One does not have to look far here in Nashville to find a piece of history, staring silently right back. Our town is replete with monuments, markers, and plaques heralding Nashville’s history and our role in the nation and in the world. However, the places around town that may be common-place sights or parts of daily commutes may very well hold a story that is compelling, engaging, and downright nifty. The stories are ripe for the telling. Here is just a sampling of our remarkable places and their remarkable stories.
Centennial Park and the Parthenon
Centennial Park is one of Nashville’s oldest and largest city parks, established in 1897 as the site of Tennessee’s Centennial Exposition. Serving as state community grounds as early as 1865, Centennial Park is most well known for its beautiful gardens and the Parthenon. The park’s 132 acres contain the famous sunken gardens and Lake Watauga, the lake in the middle where every Nashville child knows is the place to feed the ducks. You’re a true native Nashvillian if you can remember taking Easter pictures in the tulips in the sunken gardens and riding the paddlewheel boats on Lake Watauga. The Parthenon is a treasure for the world as the only complete full-scale replica of the original Parthenon in Greece.
The Nashville Library is one of the South’s most impressive facilities, boasting a history as far back as 1904 as the result of a philanthropic gift from noted industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The current facility has been open since 2001, and its Grand Reading Room and Robinson Courtyard are two of Nashville’s hidden gems. You will feel as if you were transported to another city when you visit these areas. They aren’t to be missed! You’re a true native Nashvillian if you can remember the children’s story times at the “old” library with the tree trunk that opened to puppets, a magical memory for many of Nashville’s generations.
The parks that together are called the “Warner Parks” are, in actuality, two parks joined as one – Edwin Warner Park and Percy Warner Park. Named for the Warner brothers, these parks opened in 1927 and are the largest parks in Nashville’s greenspaces. Over 2,600 acres, these parks are some of Nashville’s most heavily used parks – almost one million people visit each year. Many a family picnic has been enjoyed at the parks, along with nature hikes and fall family photos. You’re a true native Nashvillian if you can remember when it was permitted to drive on the paved trails through the wooded areas. Now closed to vehicular traffic, it was once common to share the road with cars and bicycles. The Warner Parks are home to two golf courses, as well as the famed Iroquois Steeplechase since 1941.
Nashville’s Farmers’ Market has a long history with the city, having been established as long ago as the early 1800s. It has been located in multiple areas of town, but it has been at its current location since 1995. You’re a true native if you feel like the current spot for the Farmer’s Market seems like the “new” spot for it, despite having been there for 18 years! It has rallied since being severely damaged in the May 2010 floods, and it now can be seen frequently hosting celebrity chef events and encouraging Nashville’s citizens to join the return to locally-grown produce and locally-produced natural products.
Many a turtle can be seen along the banks of the pristine Radnor Lake, a state park with roots in the community as far back as 1914, when it was purchased by the L&N railroad for industrial uses. Its use was converted into a hunting and recreational area for railroad executives not long after, and it became a wildlife refuge in 1923 when the railroad realized its importance to the migrating birds and native wildlife. Formerly under threat of development, Radnor Lake is considered a pioneer in a city’s ability to preserve its natural spaces. Now protected as a state park, Radnor Lake is home to many species of wildlife that can be seen frequently as visitors wind through the trails of the 85-acre lake and its adjoining scenic property. A true native Nashvillian will have heard many a story of the days when teenage boys would attempt to sneak into the lake at night to catch the legendary whoppers of a fish tale that were rumored to live in the lake. Many a pole has been left behind, as those boys hightailed it out of the park before getting into big trouble!
The Bicentennial Mall was created in 1996 as part of Tennessee’s Bicentennial celebration. It is part of the complex that includes the Farmer’s Market, and it is a remarkable place to learn more about our history as a state and as a city. A true native Nashvillian will think, “What? It was opened in 1996? 17 years ago? No way!” It truly seems like yesterday that the Bicentennial Mall was newly opened.
Downtown Presbyterian Church
Nashville’s Downtown Presbyterian Church is famous for many things, one of which is its unique architectural and design style in the Egyptian Revival style. The current building dates back to 1848 as the third church building to be erected on the site due to fires destroying the initial two structures. It was designed by William Strickland, who also designed our State Capitol building. It is said that this church is the best example in the country of a church designed in the Egyptian Revival style. You may be interested to hear that the church was home to two presidents – Andrew Jackson was a member, and James K. Polk was sworn in as Governor in the church. It was also used as a military hospital during the Civil War. If you haven’t visited the church to see its remarkable interior and exterior, you must plan a visit. It is the hallmark of a true native Nashvillian to be able to say that you have seen “that Egyptian church downtown.”
The Arcade, known only by that small moniker, is a surprisingly historic facility. Constructed as Nashville’s first indoor shopping center, it was built in 1902! It has been home to multiple vendors through the years, and many a native Nashvillian will recall fond memories of The Peanut Shop, first opened in 1927. Have no fear, The Peanut Shop is still alive and well! You too can feel like a native Nashvillian once you can say that you have been to The Arcade and visited The Peanut Shop!
Saber-toothed Tiger Story
Many people may know that the saber-toothed tiger is the mascot of the Nashville Predators, but it is safe to say that most of those folks haven’t heard the “rest of the story.” In 1971, local financial institution First American National Bank began construction on its future high-rise on Deaderick and were quite surprised when construction workers found the remains of a saber-toothed tiger and humans in a cave system below ground! Nashville made national news with the story, and the bank was able to preserve the cave system while building its facility above the chambers. It is said that access is still available through a special hatch in the lowest level of the parking garage. While First American National Bank has now gone the way of the dinosaur, the saber-toothed tiger continues to live on in the role of hockey mascot. Bet you didn’t know that nifty story!
While a cemetery may not be on the top of any tourist’s list of places to see, Nashville’s City Cemetery is nonetheless a remarkable place to visit. It was first established in 1822 and is the city’s oldest public cemetery. It is the final resting place of many notable figures in Nashville and Tennessee history, including 22 Nashville mayors and even four of Nashville’s original settlers! Now that’s going far back in history! A true native Nashvillian will remember all the many attempts through the years to preserve this important piece of our history. Today, significant strides are being made to ensure that this place will remain in excellent condition for future generations to reflect upon our history.