"We shape our buildings; thereafter, our buildings shape us"
Excerpts of this timeline are written by our Historian David Ewing, published for Nashville Lifestyles.
Nashville has always been a boomtown.
Since its founding in 1779, it's been home to successful businesses, impressive buildings, famous musicians, other creative types, religious leaders, educators, and civic-minded individuals.
In 2013, The New York Times deemed Nashville a new "It city,." crediting recent events-like the popular ABC television show “Nashville”-for the moniker. Grateful as we are, there are plenty of other factors that led us to that moment. Putting Nashville's rise into perspective requires going back to the earliest days of our history and exploring milestones that helped shape the city we know today.
James Robertson and John Donelson lead an early group of settlers down the Cumberland River to eventually start the city of Nashville.
Nashville resident Andrew Jackson defeats John Quincy Adams to become the seventh president of the United States. For the first time the national media is focused on Nashville.
SPOTLIGHT: NASHVILLE'S POLITICAL GROUND ZERO: 1826 TO 1845
In 1826, the state legislature voted to move Tennessee’s capital from Murfreesboro to Nashville. Music City became the permanent capital in 1843 when the city agreed to give land on the highest hill of the young city and help build a permanent capitol building
In 1828, Nashville resident Andrew Jackson defeated John Quincy Adams to become the seventh president of the United States. Jackson was the first president not hailing from one of the original 13 colonies, which drew great attention to Tennessee and Nashville. During this time many newspapers started to cover the growing city and businesses and merchants began taking advantage of the city's new popularity. The excitement of the Jackson era, which lasted until his death in 1845, helped elect another president from Middle Tennessee, James K Polk in 1844.
Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt gives $1 million to start a university in Nashville. The schools campus on the western edge of the city limits would later encourage development of neighborhoods And businesses nearby and bring countless students to the area (including the current and previous two Nashville mayors).
The Confederate army’s last attempt to regain control of the city fails during the two day Battle Of Nashville. The South loses this and subsequent battles, and the Civil War ends in 1865.
Fisk University is founded to educate former slaves; in 1871, its student musical group, the Jubilee Singers, brings international acclaim to the school and the city.
Captain Tom Ryman’s Union Gospel Tabernacle opens; it is renamed the Roman Auditorum after his death. In a city of live music, no venue is more revered and in demand by artists and concertgoers alike.
SPOTLIGHT: The Gilded Age: 1890s
Although Nashville and the country suffered a severe economic downturn from the panic of 1893, this era boasts several landmark events.
Captain Tom Ryman opened his grand Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892, which was the largest auditorium south of the Ohio River. Renamed for Ryman after his death in 1904, the religious hall also hosted conventions as well as the world’s best performers and speakers—including President Teddy Roosevelt and William H. Taft.
For the first time, thousands could gather indoors in Nashville.
Also in 1892, Joel O. Cheek created one of the most successful American brands: Maxwell House Coffee. The popular coffee was the first product to incorporate the city into its brand (thus giving it national exposure), as every Max- well House package contained the words “Nashville” and the image of John Overton’s hotel.
In 1895, Horace G. Hill opened the first of what would become 102 locations of his popular H.G. Hill grocery store, and today the family continues to develop commercial and residential real estate projects.
The Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897 was held just decades after the end of the Civil War. Tennessee had a lot to celebrate, including having sent three U.S. presidents to Washington. The six-month-long affair held in Nashville’s Centennial Park attracted national press and nearly 2 million attendees, including President William McKinley, Booker T. Washington, and Susan B. Anthony. The biggest single event in Nashville’s history, it set the city on an upward trajectory in the 20th century.
Two insurance giants, National Life Insurance and Life and Casualty, are formed in Nashville. These rivals and their owners improve Nashville by creating jobs and wealth, starting their own radio and television stations, and generating nationwide publicity for the city.
Nashvillian Anne Dallas Dudley leads the woman suffrage effort, and the Tennessee House of Representatives ratifies the 19th Amendment by one vote, giving 27 million women across the country the right to vote.
On October 5, WSM goes on the air. On November 28, the Grand Ole Opry debuts, and music from Nashville is broadcast across America.
THE ROARING ’20s AND THE WALL STREET OF THE SOUTH
Due to Nashville’s central geography, low labor costs, pleasant climate, and easy access to many major U.S. markets by boat and rail, Nashville’s manufacturing exploded during this era. General Shoe Company (now Genesco), May Hosiery, and Werthan Bag Company shipped their Nashville-made products around the country.
Insurance companies and banks thrived as Union Street became known as “the Wall Street of the South.” Businessman James E. Caldwell and his son, Rogers, controlled banks, insurance companies, department stores, and cotton mills. Rogers Caldwell teamed up with another prominent Nashvillian, former U.S. Senator Luke Lea, the owner and founder of The Tennessean. Lea and Caldwell acquired the Memphis Commercial Appeal and Knoxville Journal.
In 1927, Lea—one of the developers of the city of Belle Meade—donated 868 acres to Nashville to establish a park in honor of his father- in-law, Percy Warner. This stretch of prime Belle Meade land, the largest private giftin Nashville’s history, would be worth at least half a billion dollars today.