Nashville’s history began more Than 200 years ago. Long before the first guitar picker ever moved into town, the settlement of Nashborough – named after Revolutionary War hero General Francis Nash – was being constructed as a fort on the west banks of the Cumberland River in 1779-80. Two groups of pioneer settlers, led by the founding fathers James Robertson and Colonel John Donelson, came by land and by water from Fort Patrick Henry in East Tennessee. James Robertson led a party of men on foot and horseback, arriving on Christmas Day 1779. John Donelson led a flotilla of approximately 30 flatboats, carrying the wives and children of the men who went with Robertson. Traveling a thousand miles and surviving many hazards including Indian attacks, the Donelson party arrived on April 24, 1780, reuniting some 60 families. Col. Donelson’s daughter Rachel would soon become the wife of Andrew Jackson, the nation’s seventh president. Many things had changed within ten years of settlement. Nashborough underwent a name change and became Nashville. The first school was chartered – Davidson Academy, which remains operational today. Andrew Jackson arrived in town to serve as the public prosecutor, and in 1788 Bob Renfroe opened the first tavern owned and operated by freed African Americans. In 1796, Tennessee became the 16th state admitted to the Union. With the War of 1812, Tennessee earned its affectionate nickname of the “Volunteer State” by sending hundreds more soldiers to the war than was asked. And soon after, Nashville began to develop its own nicknames. In 1824, the music publishing industry took root with the publication of Western Harmony, a book of hymns and instructions for singing. Unbeknownst at the time, the book helped shape Nashville as “Music City” and the “Buckle of the Bible Belt.” Andrew Jackson was elected the seventh president in 1828. He built his plantation, The Hermitage, for his beloved wife Rachel. The home and acreage remain today – one of the few presidential homes with a majority of the original furnishings on display.
Nashville was named the permanent capital of Tennessee in 1843, and one year later another Tennessean was elected president – James K. Polk. The year 1845 ushered in the construction of the state capitol building, designed by William Strickland, and the death of Andrew Jackson. Polk died in 1849, only a few years after Jackson’s death, and was buried with his wife on the grounds of the State Capitol. During the Civil War, African-American Nashvillians helped Union troops construct Fort Negley. The partially-restored fort remains today overlooking downtown, and is open to the public. Like many cities, the Civil War steered Nashville in a new direction – a direction looking toward the future and the education of its youth. In a span of 25 years following the war, four colleges were founded including Vanderbilt University as well as Fisk University and Meharry Medical College – colleges established for the higher education of African Americans. With the opening of these learning centers, Nashville developed a third prominent nickname, the “Athens of the South.” The last decade of the 19th century proved to be an explosive one for many industries. The Ryman Auditorium was constructed originally as the Union Gospel Tabernacle, and today it’s rated one of the top theaters in the country for performances. Joel Cheek developed the Maxwell House Coffee blend, still going strong 100 years later. Edward Barnard, a local astronomer, discovered the fifth moon of Jupiter. R.H. Boyd founded the National Baptist Publishing Board for the publications of religious materials relevant to the African-American experience. The publishing house is still run by his ancestors. The Tennessee Centennial Exposition was held in 1896 and The Parthenon was constructed in Centennial Park to honor the city’s educational commitment as the “Athens of the South”.
With the turn of the century came the city’s first downtown skyscraper, the first African-American-owned bank – One Cent Savings Bank, the first movie theater and the first Model T Ford in Nashville. Women’s Suffrage campaigns and African American streetcar boycotts took center stage while the world was preparing for its First World War. The Roaring Twenties opened up the doors to music, and with it came the first symphony orchestra and the first show of many for the Grand Ole Opry. The nation slowed down with the Great Depression and waited for relief with President Roosevelt’s New Deal. In Nashville, the Parthenon was re-opened in its permanent form, and the construction of Cheekwood mansion was the city’s largest employer. The mid 1940s and early 1950s saw a new movement beginning in the music world. The Opry moved downtown to the Ryman and bestowed upon the Ryman its most affectionate nickname, the “Mother Church of Country Music.” Music Row, located on 16th and 17th Avenues South, not far from downtown, began to take shape with the construction of recording studios and record labels. Castle Studio, Nashville’s first recording studio, opened. Capitol Records became the first major company to locate its director of country music to Nashville. And the Country Music Association was founded. Soon the famous RCA Studio B opened its doors on Music Row and instantly became famous under the management of Chet Atkins. Here the “Nashville Sound” was crafted and performers like Elvis, the Everly Brothers, and Dolly Parton recorded their chart-topping hits. The Opry said good-bye to the Ryman in 1974 when it moved to its new home on the Gaylord Opryland complex. It was then that the Ryman fell into misuse and dilapidation, and it wasn’t until 1994 that the Ryman was restored to its grandeur. In 1996, Tennessee celebrated its Bicentennial, and a mall was constructed north of the capitol to mark the tremendous occasion. With the turn of the 21st century, downtown witnessed a new birth. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum relocated across from the Bridgestone Arena. The Frist Center for the Visual Arts opened its doors in the former Art Deco U.S. Post Office, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center and the Nashville Public Library also added to downtown’s charm. Sports fans were pleased when the Tennessee Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers) moved to town and made their home at LP Field and the Nashville Predators NHL team moved into the Bridgestone Arena. The addition of several mixed-use high rises created a boom in downtown living and shopping, bringing downtown to life.
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