Nashville

Nashville for History Lovers

In the 11 years since I left my home state of Tennessee, Nashville has become the place to go! When I moved away after college at the lowest point of the Great Recession, I never dreamt that Nashville would make such a comeback, but I’m proud that it has! From the Predators making it to the Stanley Cup playoffs to the city hosting the NFL Draft, Nashville is showing no signs of slowing down.

Nashville has been known as Music City for generations, but its history is more than that. Most people these days go to Nashville without knowing its important past and the sites and events that have made it what it is today. So next time you head South, you’ll know a little more history than those around you, and you’ll be able to truly appreciate this city in a whole new way!

Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage

4580 Rachel’s Lane
Admission: $20-28 per adult

The Hermitage just outside Nashville is 7th President Andrew Jackson’s home. General Jackson, or Old Hickory, as many knew him, lived here with his wife and adopted children starting in 1804. The mansion went through a great many adjustments, renovations, and even a devastating fire through the years, but when you take your tour, you will see it as it was when General Jackson retired from his presidency.

The Hermitage is one of the best-preserved homes of any American president, and the caretakers have done an incredible job recovering original furniture (much of which was sold off after General Jackson’s death), discovering and recreating original wall paper and paint colors, and telling the story of the Jackson family and all the people who lived and worked on the property. I highly recommend a visit for everyone with an interest in Tennessee history, American history, presidential history, ninteenth century history, architecture, or Andrew Jackson himself!

The Batman Building

333 Commerce Street
No tours, but please admire it from the outside!

This is certainly the youngest item on our list, but after 25 years and an official name change, it’s the icon of the Nashville skyline, and it’s here to stay! Originally named the Bellsouth Building in 1994, it is now the AT&T Building. But nevermind that. Everyone calls it the Batman Building! The 33 story building is 617 feet tall from the ground up to the top of the spires. You literally cannot miss it, and it’s conveniently located near another Nashville favorite: the Goo Goo Store!

Two Nashville Icons

Belle Meade Plantation

110 Leake Ave
Admission: $24

Having witnessed centuries of history, Belle Meade has a great many stories to tell. The mansion was built in 1807, and the plantation’s operations ranged from cotton growing to gristmilling to horse-breeding! It’s lived through the frontier days, the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, and the 20th century, and your visit will not disappoint!

Belle Meade Mansion
Read on: A Visit to Belle Meade Plantation

Belmont Mansion

Belmont Blvd & Acklen Ave
Admission: $15

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of Nashville and thought, “I’d love to have an Italian villa!” That’s exactly what the Acklens thought! The driving force of the Belmont Mansion was Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatham. (We don’t spare names in the South.) She was a shrewd business woman before her time, which is good since she outlived three husbands who all left her with a fortune! Like me, she eventually moved to Washington, D.C., but when she passed away she returned to be buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Nashville.

Centennial Park

2500 West End Ave
Admission: FREE

The land now known as Centennial Park was once farmland, much like the rest of Tennessee! It belonged to a remarkable woman by the name of Anne Robertson Cockrill, of the Tennessee Robertsons. Not only was she instrumental in defending Fort Nashborough from attacking Native Americans, she was also the state’s first school teacher!

Since then it served as the fair grounds, a horse racetrack, and finally Centennial Park to commemorate Tennesee’s 100th year of statehood! It became the setting for the 1897 World’s Fair, and the Parthenon still stands today from that exhibition! Now you can find food trucks, free public wi-fi, open green spaces, and usually some hipsters or students sunning on the lawn.

The Parthenon, across the lake at Centennial Park

Country Music Hall of Fame

222 5th Avenue
Admission: Many Packages Available from $25.95-$40.95

Country music enthusiasts flock to this museum in droves! And with good reason. Anyone interested in the history and evolution of country music should definitely make this a lengthy stop on their list. You could spend an hour, two hours, or even all day here!

What’s that you say? It looks like a piano? You’re right!

Cumberland River

You can’t miss it!

Rivers today are just scenic spots, and perhaps good for recreational fishing. In the past, however, rivers were a literal lifeline. People fished for their food in the river. Rivers were major highways for transportation and commerce. Rivers were the water source. Historically, cities popped up around rivers for a purpose! And the Cumberland River served that purpose for Nashville. We can thank the Cumberland River for Nashville’s entire existence!

Nashville was founded at a time when rivers were central to survival and commerce!
You will often hear concerts happening at Riverfront Park, and the oldest buildings are right across the street!

Frist Art Museum

919 Broadway
Admission: $15

What’s a favorite way to give an old building new purpose? Make it an art museum! The Frist was originally a grand post office. It’s a beautiful 1930s building featuring both classicism and art deco styles, marble, granite, and more details of the time. The building made its way on to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, and the plan to make it an art museum started rolling in the late 1990s. Love architecture? Check out the monthly Architecture Tour at 4:30pm each first Saturday!

The Frist Art Museum

Fort Negley

100 Fort Negley Blvd
Admission: FREE

Ah, yes, Fort Negley. The Civil War-era fort was at the center of quite a controversy not long ago. You see, when people move to a new area without knowing its history, misunderstandings ensue. I’m about to blow your mind: Fort Negley was a Union fort! Nashville fell quickly to the Union because of its location on the Cumberland River (see above). The Union Army quickly set out to build a new fort to protect its captured assets. This makes sense.

Gates at Fort Negley

I’m about to blow your mind again: the Union Army commandeered slaves in the area and forced them to build this fort. They promised to pay these people but the vast majority were never paid at all. That said, this is a huge part of Nashville history. It’s the largest Union fort outside of Washington, D.C., and it has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975!

Don’t forget to look behind the fort for a stunning view of the Nashville skyline!

Fort Nashborough

170 1st Avenue North
Admission: FREE

This is where it all started, my friends! This is the site of the first settlement of what is now Nashville. Two parties of settlers, one led by James Robertson and the other led by John Donelson, built the original fort to protect themselves from Native Americans in the area, but it has been reconstructed and rebuilt a few times. Most recently it was restored and relocated to Nashville’s Riverfront Park, close to downtown. Tours are self-guided and it is open daily!

What’s old is new again!

Goo Goo Clusters

116 3rd Ave S
Admission: FREE

No trip to Nashville is complete without a Goo Goo Cluster! It all got started in 1912, and the Goo Goo was the first ever “combined” candy (meaning it was more than just chocolate, caramel, or taffy). The name came about a bit later, however. Legend has it that the “Goo” is an acronym… for Grand Ole’ Opry! Quite fitting for a candy started in Nashville. But the more accepted legend is that “Goo Goo” is usually the first thing a baby can say… so obviously people ask for Goo Goos from birth! You should definitely visit the store downtown. Just follow your nose!

Sweet and Southern girl… just like a Goo Goo!

Hermitage Hotel

231 6th Avenue N

This is truly one of the South’s grandest hotels, opened in 1910. Even if you’re not staying here, step into the lobby and be sure to look down for the pink Tennessee marble floors, then up for the Italian marble columns and painted glass skylight! The hotel has hosted presidents, music legends, military heroes, actors, and more, and according to their website it served as headquarters for both pro- and anti-suffrage movements in 1920! When things happened in Nashville, they often happened at the Hermitage Hotel!

The lobby at the Hermitage Hotel!

Mount Olivet Cemetery

1101 Lebanon Road
Admission: FREE

Anyone with an interest in history eventually finds themselves in a cemetery! This is where you’ll find some of Nashville’s founding families—and some members of my family, too! You can see the gravesites of Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatham (of Belmont Mansion); Congressman John Bell; Supreme Court Justice John Catron; co-founder of Memphis, TN, Judge John Overton; Revolutionary War soldier and Congressman Roberty Weakley; Grand Ole Opry member and first ever female million record-selling artist Del Wood; and many more!

Old City Cemetery

1001 Fourth Avenue South
Admission: FREE

This is the oldest, continuously-operated cemetery in Nashville. You can find the gravesites of some of Nashville founders, Revolutionary War soldiers, Confederate soldiers, a Union Navy Commodore, a Tennessee Governor, several U.S. Congressman, both slaves and free people who died prior to the Civil War, and many more notable people!

Old City Cemetery

Printer’s Alley

Between 3rd Avenue N and 4th Avenue N; Between Union Street and Church Street
Admission: FREE

Just look for the Printer’s Alley Sign over Bank Alley! This used to be a hot publishing area in the early 20th Century with multiple newpapers, print shops, and publishers having shops here. Its prime location at the center of Downtown Nashville also made it convenient for nightlife, with hotels, saloons, and restaurants popping up as well. By the 1940s Printer’s Alley had quite the unsavory reputation, and no lady (except a certain “kind”) would be caught in Printer’s Alley at any time of the day or night. It was even the scene of a murder as recently as 1998!

Today it’s revitalized as an epic part of Nashville’s nightlife with awesome resturants, live music, and of course, some neon:

Showing the way to Printer’s Alley
Still a little less exciting in the daytime than at night!

The Parthenon

2500 West End Avenue
Admission: $6 (closed Mondays)

The Parthenon in Nashville is a full-size replica of the one in Athens, Greece, and so is the statue of Athena inside! It’s here because of Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exhibition! The building is an art museum now, and you can take a tour. Nashville is affectionately known (to Tennesseans anyway) as the “Athens of the South” because of the nearby prestigous universities. If you do decide to go in, I highly recommend a selfie with Athena!

Sorry for the glare… but aren’t we cute?!

RCA Studio B

1611 Roy Acuff Pl
Admission: $40.95 ($18 in addition to your $22.95 Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum tickets)

You can’t talk about Nashville history without talking about music—it’s Music City, after all! RCA Studio B is the place where the likes of Elvis Presley, Chet Atkins, the Everly Brothers, Dolly Parton, and many others have recorded music, and it’s now part of the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum. But that’s not all; it’s also where local middle and high school students come to learn about music and sound in a classroom setting. Talk about inspiring young minds!

Want more music? Check out Music City for Music Lovers!

The Ryman

Location: 116 Fifth Avenue North, Downtown
Tours: 9:00am-4:00pm Daily
Admission: $24.95

The Ryman Auditorium has a history spanning over 125 years! The first concert here was a benefit for the Hermitage put on by the Ladies’ Hermitage Association on May 4, 1892, and the Theodore Thomas Orchestra performed. Since then the venue has been home to graduation ceremonies, plays, church conventions, lectures, weddings, political debates, church services, veterans’ reunions, and of course concerts!

Some of the notable performers through the Ryman’s history include John Philip Sousa, the Hippodrome Circus, Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Pepito Arriola, the Emperial Russian Ballet, Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, Charlie Chaplin, the Vatican Choirs, Harry Houdini, Will Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, and more before the Opry even moved in! You can take a self-guided tour any day of the week, or pay a little extra for one of their specialty tours. Or check their website to see who’s performing!

The Ryman

Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge

Connecting 3rd Avenue North and South 1st Street
Admission: FREE

Okay, so now it’s the John Steigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge, but locals will mistake you for a local if you call it the “Shelby Street Bridge!” But if you want to seem like a member of the old Nashville elite, you can call it by its original 1909 name, the “Sparkman Street Bridge.” Another historical fun fact is that it was the first bridge in North America to be made with concrete arched trusses. In 1998 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places and saved from demolition to become a solely pedestrian use bridge. The best part is that Nashville visitors and locals a like can park at Nissan Stadium for FREE and walk across the brdge to enjoy a day downtown!

The Pedestrian Bridge
Preserved for its unique architecture!

Tennessee State Capitol and Capitol Hill

600 Dr. M.L.K., Jr. Boulevard
Admission: FREE (8:00am-4:00pm Monday-Friday)

This beautiful building opened in 1859, and is one of the oldest working state capitol buildings in the United States. It’s one of only 12 state capitol buildings without a dome, and was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970! People buried here include President and Mrs. James K. Polk and architect William Strickland. You’ll also find statues of famous and influential Tennesseans like Sam Davis, Sgt. Alvin C. York, and Presidents Andrew Johnson and Andrew Jackson!

A beautiful day on Capitol Hill!

Tennessee State Museum

1000 Rosa L Parks Boulevard
Admission: FREE (Closed Mondays)

I’m so excited for this new Tennessee State Museum! The one before this was a wealth of information, but it was not executed terribly well (partly because it was down in a basement!). This new museum is located at Bicentennial Mall State Park, and has a variety of both permanent and changing exhibits. If you want to know the best information about Tennessee and Nashville’s history, this is where you should start!

Tennessee State Museum; go early and hope you have better luck parking than we did!

Two Rivers Mansion

3130 McGavok Pike
Admission: $10

It won’t take too long after landing in Nashville until you start hearing the name “McGavok” thrown around! The eponymous “two rivers” are the Cumberland and Stones Rivers, and you’ll find this antebellum mansion at their confluence. Three generations of McGavoks lived in this home until 1965. Since then it’s been added to the National Register of Historic Places and restored to it’s (almost) original splendor. They kept the heating and plumbing that was added in the 1920s!

Travellers Rest Plantation

636 Farrell Parkway
Admission: $15

Judge John Overton was one of the first residents of what is now Nashville (when he moved in it was still part of North Carolina), and after moving to Tennessee President George Washington appointed him Supervisor of the Revenue of the District of Tennessee! The house was built in 1799 and stayed in the Overton family until 1946. The plantation has seen the founding years of Tennessee, both Confederate and Union forces during the Civil War, tornadoes, and more during its time, so history lovers will truly enjoy learning about Travellers Rest through the years!

Union Station Hotel

1001 Broadway

As you might imagine, this hotel was once the grand train station in Nashville. It’s beautiful! It was built in 1900 and retains much of the original detail and architecture. The hotel offers tours every Wednesday and Friday at 4:45pm, and every Saturday at 2:00pm, ending with a Jack Daniel’s whiskey tasting.

The grand entrance of Union Station Hotel

Recommended Reading

If you want to hear from an actual Nashville radio legend, and you like to laugh out loud, you need to read Gerry House’s book, Country Music Broke My Brain! It’s a hilarious read about Gerry’s many encounters with country music royalty on his radio show, in the song writing studio, and in his personal life. He was and still is good friends with the likes of Reba McEntire, who recorded many hits including “Little Rock,” which Gerry House wrote. He’s a fascinating person, and his story will give you some insider info on the music industry and how Nashville has changed over the years. I highly suggest following him on Twitter, too. Click below for your copy of his book!

Are you ready to make Nashville your next destination? Tell me in the comments section below! And don’t forget to check out What to Know Before You Visit Nashville!

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4 thoughts on “Nashville for History Lovers

    1. Thank you! I get such a kick out of the look on people’s faces when I say I’m from there!

      1. I remember visiting Wash DC two years ago, and people just, “*Gasp* I want to go there”. Amazing.

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