - Photo by Melissa Parker
Ernest Tubb Record Shop on Broadway Avenue - Photo by Melissa Parker

Nashville, TN – Nashville, Tennessee was founded on Christmas Eve in 1779 by a group of about two hundred settlers led by James Robertson and John Donelson. The group built a log stockade that they called Fort Nashborough in honor of Gen. Francis Nash who won acclaim in the American Revolution.

Nashville was incorporated into a city in 1806 and became the county seat of Davidson County, Tennessee, and in 1843, was named the permanent capital of the state. During the Civil War, the Battle of Nashville was fought there with the outcome of a Union victory (6,602 total casualties, 4,462 of which were Confederate soldiers).

One cannot see precisely where the Battle of Nashville was fought because that area is largely residential and commercial development south and west of the downtown area. However, there are several historic sites relating to the battle that you can tour; Belle Meade Plantation, the State Capitol, Union Fort Negley, Shy’s Hill, Battle of Nashville Monument, the Tennessee State Museum, the Nashville National Cemetery, Confederate Circle at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, and the Carter House, just to name a few.

Because Nashville was rapidly becoming one of the nation’s major music centers, WSM announcer David Cobb casually referred to Nashville as “Music City, U. S. A.,” during a 1950 broadcast, and the term stuck.

Downtown Nashville is the top regional choice for live music, special occasions, fine dining, sports, and entertainment. Downtown Music City USA has over 35 live venues including country, classical, blues, jazz, and bluegrass. Major events every year include the Music City Bowl, the Country Music Marathon, the CMA Music Festival, and the Fourth of July Annual Celebration.

Eleven hotels are located downtown and there are over 145 restaurants to choose from. Other attractions include the County Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Arcade, Printers Alley, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, historic Second Avenue, the Nashville Convention Center, Riverfront Park, and the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum.

Containing about 50 properties, Second Avenue is Nashville’s oldest downtown district and was the commercial heart of the city in the latter half of the 19th century. Architectural styles include Victorian Commercial and Warehouse facades. Riverfront Park, at 1st and Broad, is an outlet for summer concerts, July 4th fireworks, and the General Jackson Riverboat (which offers paddle wheel excursions on the Cumberland River).

Portions of 16th and 17th Avenue South are known as Music Row. 16th Avenue is called Music Square East and17th Avenue is called Music Square West. The area is home to hundreds of businesses related to country music, gospel music, and Contemporary Christian music industries.

You will find the offices of numerous publishing houses, record labels, recording studios, etc., as well as radio networks and radio stations. RCA Studio B, United Artists Tower, Mercury Records, Sony Music, and Curb Records are there, just to name a few. It was at Nashville’s RCA branch office (RCA Studio B) that Elvis Presley’s first RCA sessions occurred and where he recorded over 200 hits.

Streets are named after Roy Acuff and Chet Atkins. The Country Music Hall of Fame was once located at the corner of Music Square East and Division Street, but it was moved to a new building eleven blocks away in 2001. One area of Music Row, along Demonbreun Street, has recently been redeveloped with a number of upscale restaurants and bars serving the Downtown and Music Row areas.

The Sommet Center in downtown Nashville - Photo by Melissa Parker
The Sommet Center in downtown Nashville - Photo by Melissa Parker

Formerly known as Gaylord Entertainment Center and the Nashville Arena, the Sommet Center at 501 Broadway, hosts concerts, family shows, and sporting events. The 5,145-seat Music City Theater inside the Sommet Center debuted on December 13, 2002 with a sold-out Martina McBridge concert. The Jonas Brothers will be appearing there on August 25 (as part of the Jonas Brothers World Tour 2009). Other events at the Sommet Center have included the CMA Annual Awards, Brooks & Dunn New Year’s Eve Blast, Justin Timberlake with Pink, Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus, the Harlem Globetrotters, Michael W. Smith with the Nashville Symphony, and Predators hockey games.

The Grand Ole Opry, an American Icon and Nashville’s number one attraction, is known for creating one-of-a-kind entertainment experiences for audiences of all ages. Hundreds of thousands of people make the pilgrimage to the Opry Complex to see live shows and millions tune in to Opry broadcasts on television.

Minnie Pearl, a country comedy legend, performed at the Opry for fifty years wearing her signature straw hat with plastic flowers with the $1.98 price tag. Elvis Presley made his first (and only) less than stellar performance there on October 2, 1954. Audiences at the Opry would not accept his infamous body gyrations, which many viewed as vulgar.

The Opry has come a long way since 1925 when the radio station WSM (“We Shield Millions”) went live from the 5th floor offices of National Life and Accident Insurance Company. George Hay, called “The Solemn ole Judge,” had a popular hillbilly program that came to be known as the WSM Barn Dance. Then, on a Saturday night in 1927, George told everyone that they had been listening to music taken largely from the Grand Opera, but that from now on he will present the Grand Old Opry… so the name took hold and the show has been called that ever since.

Opry Plaza (which includes the Grand Old Opry House, Acuff Theater, Opry Mills, General Jackson, and Music City Queen) is located on Briley Parkway (Exit 90B on I-65).

The Cheek-Neal Company named their coffee Maxwell House after a hotel in downtown Nashville. While on a visit to the city, President Theodore Roosevelt was served the coffee at The Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson. Roosevelt referred to the cup of coffee as “good to the last drop.” That slogan started one of the most well known advertising campaigns.

The Maxwell House Hotel was the hangout in the 1920s for many political, professional, and business leaders. One of their ads read “serving regular Sunday style dinners every Thursday night from 5 until 9 for $1.00” The ad stated that the dinners were especially priced for “family and party groups.” Maxwell House coffee was served for the last time at the Maxwell House Hotel on December 25, 1961.

Lake Watauga with the Parthenon in the background in Centennial Park - Photo by Marc Parker
Lake Watauga with the Parthenon in the background in Centennial Park - Photo by Marc Parker

The Parthenon, located in Nashville’s Centennial Park, is the only full-scale concrete replica of the Parthenon in Athens, which was built around 432 BC. The re-creation of the 42-foot statue Athena standing inside the building is the focus of the Parthenon just as it was in ancient Greece and is the largest free-standing interior statue in the western hemisphere. Alan LeQuire of Nashville sculpted it in 1990.

Built in 1897, it was part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, a World’s Fair staged between May 1 and October 31 of that year. But, the columns were made of lath and plaster and the building began deteriorating. It was decided in 1920 not to demolish the Parthenon, and Russell E. Hart was chosen as the architect for the reconstruction and William B. Dinsmoor agreed to act as a consulting architect. Dinsmoor was an architectural historian of classical Greece.

Today the Parthenon serves as Nashville’s art museum and the focus of the permanent collection is a group of 63 paintings by 19th and 20th century American artists donated by James M. Cowan. Additional gallery spaces provide a venue for a variety of temporary shows and exhibits.

Belle Meade Plantation, located on Harding Road at Leake Avenue, was built in 1853 by General William Giles Harding, who was the son of the original owner of this 1,200-acre plantation that was located on the “Old Natchez Road.” Harding transformed the Federal-style house his father had built in 1820 into the Greek revival mansion that stands today and established Belle Meade as a nationally recognized horse nursery.

Belle Meade was headquarters to Confederate Gen. James R. Chalmers of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry command prior to the Battle of Nashville in December of 1864. Highlights of the Belle Meade tour include the 1853 mansion (restored to the sumptuous elegance of the Victorian era), the 1890 Carriage House and Stable, and the 1790 Log Cabin, one of the oldest houses in Tennessee.

The first Governor of Florida and the first president to be the target of an assassination attempt, Andrew Jackson came from ordinary beginnings. However, he built a stunning antebellum plantation in the Greek Revival Style that is now restored as a museum dedicated to Jackson. His wife, Rachel, died in 1828 and is buried in The Hermitage gardens on the east side of the home and Jackson was buried next to her in 1845. The driveway of the home is in the shape of a guitar. Costumed guides give a tour of the home; there are revolving exhibits and also a film about the President.

The Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson, is located 12 miles east of downtown Nashville and is accessible from Interstate 40, Exit 221A (The Hermitage exit). From I-65 north, the Hermitage is accessible from Exit 92 (Old Hickory Boulevard South exit). It has been meticulously furnished just as it was in 1836 during President Jackson’s retirement.

The tomb of James Polk, the 11th President of the United States, and his wife, Sarah, is located on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol. It was moved there in 1893 after his home at Polk Place in Nashville was demolished. Polk studied law in Nashville under Felix Grundy, a renowned trial attorney. The youngest former president to die in retirement at the age of 53, Polk is ranked by scholars 8th to 12th on the list of greatest presidents for his ability to set an agenda and achieve all of it.

Nashville has grown to become the largest metropolitan area in the state and is the second most populous city in Tennessee after Memphis.

Interesting Nashville trivia –

The only country-recording artist to be elected twice to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville is Roy Rogers.

The Standard Candy Company, maker of the Goo Goo Clusters, is located in Nashville. The candy is made of chocolate, caramel, marshmallows, and peanuts.

According to the Lovin’ Spoonful’s song, “Nashville Cats, “ there are “1,352 guitar pickers in Nashville.”

Popular singer, Kathy Mattea started out as a tour guide at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.

At the age of thirteen, Dolly Parton was recording on a small Louisiana label, Goldband Records, and appeared on the Grand Ole Opry. Right after her high school graduation she moved to Nashville.

In 1942, Roy Acuff co-founded the first major Nashville-based country music publishing company – Acuff-Rose Music, which signed acts such as Hank Williams, Roy Orbison, and The Everly Brothers.

Singer Randy Travis worked at the Nashville Palace in the 1980s washing dishes and cooking catfish.

Iroquois, a Nashville horse, was the first American winner of the English Derby.

Blind Nashvillian Morris Frank, introduced the Seeing Eye Dog to the U. S. in 1928.

Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry is the longest continuously running live radio program in the world. It has aired every Friday and Saturday night since 1925.

Article by Melissa Parker

© 2009 Our Prattville. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the express written consent of the publisher.

2 thoughts on “Nashville, Tennessee: A little Greece and a lot of Country Music”

  1. The Parthenon ihas art exhibitions, but nashville has its own art museum. It's downtown, in a former post office. It's a fascinating building in itself!

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