One of Nashville's best music venues on Broadway, the Stage, packed every night with music and fans, 2008, Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Visitor Statistics16.1 million visitors per year (2019)
City Size525.94 square miles
715,884 population (city proper),
21st largest in USA
Fees subject to change without notice.
Photo above: Nashville singers from Fisk University called the Jubilee Singers, 1872?, James Wallace Black. Courtesy Library of Congress. Right: Ryman Auditorium, home to the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974, 2008, Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy Library of Congress.
What started out as French Lick by fur traders in the late 1600's and early 1700's, was then elevated to Fort Nashborough when traders and explorers, the Overmountain Men, led by James Robertson and John Donelson saw its value on the Cumberland River and built the fort in 1779. From then forward, it grew slowly. Three hundred and forty-five residents in 1800, including one hundred and thirty-six slaves. By 1843, it was the permanent capitol of Tennessee. And yes, it still had its slave past. There were auction blocks and the city, prior to the Civil War, even itself owned sixty slaves. Nashville, however, is not a city that speaks about that past often now, and has become a multi-cultural metropolis based much on country music. And that's what, unless you look really hard for its history past, you'll witness today, and enjoy, from the smaller clubs along Broadway to the Grand Ole Opry.
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While still in Indian territory, French-Canadian trader Martin Chartier set up a trading post near the site of the eventual city in 1689. By 1714, French traders led by Charles Charleville established a settlement and trading post where downtown Nashville is now located, naming it French Lick. French Lick was abandoned by the 1740's. After that the area was not permanently settled by Europeans until Fort Nashborough was built three decades later. Nashville was antibellum south, for all the bad and good that meant. It was the center of the cotton trade, tilled and picked by slaves, which numbered three thousand prior to the Civil War, with seven hundred free blacks scattered throughout the city.
The Civil War is not talked about much in the city today, but Nashville, with the Cumberland River and railroad network was important for the Union to capture early, with Nashville becoming the first Confederate capitol to fall in 1862. However, after the Civil War ended (yes, there was another battle for Nashville 1864, see below), Civil Rights for black citizens did not make a huge jump into equality. The Ku Klux Klan gained a foothold.
Throughout the years of reconstruction, the reestablishment of Nashville as a prosperous city, and into the fight for Civil Rights that came to the forefront in the late 1950's and early 1960's, Nashville was prodominantly a segregated city. Blacks could not use Centennal Park until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.
Image above: General view of the city, 1862, Harper's Weekly. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Home of the Grand Ole Opry today, open 1974, 2005, Adam McMaster. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
While the fight for equality remained throughout the years after the Civil War until and past the Civil Rights Act, Nashville began to prosper both economically and culturally. It suburbanized, with the city annexing some of those neighborhoods to expand its tax base.
However, somewhere along the way, despite the strife and challenges, Nashville became the capital of country music and a mecca for industry, white color jobs, and tourism. The Grand Ole Opry, from the days prior to the Ryman Auditorium to the now new Grand Ole Opry building outside the downtown core draws millions through its radio, television, and live performances.
And it's a city of history both related to music and to some of its past. The Country Music Hall of Fame, Fort Nashborough, Fort Negley, Tennessee State Museum, and Centennial Park, with its Parthenon.
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Things You Should Not Miss
1. Take in a show at the new Grand Ole Opry or a tour of Ryman Auditorium. Both will immerse you in the scene that is music Nashville. That also includes some of the smaller venues along Music Row, Broadway, where the Stage, Hard Rock Cafe, Tequila Cowboy, and dozens of other bars and restaurants are devoted to live country music almost every night.
2. Visit Centennial Park. It has its dark history through the Civil Rights era and some statuary controversy still, but the park was home to the 1897 World's Fair, hosts art museums in the Parthenon, and is a nice urban oasis to take a walk and remind yourself of the good and bad history that occurred there.
3. Visit Fort Nashborough. The reconstruction of the first permanent settlement in Nashville has a great story to tell.
Photo above: Photo of Centennial Park, after its construction in 1902, with Parthenon and statue, 1909, Haines Photo Co. Courtesy Library of Congress.
What's There Now
The Ryman Auditorium - Ryman opened as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892, then began to host the Grand Ole Opry in 1943. It is a National Historic Landmark, played by most of the greats of country music of yesterday and today, including Elvis once.
Fort Nashborough - Reconstructed history center of the fort that basically started the city. Tells the story of the fort and the Native American history before and during its heydey. Located on First Avenue.
The Hermitage - Home of President Andrew Jackson east of downtown.
The Parthenon - Built for the fair, it still draws crowds. Eight hundred thousand people per year visit the replica Parthenon, now serving as Nashville's Art Gallery. It had been rebuilt from 1902-1931 with concrete to substantiate the structure and underwent renovation again in 1988.
Photo above: Parthenon, 1897, B.L. Singley/Keystone View Company. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Battle of Nashville
One of the least talked about battles of the Civil War or history of Nashville is the Battle of Nashville on December 15-16, 1864, as a last ditch effort in the western theater to gain Confederate victory and force U.S. Grant to bring troops west away from his siege at Richmond. It did not work. Nearly eighty-five thousand troops fought the battle; it was a massive Union victory with General George H. Thomas as its commander, and effectively ended the Confederate Army of the Tennessee as a fighting force.
However, not all is lost in its interpretation, as groups such as the Civil War Trails and Battle of Nashville Trust put up waysides to the contributions of the USCT and look for land to preserve to tell the story better.
Directions to Nashville
Nashville is located at the confluence of Interstate 24 and Interstate 40. It is 175 miles south from Louisville, Kentucky, and 180 miles west of Knoxville, Tennesee.
Lodging and Camping
Nashville has become a cosmopolitan city with a country flare, home to professional football teams, Tennessee Titans, and an NHL hockey club, the Nashville Predators, and a large tourism industry. There are a huge amount of hotel rooms, bed and breakfasts, and more. Check your favorite online lodging site for the best choice for you and your traveling party.
Of course, it's a city, but outside it, to the northeast, are the Nashville KOA and Two Rivers Campground. To the southeast, the Anderson Road Campground and others are situated around the Percy Priest Lake, a reservoir that is forty-two miles long.
Photo above: Destruction of Nashville after the Battle of Nashville in 1864, 1864, James F. Coonley, E. and H.T. Anthony & Co. Courtesy Library of Congress. Middle: Civil War Trails putting up a new sign telling story of the colored troops at the Battle of Nashville.
Nashville World's Fair 1897
Nashville in 1897 wanted to join the remainder of the world and show its progress as a city and state. By hosting the Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition, Nashville, with only 150,000 residents in the metro area before the turn of the century, was staking claim to the larger things to come. It was held on two hundred acres of West Side Park, with the area renamed Centennial Park in 1902, opened 1903, when it was constructed on 132 acres using the Parthenon as its hub.
Sixteen nations took part, and depending on how you count attendance, it reached a total of an estimated 1,879,072 visitors, workers, and concessionaires.
Photo above: Bird-eye view of the Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition, 1897, Henderson Lithographing Company. Courtesy Library of Congress.
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