Welcome to Historic America & UCPlaces’ audio walking tour of Downtown Nashville. We’re glad you could join us! I’m Aaron, your guide (but I also respond to professional history nerd). This is the part of the tour where I fit in my shameless plug for our websites – (www.historicamerica.org & www.ucplaces.com – and invite you to use #historicamericatours on social media while traveling alongside us today.
Now that you’ve arrived - let’s get you oriented.
You’re standing at the intersection of Demonbreun St. & John Lewis Way near the southwest corner of Walk of Fame Park (a site we’ll revisit at the end of our tour). From here, walk north along John Lewis Way, on the side of the street directly parallel to Bridgestone Arena. As you walk, I’ll talk.
Let’s start with the sports history of Nashville's recent past as you take notice of Bridgestone Arena to your left. This stadium is home to the Nashville Predators - but most folks in town refer to them as ‘the Preds’. They’re the city’s National Hockey League franchise. The Preds mascot is a saber tooth cat and – to drive the point home – the fans in the stands wave foam fang fingers (say that five times fast) during home matches.
Founded in 1997, the Preds are a comparatively young team who’ve yet to win the Stanley Cup – although they came close in 2017 before falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the finals. Maybe this is the year! Or maybe not – we at Historic America have no real concept of the present, because we’re stuck in the past … and we love it.
Let’s move along. I’ll meet you up ahead at the intersection.
You’re now at the intersection of John Lewis Way & Broadway. Pause here for a moment. Along Broadway to the east stretches Honky Tonk Highway, Nashville’s entertainment district. It’s dominated by honky tonks, live country music venues, retail shops, and restaurants along with various & sundry attractions. I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is, “Yes, it’s a total tourist trap.” Which is exactly why we’ll return here later on our tour.
In the meantime, locate the Apple Store with the glass front on the opposite side of the intersection from where you stand. Got it? Now stop looking at the Apple Store and find the building next door – the one with the large digital sign above the entrance. This is the National Museum of African American Music, the only museum in the United States solely dedicated to preserving and celebrating the many music genres created, influenced, and inspired by African Americans. Opened in January of 2021, the museum is new-on-the-Nashville-scene. It boasts 56,000 square feet of space, a 200 seat theater, a research library, myriad interactive exhibits and six period themed galleries which contain over 1,500 artifacts. The collection ranges from stage outfits worn by Whitney Houston & Nat King Cole to B.B. King’s guitar ‘Lucillle’, to Louis Armstrong’s trumpet … and much more.
Although Nashville’s most famous audio export is undoubtedly country music, this museum has become an instantly integral part of the city’s musical landscape. It also serves as a great reminder that Black music & American music are one and the same as journey inside demonstrates the amazing impact Black artists have made on American culture.
Let’s cross the intersection and continue walking north along John Lewis Way as we talk a bit more about how Nashville became known as ‘Music City’.
In October, 1925 a local radio station named WSM was born. Within weeks, WSM debuted a live country music program named the Grand Ole Opry. A few years later, the station upgraded its broadcasting power by installing a 50,000 watt, nation-wide transmitter. As a result, radio listeners across the United States could tune in and both the Opry and the Country Music genre exploded in popularity. Nashville would never be the same.
On June 5th, 1943, WSM relocated the live Grand Ole Opry performances to the Ryman Auditorium. There the Opry played weekly for 31 years and became a national phenomenon; while the Ryman became country music’s high temple and Nashville it’s capital city. Wanna see where it all happened? Well look no further because it’s coming up on your right hand side.
Locate the red brick building with arched windows. That’s the Ryman. When you reach the front, pause so I can tell you more.
Ryman Auditorium was built by Captain Thomas G. Ryman - a successful riverboat captain and business operator whose fleet was based here in Nashville. He was also a religious man who decided to fund the construction of a tabernacle that would allow the people of Nashville to attend large-scale, indoor Christian revival meetings. This building is the result. It opened its doors in 1892 and was originally a church called the Union Gospel Tabernacle. In 1904, after Ryman’s death, the building was renamed Ryman Auditorium in his honor and it eventually converted into a performance space playing host to the Grand Ole Opry from 1943-1974. It is now regarded among the most historic musical locations in the United States.
During its tenure at the Ryman, the Opry showcased all the stars of the country music universe. Blending its origins as a house of worship with its usage as the genre’s premiere performance venue, the Ryma was dubbed "The Mother Church of Country Music”. The sound of legendary performers such as Hank Williams, The Carter Family, Minnie Pearl, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton still echo across the stage.
Since it was originally built to amplify the voice of preachers, the acoustics inside the Ryman are legendary and to this day musical experts consider them among the best in the world. If you’ve got the time, you should go in and experience them yourself.
You might like to stop by the box office and purchase tickets to an upcoming show OR take a self guided tour – available most days between 9am-4pm.
Now remember, although the Grand Ole Opry still exists, it is no longer performed at the Ryman. It relocated to its current & permanent home – the Opry House – in 1974. The Opry House experience is another building in another part of town. Uninitiated visitors to Nashville often get confused on this point - but you were wise enough to take our tour. Well done.
My favorite story from the Ryman’s history has to do with Elvis Presley’s one and only performance at the Grand Ole Opry. While he was still an up-and-coming star, Elvis took the stage and sang the classic country tune “Blue Moon of Kentucky”, but his rock ‘n’ roll swagger and unique style weren’t a good fit for the traditional country crowd and the performance flopped. Years later, Elvis remembered that immediately after his failure, the then Opry Manager – Jim Denny – told him to, “...go back to Memphis and drive a truck” instead. For his part, Mr. Denny didn’t recall being so harsh, but he did tell a local record producer that, “the boy’s good, but is just not right for the Opry.” Elvis would never perform there again.
Let’s move along. Continue walking north along John Lewis and I’ll meet you ahead.
You’re now at the intersection of Commerce Street and John Lewis Way. As you continue facing north, you should see a large mural off to your right - a mural which honors the namesake of the road you’re now traveling, John Lewis. Position yourself so that you can admire the mural for a few moments while I tell you the story.
Completed in 2021 by local artists Michael McBridge and Donna Woodley, the mural honors the accomplishments of late US Congressman and Civil Rights leader John Lewis along with local change makers Diane Nash, James Lawson, Kelly Miller Smith, Rip Patton and Kwame Lillard – brave souls who participated in the the famed lunch counter sit in’s there in Nashville – and the the Freedom Rides which were bus trips by civil rights activists through the segregated south to protest discrimination at bus terminals.
The mural is four stories high – the tallest in Nashville – and pays special attention to Lewis because he attended both American Baptist College and Fisk College in Nashville. During his time here in the 1960s, Lewis became a leading activist in the Nashville Student Movement which fought for desegregation and equal rights across the city.
Let’s return to John Lewis Way and keep moving north. If possible, move over to the left hand side of the roadway (the side of the street with the brown brick building). As you walk you’ll get a good view of another beautiful mural – this one created by artist Beau Stanton. The 75X70 foot artwork depicts a Greek Goddess pouring water from an urn as three scaled fish swim below. This striking piece is meant to honor Nashville’s history as a prominent river city and emphasize the value & importance of local waterways in the region’s history and ecology
Continue along and I’ll meet you up ahead at the Downtown Presbyterian Church.
As you continue walking north along John Lewis Way, on your right hand side is Downtown Presbyterian Church. Keep moving toward the intersection ahead so you can get a good frontal view of the church. While you’re getting yourself situated, I’ll talk.
Downtown Presbyterian is one of the city's most historic houses of worship and Nashville’s Presbyterian community has worshiped here since 1814.
This building is the third structure built by the congregation after the first two were destroyed by fire. Each building has borne witness to big moments in local history. Before he became president, General Andrew Jackson was presented a ceremonial sword on the steps of the first church in honor of his defeat of the British at the Battle of New Orleans. The second building hosted the gubernatorial inauguration of James K. Polk (a future US president). When that building burned down in 1848, the congregation then hired Philadelphia architect William Strickland to build the structure you see today (Strickland is also known for designing Tennessee’s State Capitol Building). During the Civil War era.v federal forces used the church as Union Hospital No. 8, and outfitted it with 206 beds which held wounded & recovering soldiers.
By now you should hopefully be in a position to look at the front of the church, and you might notice a somewhat exotic look to the building’s design. That’s because Downtown Presbyterian is a prime example of Egyptian Revival Style Architecture. Look closely at the entryway between the two large steeples and you’ll notice the Egyptian style lotus columns and a winged sun disk overhead flanked by cobras. The building’s interior looks a bit like King Tut’s tomb or a set from the Mummy. The design was commissioned during an era when archaeological reports from Egypt were being published in western newspapers - so Egyptian design elements became all the rage. If ever there was a church within which to listen to a sermon about Moses and Pharaoh, this is it.
However, it’s time to let my people go, so keep moving North along John Lewis Way and I’ll meet you up ahead. Also, along the way crossover to the west side of the street so you're on the right hand side of the roadway as you walk.
Remember back at the John Lewis mural where I mentioned Civil Rights Era sit-ins at Nashville lunch counters? Look to the other side of the street and locate an art deco style storefront with signage which reads Woolworth on 5th. Although it’s now a theater [slash] high-end, modern eatery, this spot may well be the most historic restaurant location in all of Nashville.
The building itself opened in 1930 with a prominent and high traffic Woolworth department store occupying the basement, street, and mezzanine levels. Recently, the local architecture firm of Tuck-Hinton restored the structure, being careful to pay homage to the original space - the most important portion of which was the lunch counter & diner area, where citizens of Nashville once sat for lunch during their busy shopping days. It was here that John Lewis and other young black activists staged a legendary Woolworth Lunch Counter sit-in during February of 1960. They sat themselves at the whites only lunch counter and politely asked for service.
This seemingly innocuous, yet deeply subversive act enraged many of the white patrons who proceeded to berate, beat and – in some cases – extinguish lit cigarettes on the skin of the peaceful protestors. Soon after, the police arrived and arrested all the demonstrators without laying a finger on the abusive patrons. The act of defiance by Lewis and his cohorts was a stirring example of passive resistance. It was also John Lewis's first arrest for civil disobedience.
As you may already know, Nashville is the capital of Tennessee, so what happens here echoes across the state. This sit-in had wide reverberations throughout the south and contributed to the Woolworth corporation’s eventual decision to desegregate all their lunch counters - a great victory for equal rights not only here in the volunteer state, but across the country.
If you’re able you might like to pop inside for a bite at the modern restaurant and take a look. Otherwise, we continue on.
As you keep moving north along John Lewis way, just past the CVS on your right you should notice an tunneled entryway topped with a green overhang that leads into the center of the block. Depending on the time of day, the tunnel may or may not be open. If it’s closed, just keep moving and hang a right up ahead followed by another right to continue the tour. If it’s open, head directly inside to explore a historic retail area and important piece of Nashville’s urban landscape known as The Arcade.
Built between 1902-1903, the Nashville Arcade was originally known as Overton Alley. Its transition into The Arcade was the brainchild of businessman Daniel C. Buntin – a man who had a vision to create the first enclosed shopping area in the city after he visited the Italian Galleria Vittoria Emanuele Arcade in Milan. The Arcade, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was designed by local firm Thompson, Gibel, and Asmus. With its distinct styling, terrazzo tiled floors, stately two story interior and soaring overhead skylight, the Arcade is architecturally significant. It caused so much excitement on its opening day in 1903 that over 40,000 people attended the ribbon cutting. Once you’re inside, take time to explore a bit and see what all the fuss was about. The Arcade remains a hotspot for local retailers and is additionally filled with restaurants, offices, and art galleries.
Once you’re done, continue walking through the alleyway to emerge on the opposite side of the block. I’ll see you there.
Leaving the Arcade behind, pause for a moment so I can get you oriented. If you locate the green awning over the Arcade entry way, on the opposite side of the street you should see the entrance to Bobby – a local hotel with a soaring, glass windowed front. As you face Bobby, just to the left you should see an older building with a second story wrought iron balcony. Similarly, to the right, you should see an alleyway marked with a green sign that reads “BANKERS ALLEY” flanked by a period building with another second story iron balcony whose railing is adorned with the words “Southern Turf”.
These old buildings are what I brought you here to see.
The street you’re now standing on was once called Cherry Street, and it was the home of Nashville’s Gentlemens Quarter - a city district which catered to male clientele during the Victorian era with its high concentration of mens clothiers, saloons and barberhops alongside more illicit, underground establishments where prostitutes and gambling could be had. In an era of social rules, the quarter provided fellas a place to drink, gamble, and curse without judgment. Police presence in the area was light, and the most trouble you could expect to get into was a slap on the wrist or a modest fine.
The neighborhood was developed by Tennessee Whiskey Distilleries who used the strategy of constructing saloons in the city center to increase liquor sales. Jack Daniel himself was said to have once visited the saloons on Cherry Street to buy everyone a round.
Among the best known bars was the suggestively named ‘Climax Saloon’. AHEM. That’s the building on the left once owned by well known distiller George A. Dickel. The Climax had booze on the street level, billiards on the second floor and prostitution on the top floor. Quite the stack. Supposedly, the bedrooms had secret compartments and hidden doors which gave the working girls a hiding spot in case of a police raid.
At Southern Turf (the building on the right beside Banker’s Alley) the layout was much the same, except for the second floor where a well known gambling parlor was maintained. Owned by a Nashville bookie named Marcus Cartwright and managed by a local legend named Honest Ike Johnson, Southern Turf was among the bawdiest places around; and although gambling was illegal in Nashville since the 1880s, it was the city’s busiest casino. Although arrests were infrequent, Ike Johnson made sure to hire fine carriages for his customers unlucky enough to be swept up in police raids so that they wouldn’t have to ride to the courthouse inside the demeaning confines of a paddy wagon.
Furthermore, the turf was known to halt gambling operations on Saturdays at 5pm so that working class men would be less apt to gamble away their weekly earnings. Still, despondent wives were sometimes known to arrive at the Turf’s front door begging for their husband’s pay to be returned. Oftentimes, Ike would oblige them – an act which that the benefit of decreasing police complaints. Ike Johnson was also known to contribute (often anonymously) to churches, civic funds and even bought shoes for the newspaper delivery boys in the neighborhood.
You see, it’s all about community outreach.
Anyway, the fun ended in 1916 when the era of Prohibition began in Nashville. When the booze dried up, so did the Turf, and old Ike Johnson grew so depressed he took his own life. Ike’s death marked the end of an era for the Gentleman’s Quarter and Southern Turf underwent multiple renovations as a billiard hall, newspaper headquarters, shooting gallery, clothing shop, restaurant and paint store. The most enduring tenant of the Southern Turf building is found in the basement – the home of Skull’s Rainbow Room, a well known Restaurant & Night Club where you can find high end cocktails and world class burlesque shows on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays (leave the kids at home). One can only hope that somewhere, Ike Johnson is smiling down.
I now invite you to continue our tour by walking east down Banker’s Alley, parallel to Southern Turf.
At the intersection, turn south and look down the length of Printer’s Alley. With its distinctive canopy of overhead lights and flashy assortment of signage, Printer’s is hard to miss. In its early days the alleyway was a hitching post for horses – until the 1900s when it developed into a backdoor access area for the heart of Nashville’s publishing industry (whence came the name). At the dawn of the 20th century, Printer’s Alley accessed thirteen publishers, ten print shops and the city’s two largest newspapers - The Tennessean and the Nashville Banner.
The evolution of the alleyway continued – during Prohibition the alleway became the epicenter of Nashville’s low-profile speakeasy scene once the over-the-top atmosphere of Cherry Street’s Gentleman’s Quarter died down. By the 1940s Printer’s Alley transitioned into the heart of Nashville’s entertainment district when it became a popular location for saloons and hole-in-the-wall nightclubs. During this era (which is still ongoing as you can see) Printer’s played host to some of the most famous acts in country music including, Boots Randolph, Chet Atkins, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams and Dottie West. More recently, big name modern country stars such as Tim McGraw & Rascal Flatts got their start here.
At one time, the alley was also known for its prominent Strip Clubs such as The Embers and The Black Poodle. It was here that the most famous exotic dancer in Nashville – a buxom beauty and local legend known as Heaven Lee – made a name for herself through a series of outrageous public stunts calibrated to attract customers while simultaneously boosting environmental causes. In 1970, the divine Miss Lee reenacted the story of Lady Godiva by riding around the city on horseback wearing nothing but a body stocking in protest of air pollution. Some time later, Heaven Lee advertised her upcoming Printer’s Alley appearances with fliers which boldly declared, “I want to live! Help me fight pollution! The fewer clothes I wear the better I breathe!”.
I now encourage you to walk southward down the alley and maybe grab a drink at one of the alley’s many watering holes. Take a deep breath and hoist a glass skyward as you toast the memory of Heaven Lee.
When you’re done, return here to the intersection and continue eastward along Bankers Alley. Keep going until you hit the river. I’ll meet up with you down by the riverside.
I don’t know about you, but after all that time spent getting down & dirty with the history of The Gentleman’s Quarter and Printers Alley, I’m ready to wash myself clean. Maybe we can freshen up with a swim? Let’s go to overlook ahead and see if we can spy some water.
The waterway before you is the Cumberland River - one of the south’s greatest flowing arteries. At 688 miles in length, the Cumberland begins to the east in the Appalachian mountains and flows westward through Nashville until it reaches its end in a great confluence with the Ohio River in the bluegrass state of Kentucky.
Nashville would not exist were it not for the Cumberland since the genesis of the city is found in the story of a trading post first established along the river’s edge by fur trappers in the late 1600s. The settlement that sprung up around the trading post was initially dubbed French Lick – after the nationality of the initial settlers who came from French Canada. With the Cumberland providing prime access to North America’s internal river network, French Lick prospered and eventually transformed into Nashville – its name a recognition of nearby Fort Nashborough built by a group of American adventurers in 1779 (more on this in a bit).
The settlement became a town, the town became a city, and the city has become the largest in the State of Tennessee not to mention the 21st largest city in the country at 700,000 inhabitants — all thanks to this majestic river. But as sure as the Cumberland giveth, it also taketh away when the rains fall heavy in middle Tennessee. The greatest flood in Nashville’s history occurred in 2010 when torrential downpours caused the Cumberland to overflow its banks and crest at almost 52 feet in the heart of downtown. The result was $2 billion in property damage, tens-of-thousands of displaced residents, and years of intense repair & rebuilding.
Speaking of rebuilding - how about those Tennessee Titans huh? Actually, I have no idea how the Tennessee Titans football franchise is doing this season since our tour is frozen in time and focused on the past. But I do know that the Titans play in Nissan Stadium – which you can see ahead of you on the other side of the Cumberland.
With a capacity for 69,000 people, football fans come out in force and pack Nissan to the brim on game day - but the venue also plays host to soccer matches and large concert events.
Originally known as the Houston Oilers, the football franchise relocated to Nashville in 1997 and renamed themselves the Titans (although it still remains a mystery how the name Titans bears any relationship to the state of Tennessee. But then again the two Ts provide you with a bit of alliterative fun, don’t they? Tennessee Titans, Tennessee Titans - oh well).
A favorite Nissan stadium tradition occurs in the 4th quarter of Titan home games when the jumbotron plays a video of "office linebacker" Terry Tate shouting his catchphrase, "the pain train's coming!" instantly followed by the playing of "Folsom Prison Blues" by Nashville music legend, Johnny Cash.
Let’s keep our train rolling. As you face across the river toward the stadium, turn right and follow the sidewalk. I’ll meet you along the way.
Up ahead you should see a cluster of log cabins and to your left you’ll notice a bronze statue depicting two men shaking hands. Pause for a moment and I’ll tell you who these fellows are.
The gentleman with the ax is James Robertson. In 1779 (while the War of Independence was ongoing) Robertson led a group of 200 pioneers to this spot via a grueling overland journey with the intention of clearing acreage and establishing an American settlement near the old French trading post at French Lick. Robertson led his men here on Christmas Day after crossing the frozen Cumberland river on foot. He was joined in the new year by John Donelson (the fella with the rifle). It was Donelson who shepherded the group’s women & children to this place – fending off a determined Indian assault while braving swift currents and heavy rains along-the-way.
Under the joint leadership of Donelson & Robertson, the group succeeded in creating a frontier settlement which they dubbed Fort Nashborough (named for American Revolutionary War General Francis Nash). The frontier outpost at Fort Nashborough eventually grew into the city you see today and the log buildings nearby are a small recreation of the early settlement. Keep walking along the path so you can explore the site and make note that it’s open on Tuesday-Sunday from 9am-4pm, weather permitting. You’ll have to bring your own coonskin cap and buckskin shirt, however.
The settlement was arranged around a rough hewn log stockade as a protection against attack from the indigenous Cherokee people and their Muscogee allies. Under the military leadership of Chief Dragging Canoe, the natives supported the British against the Americans in an effort to resist encroachment upon their lands. The bloody struggle outlasted the revolution and wore on for years with the irresistible tide of American settlers eventually proving decisive. Although not as big as the original outpost, the recreated Fort Nashborough gives you a taste of what life was like for the first families of Nashville and interprets the saga surrounding the birth of the city.
When you’re ready to move along, keep walking south along the river’s edge until you find the intersection of First Ave. & Broadway.
You’ve now arrived at the intersection of First Avenue and Broadway. As you look west down the length of Broadway, the Hard Rock Cafe should be visible on your right hand side while Acme Feed and Seed is on your left. Head west down the ACME side of the roadway until you reach 3rd Street and I’ll tell you more about the neighborhood you’re entering.
If you remember all the way back at stop 2, I mentioned that we’d return to the Honky Tonk Highway. Well … here we are. Technically speaking, the heart of Honky Tonk Highway doesn’t begin until 5th street up ahead, but over the years the Honky Tonks and restaurants that define the highway’s landscape have extended themselves all the way down to the river, so let’s not quibble – you’re here. Also, let’s get our terms straight. “What exactly is a Honky Tonk?” you may ask.
The dictionary tells us that a Honky Tonk is, “A cheap or disreputable bar, club, or dance hall, typically where country music is played.” and the dictionary is right. Here in Nashville, the Honky Tonks are more upscale than what you’ll encounter elsewhere – many of them associated with country western & southern rock stars like Jimmy Buffet, Miranda Lambert, Kid Rock, Luke Bryan and others.
In days gone by, this stretch of lower Broad was built around intimate stages and smokey barrooms where guitar pickers & singer/songwriters held sway. The modern era has seen the area transform into a gauntlet of neon bathed, multi-level honky-tonks, where tourists swarm year-round to sing along to country covers and Journey hits until last call. It’s also the unofficial bachelorette party capital of the United States.
Amidst all this joyous chaos, some of the cherished sites of Lower Broadway’s past remain intact, Tootsies Orchid Lounge and Merchants Hotel among them. One thing to remember as you explore the highway: Wherever you land (and whenever: open 10am-3am), there's never a cover charge and the music is always live. The performers get paid from the tips you deposit on your way out.
Our tour continues up ahead.
If you like, you can stay here on the highway and bar hop for a spell. The biggest Honky Tonk on this stretch of the Highway is Luke’s 32 Bridge, located in the old bank building on the Southwest corner of 3rd & Broadway. It’s massive – a 30,000 sq ft multi-level entertainment facility, featuring 6 levels, 8 bars, 3 stages with live music and two restaurants. On top of all this, Luke Bryan's 'Nut House' is one of downtown's largest rooftop bars.
Our tour continues as we turn onto 3rd street and walk south.
As you make your way South along third street, on the left hand side of the road you’ll discover Nashville’s most famous candy store - Goo Goo Chocolate Company. When you reach the front window, pause for a moment and I’ll tell you the story.
It all started in 1912, in a copper kettle at the Standard Candy Company in Nashville that America's first combination candy bar was born. A pleasant pile of caramel, marshmallow nougat, fresh roasted peanuts and real milk chocolate; the unorthodox mound was harder to wrap than the typical rectangular or square candies of the day. More notably, it was the first time multiple elements were mass-produced in a retail confection – previous candy manufacturing focused solely on single ingredient bars made of chocolate, caramel or taffy. The sweet treat was the brainchild of Nashville candy maker Howell Campbell who dubbed his creation the Goo Goo Cluster - after his infant son’s first words: “goo goo”. Campbell’s slogan became “Goo Goo! It’s so good, people will ask for it from birth.”
The building you see today on 3rd Street is Goo Goo’s flagship location. Here, customers can not only buy a box of clusters, but also design their own candy bar, take a candy making class or indulge in a chocolate experience pairing chocolate with tastes of wine & spirits. Go right ahead and indulge yourself.
Afterwards, you might like to head directly across the road and explore the Johnny Cash museum which houses the world’s largest collection of Johnny Cash memorabilia and artifacts. Highlights include the man-in-black’s Martin Guitar, and San Quentin prison jumpsuit. Self guided tours are generally available 7 days a week during operating hours
Once you’re done here, our tour continues at the bridge up ahead.
As you keep moving south along 3rd street, to your left you will see the entrance to one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world. The Sieganthaler Bridge spans the Cumberland River and is named after late Nashville newspaper editor and first amendment champion John Sieganthaler. If at any point during your stay in the city you’re keen to explore East Nashville, this bridge is your gateway.
Our tour continues to your right as you locate the Schermerhorn Concert Hall - the home of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. Walk toward the front steps and I’ll tell you more.
Although it may look old , the Schermerhorn is actually a modern building, constructed in the early 2000s to house the Nashville Symphony. The designers evidently felt that a building principally devoted to classical music should have a classical look – the result is the architectural masterpiece you see before you. At the heart of Schermerhorn is the 30,000 square foot, 1,844-seat Laura Turner Concert Hall, featuring amazing acoustics, soundproof windows and versatile stage design.
If you’d like to take in a show, just pull up nashvilesymphony.org on your phone to book tickets, but before you look down at your screen, take in a moment to admire the building’s triangular pediment area above the entrance featuring the sculptural figures of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Chiseled from Indiana limestone, the pediment tells the story of Orpheus, the great musician of classical Greek myth, who is almost able to rescue his great love Eurydice from death by the power of his music; that is until fates intervene and separates the two forever. At center, the doomed couple clutch a lyre topped by the three headed watchdog cerberus, the monstrous guardian of the underworld.
I dunno - it’s lovely and all, but since we’re in Nashville, perhaps it would have made more sense for the designers to go with a sculpture depicting the tumultuous love affair of George Jones and Tammy Wynette instead. You make the call. Keep walking west past the concert hall entrance and I’ll meet you up ahead.
You’ve now reached the second-to-last stop on our tour. As you face west, you should see Nashville’s Downtown Hilton Hotel to your right front while to your left is our next attraction, Music City Walk of Fame Park. Feel free to explore the park anyway you like, but we’ll end at the southeast corner along the intersection of Demonbreun Street & 4th Ave.
As the name implies, Walk of Fame Park centers around a musical walk of fame commemorating honorees who’ve contributed to the musical heritage of the city. The first walk of fame members were inducted in 2006 - Reba McIntre, the Fisk Jubilee Singers and Roy Orbison among them. The walk has grown steadily and today numbers over 100 inductees. From Garth Brooks to Jimi Hendrix, Kenny Rogers to Little Richard they’re all here.
Go ahead and explore the roll call and I’ll meet you at the 4th Ave & Demonbreun intersection.
Finally … you’ve reached the last stop on today’s tour, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. It’s the large building on the opposite side Demonbreun Street from where you now stand, just opposite the Walk of Fame Park. What a fitting place to end our journey!
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum exists to preserve, celebrate, and share the important cultural asset that is country music. First opened in 1967 on Nashville’s Music Row, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum launched its current downtown location in 2001. In 2014, the Museum unveiled a $100 million expansion that doubled its footprint. The Museum now encompasses 350,000 square feet of exhibition galleries, archival storage, retail stores, and event space. In addition, the Museum offers the Taylor Swift Education Center for students, teachers, and families, and dedicated performance spaces in the CMA Theater and Ford Theater, both of which regularly host nationally recognized live music and cultural events.
The museum houses the world’s largest collection of materials documenting the history of country music and it also showcases rotating exhibits that tell country music’s continuing story. My favorite spot is inside the rotunda where they keep plaques honoring the hall of fame’s inductees and my favorite artifact is probably Jerry Reed's 1980 Pontiac Trans Am from the Smokey and the Bandit film series.
Additionally, the country music hall of fame operates historic RCA Studio B, which opened in 1957 and is the oldest surviving recording studio in Nashville. There, you can see where Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, and other greats recorded the hits, and you’ll hear stories and songs born in the historically important studio.
If you’re visiting the Hall of Fame during operating hours, adult admission is $27.95 before fees. Youth admission costs $17.95. Seniors can enter for $25.95 and if you didn’t blow all your money honkytonking back on Broadway, I’d highly recommend you buy a ticket.
As our tour ends, I want to thank you for taking this historic walk through Downtown Nashville with me today. I encourage you to explore the area more fully as time permits - although after hearing about those delicious Goo Goo Clusters and passing by so many great restaurants, maybe you’d like to grab a bite?
Wherever the day leads, I hope the stories from this tour will travel with you.
I’m Aaron Killian and this tour has been a joint production of Historic America and UCPlaces. To learn more about our trip planning services, public & private tours and digital content make sure to visit us at www.historicamerica.org and to find more audio tours, go to historicamerica.org and UCPlaces.com.