Nashville Singers from Fisk University

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.

Ryman Auditorium


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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Nashville in 1872

Nashville Then

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.

New Grand Ole Opry House

Nashville Now

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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Centennial Park


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.

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Cannons at Stones River National Battlefield