Highlights of Downtown Nashville Walking Tour

This tour starts at the Bicentennial Capitol Mall and state capitol and includes several museums, landmarks, monuments, and historic buildings as it winds its way towards the Ryman and some of the most significant sites in the history of country music. The tour concludes with several historic buildings and institutions related to the history of country music. The tour also makes a stop at the Union Station Hotel towards the end of the walk where guests can enjoy refreshments from one of Nashville's leading historic hotels before making their way to Hatch Show Print and other legendary establishments.

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Bicentennial Capitol Mall
This 19-acre park was created in 1996 as part of the state of Tennessee's efforts to commemorate the 200-year anniversary of Tennessee statehood. The park includes dozens of monuments and historic markers that interpret and celebrate the state's history, including a "Pathway of History" that guides visitors through a chronological exploration of Tennessee's past. Other highlights include the World War II Memorial, a circle of carillon towers with 95 bells, a 200-foot granite map of the state, several fountains, and a 2,000-seat amphitheater.
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Tennessee State Library and Archives
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an educational resource and an example of late Neoclassical architecture, the Tennessee State Library and Archives was designed by H. Clinton Parrent and completed in 1953. Dedicated to Tennessee's World War II veterans, the building holds state documents, maps, newspapers, books, photographs, genealogical documents, and spaces for exhibits, programs, research, and educational outreach.
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Tennessee State Capitol
The State Capitol Building is located at the crest of a hill once known as Cedar Knob. The capitol stands prominently within the downtown skyline because this hill is the highest point in the city. The cornerstone for the building was laid on July 4, 1845, and construction was completed in 1859. The building was designed by architect William Strickland and later stages of construction were supervised by British architect Harvey Ackroyd because Strickland died five years prior the completion of the building. Strickland's body is entombed in the Capitol.
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Tennessee State Museum
The official museum of the state, Tennessee State Museum includes 60,000 square feet of exhibit space for the museum's permanent exhibit which takes visitors through the history of the state from its Native inhabitants to the modern era. There are also several galleries that feature rotating exhibits that go into more depth about specific themes and topics such as women's history, the Civil War, civil rights, and political history. The museum is located on the first few floors of the James K. Polk building in downtown Nashville. The building is also home to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center.
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Tennessee Military Museum
The Military Museum is a branch of the Tennessee State Museum located in Nashville. The museum offers information and historical artifacts from the Spanish-American War up until World War II. Artifacts include deck guns from battleships, military memorabilia, and even presidential war memorabilia. The museum is free to general public.
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WSM Studio
WSM became the first commercial FM radio station to broadcast in the United States when it debuted in 1925, broadcasting from the fifth floor of the National Life building at 7th Avenue and Union Street. Today, the station operates a small studio inside the Opryland Resort. Edwin Craig, an employee of National Life and Accident Insurance Company, created WSM to capitalize on radio’s potential for advertising. He dubbed the station “WSM” to reflect the company motto “We Shield Millions.” Indeed, the radio station provided the opportunity for advertising, community service, and augmentation of company identity. The station far exceeded Craig’s expectations, fueling an expansion to a larger venue and providing the origins for the Grand Old Opry.
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The Hermitage Hotel
The Hermitage was completed in 1910 and survived as the last of Nashville’s grand old hotels. The building was designed in the Beaux-Arts style by Tennessee architect J. Edwin Carpenter and was named for the home of President Andrew Jackson. It was also home to many political campaigns in the early 20th century.
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S.H. Kress Department Store and the 1960 Nashville Sit-Ins
Nashville's Kress building was completed in 1935 and features the Art Deco style that typified many new buildings of the era. The store was part of an S.H. Kress chain of five and ten cent stores that were located in downtowns throughout the United States. In 1960, University students at local black colleges in Nashville chose the S. H. Kress Department Store among other sites in downtown Nashville as a location where they would use non-violent direct action to challenge racial segregation. The first protest at the Kress building began with a sit-in that resulted in African American civil rights activists occupying the Kress lunch counter on February 13, 1960. The students continued to protest until May 10, 1960, when six downtown establishments agreed to serve all people regardless of race.
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Nashville Arcade
The Nashville Arcade was constructed from 1902-1903 in what was then Overton Alley by businessman Daniel C. Buntin, who was inspired by the Italian Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II Arcade in Milan. The Arcade, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was designed by local firm Thompson, Gibel, and Asmus. In addition to its architectural significance and centrality to the history of downtown Nashville, the Arcade is also significant for its connection to the Nashville sit-ins and the history of civil rights. The Arcade was the meeting place for university students who protested nearby segregated establishments on February 13, 1960. Today, the Arcade is still home to many retail shops, as well as restaurants, offices, and art galleries. Two organizations of artists and supporters of art are based here: Art at the Arcade and The Coop. The Arcade also participates in Nashville's First Saturday Art Crawl.
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Utopia Hotel
The Romanesque Revival style Utopia Hotel was designed by Hugh Cathcart Thompson (architect of the Ryman Auditorium) and opened in 1891 [1; 3; 4]. It stands between Fourth Street and Nashville's historic Printers Alley, in what was then the Men's District—an area dominated by bars, gambling dens, and brothels in the nineteenth century [2]. The uniquely narrow hotel stands six stories tall and held 60 guest rooms; today, developers are working with the city of Nashville to renovate and reopen the long-abandoned upper floors of the Utopia as a boutique hotel [1; 3; 5].
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Downtown Presbyterian Church
Constructed in 1848, this historic Nashville church dates back to the earliest years of the city. and replaced two previous structures that were built in 1814 and 1832. That first church structure was built here in 1814 and was destroyed by a fire in 1832. A second sanctuary was constructed the same year and the third (and present) sanctuary was constructed after another fire in 1848 destroyed the second church. The current church was designed by William Strickland, who also designed the Tennessee State Capital and who has been called by the National Park Service's National Historic Landmarks program "one of the foremost architects in the United States." The church was partially unfinished during the Civil War when it was used by occupying Union forces as a hospital. The columns were put in place in 1871, and much of the other finishing details were completed in the remaining decades of the 19th century. The church was known as First Presbyterian until 1955 when the name was changed to "Downtown" after the First Presbyterian congregation moved to a more suburban location. It is affectionately known as the "Karnak on the Cumberland."
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Nashville Sit-Ins at Harveys Department Store (1959-1960)
On November 28, 1959, a small group of African American students under the leadership of James Lawson and the Nashville Christian Leadership Council (NCLC) entered Harveys Department Store which was located here from 1942 to 1984. The students requested service at the store's lunch counter, the NCLC's first test of a non-violent direct action tactic to challenge the longstanding practice of racial discrimination at Nashville lunch counters. Although denied service, the students reported that they did not receive any threats and they left the store quietly to continue planning small-scale actions that would help them test public sentiment and potential challenges they might face as they planned a sustained campaign of sit-ins at Nashville lunch counters that began the following February. On February 13, 1960, larger groups of African American students were refused service at the S.H. Kress Department Store, Woolworths, and McClellan's after they occupied the lunch counters for two hours until the owners of the shops closed for business for the day. The sit-ins spread to seven additional segregated shops and disrupted business downtown until May 10, 1960. On that day, NCLC leaders agreed to end the demonstrations at Harveys and five other stores after management agreed to serve all people regardless of their race. The successful sit-ins of Nashville coincided with the sit-ins in Greensboro and other Border South cities that helped to end segregation throughout the region.
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Savage House (Standard Restaurant & Club at the Smith House)
The Savage House, also known as the Smith House, is a historic three-story townhouse that was built in downtown Nashville circa 1840. The building is the last surviving example of the Italianate townhouses that flourished in Nashville during the 19th century, and one of only two pre-Civil War buildings remaining in downtown Nashville. The exact date of the home's construction is unknown but records suggest that the home was completed in the 1840s. Over the past two centuries, the house has variously served as a rooming house, the headquarters of a Jewish social club, and the residence and office of a distinguished ophthalmologist, Dr. Giles Christopher Savage and his daughter who took over the practice. In January 1983, it was entered in the National Register of Historic Places. The building is currently home to the Standard Restaurant & Club.
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Christ Church Cathedral, Nashville
Christ Church Cathedral is the cathedral parish of the Episcopal Archdiocese of Tennessee. The structure, designed by noted architect Francis Hatch Kimball, was built between 1889 and 1894 and, according to its National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) nomination form, "is considered the finest example of Victorian Gothic architecture in Nashville." It is particularly noted for its sanctuary, which "has a distinctive early English atmosphere." It was entered in the NRHP in November 1978.
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Union Station Hotel
Built between 1898 and 1900, Nashville, Tennessee’s Union Station is one of the city's unique and inspired historic architectural landmarks. The imposing terminal and office building was designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque Revival-style by Richard Montfort, then Chief Engineer of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. Reaching its peak during World War II, when many soldiers were transferred to and from Nashville, the station declined and was closed in 1979. That year, when the station building was acquired by the General Services Administration for use as a federal office building. In the 1980s, investors came forward to restore the space and convert it into a luxury hotel. After evaluating the cost of a major rehabilitation project, the property was conveyed to the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County in 1985 through the Historic Surplus Property Program. In the following years, Union Station was rehabilitated into a hotel and restaurant. The building continues to be run as a hotel to the present day, with many of its unique architectural features, including the 65-foot, barrel-vaulted lobby ceiling, gold-leaf medallions and original Luminous Prism stained glass, still intact.
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Frist Center for the Visual Arts
The premiere art museum and cultural center in Nashville, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts opened in 2001 and boasts 24,000 square feet of gallery space. The museum's permanent collection includes paintings and sculpture from around the world, as well as rotating exhibits of fine art and folk art from local and regional artists. The building itself was constructed in 1932 and served as a U.S. Post Office until the 1980s. It is an excellent example of Art Deco architecture and for this reason was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
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Nashville Customs House
This beautiful Gothic Revival building was constructed beginning in 1875 and originally called the Customs House, Courthouse, Post Office Building. Other sections were added on in the coming decades. The building was proposed in 1856 but the Civil War and the post-war Reconstruction period prevented its construction. When it was built, it was seen as a symbol for the end of Reconstruction, as funding for it came from the federal government. President Rutherford B. Hayes, who appointed a Southerner to his cabinet, was in attendance at the laying of the cornerstone ceremony. Today, the building is now the location of a private firm that leases out office space. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
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"Mass Meeting" Against Women's Suffrage at Ryman Auditorium, August 19, 1920
On August 18, 1920, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed – by one vote – a motion to ratify the 19th Amendment, a federal measure that extended suffrage to all American citizens regardless of gender. With that vote and the support of the governor, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment. With support for the Amendment being fairly limited in other Southern states, Tennessee's action was both symbolic and historically significant--it meant that the 19th Amendment had been ratified by three-fourths of the states--the requirement set forth in Article V of the Constitution prior to the adoption of any Constitutional Amendment. In response, some of the opponents of women’s suffrage, known then as “Antis,” held a protest meeting that saw the extension of suffrage by federal action through the lens of state's rights. On the day following the vote, August 19th, the “Antis” held an historic mass rally at the Ryman Auditorium – later famous as the home of the Grand Ole Opry – to protest the result and try somehow to overturn it. Speakers appealed to notions of patriarchy and "traditional" gender roles, as well as playing to anger against the perception that women's suffrage would erode the power of Southern whites. One pro-suffrage newspaper gleefully reported that the meeting failed to attract an audience, while the leading paper of the Antis reported a "monster" crowd in attendance. Well-attended or not, this rear-guard action failed, as Governor A.H. Roberts supported the decision of a majority of state legislators and added his signature to the bill.
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Ryman Auditorium
The Ryman Auditorium is formally known as the Grand Old Opry House and affectionately known as "The Mother Church" of country music among fans. It was used for Grand Ole Opry broadcasts from 1943- 1974, also featured in movies. It is a 2,362 seat live performance venue, built in 1843 through 1904 by Thomas Ryman. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.
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Ernest Tubb Record Studio
Founded by the Grand Ole Opry star Ernest Tubb in partnership with his tax accountant Charles Mosley in 1947, Tubb was also the creator of the second-longest live radio show, second only to the Grand Ole Opry radio program. Tubb's program began with him buying airtime to promote his mail-order business, and this eventually evolved into the Midnight Jamboree radio program. The main shop moved in 1951 to its current location at 417 Broadway to allow more room for the live in-store broadcasts. The store was the location of the live broadcast for many years until it was recorded at the nearby Texas Troubadour Theatre.
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The Johnny Cash Museum
This museum gives tourists a view into both the professional and private life of Johnny Cash. The contents of the museum include messages from Cash and other records of Cash’s. Included in these is a composition of the final song he wrote shortly prior to his passing. The museum can be found in Nashville, Tennessee and is open Monday-Sunday from 8:00am-7:00pm.
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Schermerhorn Symphony Center
The Schermerhorn Symphony Center, which first opened on September 9, 2006, and was named for the late Kenneth Schermerhorn, is home to the Grammy-winning Nashville Symphony, which was founded in 1946 and which Schermerhorn led for 22 years. Located in downtown Nashville, across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Center was constructed at a cost of $123.5 million and totals 197,000 square feet in area. It is Nashville’s premier classical music venue, though jazz and pop music events of many kinds also take place there. Its main venue is the 30,000-square-foot Laura Turner Concert Hall, which features 1,844 seats over three levels and is one of the few American concert halls which extensively employs natural lighting. Despite its relatively recent history, it has already had to withstand two major crises. In May 2010, a devastating flood hit Nashville, causing extensive damage to the center, which cost millions in repairs. In addition, in 2013 the organization faced a debt crisis in which the property was threatened with foreclosure, and a public auction was scheduled. Fortunately, due to the last minute intervention of a patron, a settlement was reached in which the center’s debt was greatly reduced, and the auction was canceled.
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Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Located in the heart of Nashville, the "home of country music," The Country Music Hall of Fame is the top tourist attraction in the city. Guests can take guided tours or self-guided tours of the museum's galleries and the Hall of Fame Rotunda. Guests may also purchase tickets to tour Hatch Show Print and RCA Studio B. The museum dates back to the mid-1960s when the Country Music Association operated a small exhibit and Hall of Fame within the Tennessee State Museum. In 1967, the first Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum opened within an old storefront building in Nashville's Music Row. The current museum opened in 2001.
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Hatch Show Print
One of the oldest working letterpress print shops in the nation, Hatch Show Print has produced posters for nearly every famous Nashville performer. Visitors can see the shop's vast collection of prints, promoting artists from Elvis to B.B. King to Dolly Parton. Hatch Show Print continues to design and print over posters per year, promoting the music of modern artists with their same turn-of-the-century methods and appeal.

This tour was created by Joan Adkins on 05/05/17 .

This tour has been taken 648 times within the past year.

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