Editor’s note: As a resident of Nashville, Associate Director of Risk Reduction Drew Logsdon (Western Kentucky) has a unique perspective on the city. For further information about Sigma Nu’s Grand Chapter held in Nashville, visit sigmanu.org for a complete itinerary.
By Drew Logsdon (Western Kentucky)
Incorporated in 1806, Nashville is the capital and largest metropolitan area in Tennessee. Known as “Music City” for its prominent role in the music industry, the city is home to 17 different colleges, universities, and vocational colleges. These are just a few of the reasons Nashville is well known as a regional hub and tourist destination. The following facts are some of the less well known but equally compelling attributes of Nashville.
Country’s First Metro Government
Faced with the growth of suburbs following World War II and a tax base struggling to accommodate residents with appropriate services, talks began about consolidating Nashville city government with Davidson county government into a single entity. In 1962 a referendum was passed that fully consolidated Nashville’s city government with Davidson county’s government. In 1963 this was put into practice with the birth of the Nashville Metro Government. While many other metro areas by this time had partial consolidation, Nashville was the first location to have a full and complete consolidated city and county government.
Nashville Civil Rights
Three years before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the Civil Rights Movement was in full force in Nashville. In 1960, civil rights and non-violent protest advocate James Lawson organized a group of African-American students from Fisk University and Tennessee A&I (later Tennessee State University) to begin non-violent protests of the segregated lunch counters in downtown Nashville. The initial effort was met with backlash that sometimes resulted in physical violence against the protesters. However, following several successful and attention grabbing lunch counter sit-ins secret negotiations with business owners and protestors began. The final settlement resulted in business owners serving African-Americans at designated times and locations with the media encouraged to report but not sensationalize the event. After a few weeks, businesses began compete desegregation of lunch counters. By May of 1960 the lunch counters had been completely desegregated and Nashville became the first major city in the South to fully desegregate some of its services.
Most people know about Vanderbilt and Belmont Universities in Nashville, however Nashville is also home to one of the oldest historically black universities in the nation. Fisk University was founded in 1866 and was the first African-American institution to gain accreditation by the Southern Associate of Colleges and Schools in 1930. Fisk University has been home to many notable alumni including W.E.B. Du Bois, Ben Jobe, Dr. Charles Jeter (Father of Derek Jeter), Matthew Knowles (Father of Beyonce Knowles), John Lewis, and Arthur Cunningham.
The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is Nashville’s most significant and unique art museum: the building itself is considered a work of art. The Frist (as it is known locally) was built in the 1930’s as the city’s main post office and is an excellent example of Art Deco, the popular architectural style of the time. It is located next to Union Station which was necessary as most mail arrived via train. After a new post office location was built near the airport, the downtown location became less and less busy until Philanthropist Thomas Frist coordinated with the city to purchase the building from the US Post Office in the 1990’s and converted it into its current state. Great lengths were taken to ensure that much of the building’s original style and aesthetic remained the same. Today visitors to the Frist can see visible remnants of the building’s tenure as a major post office. The Frist has also hosted major traveling exhibits including most recently an exhibit covering Norman Rockwell’s body of work.
2010 Cumberland River Floods
In May 2010, the city of Nashville saw some of the worst flooding in the city’s history. The Cumberland River, which runs through downtown Nashville, crested at an unprecedented 51.86 feet, the highest level that the river had reached since being dammed in the early 1960’s. A record-breaking 13.57 inchesfell over May 1-2 and caused the Cumberland and surrounding tributaries to swell far beyond their normal levels. The city was devastated by the floods, which damaged the Grand Ole Opry House, Bridgestone Arena, and LP Field, among other noted landmarks. The flood claimed 22 lives in the state of Tennessee, with ten in Davidson County.
Centennial Park & the Parthenon
In 1897 Nashville hosted the Tennessee Centennial and International Exhibition to celebrate Tennessee’s centennial. A large plot of land was assigned as the site for the event and work was begun to prepare it. Some of these features included a man-made lake and island that included a restaurant. However, the key centerpiece of the area was the Parthenon. Nashville’s city leaders were well aware that their rival city of Memphis had plans to embrace their namesake by erecting a large pyramid. Not to be outdone by their neighbors to the west, Nashville chose to embrace their own nickname of “Athens of the South” (given for the amount of schools, colleges, universities, and seminaries in town) by building a life size replica of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Following the Centennial Exhibition, all of the displays and pavilions were taken down except for the Parthenon. Today the Parthenon still stands and the site of the exhibition is called Centennial Park which has become the city’s premier outdoor recreation and event site. Visitors can still visit the Parthenon and even walk inside to the see the life size replica of the statue of Athena.
Printer’s Alley started as a hub for publishing in Nashville with several newspapers, publishers, and print houses located there. By the time Prohibition came, most of the printing businesses had closed down and local residents took to creating home brewing and distilling businesses. Once Prohibition ended, these residents decided to turn their ventures into actual bars and nightclubs. The sale of alcohol for on-premise consumption remained illegal in Nashville but law enforcement turned a blind eye to the antics of Printer’s Alley. Today the area remains a key location for nightlife and is still a slice of the wild side of Nashville.
In 1901 Standard Candy Company was founded in Nashville and soon brought forth a delicious treat that remains a local favorite. In 1912, The Standard Candy Company created the GooGoo Cluster, which is a combination of peanuts, chocolate, marshmallow, and caramel. It is considered by some to be the nation’s first combination candy. The recipe has not changed since its inception and the ingredients were specifically chosen for the lingering taste sensations. If presented with the opportunity to try one, be sure to take advantage and beware of the ensuing addiction to a true Southern delicacy.
During the Civil War, Adelicia Acklen found herself as the head mistress of Belmont Mansion and in a precarious position. The Confederate Army was threatening to burn her entire cotton crop to prevent it from falling into the hands of the invading Union Army. Even if the Confederates were unsuccessful, the Union Army would have surely requisitioned her property. In light of these two looming outcomes, Acklen absconded to Louisiana where she negotiated the sale of the entire crop to Rothschilds of London for over $900,000 in gold. The sale of her property, along with her family’s property and other assets, made her one of the richest women in the country for the duration of her life. In her later life she sold Belmont Mansion to what would eventually be known as Belmont University.
Grand Ole Opry Founding
In the 1920’s the National Life & Accident Insurance Company founded the radio program “WSM Barn Dance.” One night the Saturday night program was preceded by a program from New York that featured classical and opera music. Announcer George “Judge” Hay joked before his program began, “For the last hour, we have been listening to music taken largely from grand opera and the classics. We now present our own Grand Ole Opry.” The name stuck and has survived to this day. The very first performer for the “Barn Dance” was 77-year old fiddler Uncle Jimmy Thompson. The Grand Ole Opry bounced around from Belcourt Theatre to War Memorial Auditorium until it found its long-time home at the Ryman Theatre. All venues still exist today.
Bonus Fact: In 1954 a teenage Elvis Presley performed his first and only performance for the Grand Ole Opry and was advised after his show by Opry manager Jim Denny that he should return to Memphis and continue being a truck driver.