Find the best things to do in Nashville, TN!

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History Tour

Nashville History Tour

The town of Nashville was founded by James Robertson, John Donelson, and a party of Overmountain Men in 1779, near the original Cumberland settlement of Fort Nashborough. It was named for Francis Nash, the American Revolutionary War hero. Nashville quickly grew because of its strategic location, accessibility as a port on the Cumberland River, a tributary of the Ohio River; and its later status as a major railroad center. By 1800, the city had 345 residents, including 136 African American slaves and 14 free blacks. In 1806, Nashville was incorporated as a city and became the county seat of Davidson County, Tennessee. In 1843, the city was named the permanent capital of the state of Tennessee.

By 1860, when the first rumblings of secession began to be heard across the South, antebellum Nashville was a very prosperous city. The city’s significance as a shipping port made it a desirable prize as a means of controlling important river and railroad transportation routes. In February 1862, Nashville became the first state capital to fall to Union troops. The state was occupied by Union troops for the duration of the war. The Battle of Nashville (December 15–16, 1864) was a significant Union victory and perhaps the most decisive tactical victory gained by either side in the war; it was also the final major military action of the war, which afterwards became almost entirely a war of attrition consisting largely of guerrilla raids and small skirmishes, with the Confederate forces in the Deep South almost constantly in retreat.

The city had reclaimed its important shipping and trading position and also developed a solid manufacturing base. The post–Civil War years of the late 19th century brought new prosperity to Nashville and Davidson County. These healthy economic times left the city with a legacy of grand classical-style buildings, which can still be seen around the downtown area. Today, the city along the Cumberland River is a crossroads of American culture, and one of the fastest-growing areas of the Upland South.

  1. Tennessee State Museum (505 Deaderick Street Nashville, TN 37243-1120) is a free museum occupying three floors, covering approximately 120,000 square feet with more than 60,000 square feet devoted to exhibits. It has excellent Tennessee war history especially the Civil war. There are temporary exhibts all the time with the permanent exhibits being First Tennesseans, Frontier, The Age of Jackson, Antebellum, The Civil War and Reconstruction, The New South
  2. The Military Museum, a branch of the Tennessee State Museum, is located in the War Memorial Building, across the street from the main facilities. Exhibits deal with America’s overseas conflicts, beginning with the Spanish-American War in 1898 and ending with Viet Nam War.

    PLEASE NOTE: The hours at this museum are different than the State Museum. The Military Branch is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

    The exhibits look at the beginnings of each war, major battles, and the outcomes. Included is a deck gun from the U.S.S. Nashville, which fired the first shot of the Spanish-American War. The exhibit on World War I, features weaponry, personal military equipment and other materials affirming Tennessee’s involvement in “the war to end all wars.”

    Important artifacts include:

    • Three Congressional Medals of Honor given to Tennesseans, including Sgt. Alvin York;
    • Pistol captured by York in World War I;
    • Deck gun of the U.S.S. Nashville, which fired first shot of the Spanish-American War;
    • General Eisenhower’s “Ike” jacket; and
    • Original teletype from General George Marshall regarding death of President Franklin Roosevelt.
  3.  Visit The Hermitage, Home of President Andrew Jackson, in Nashville, Tennessee. Experience the historical mansion, museum and grounds of The Hermitage.  President Polk is buried on the grounds of the historic
  4. State Capitol building in downtown Nashville The Tennessee State Capitol stands today much as it did when it first opened in 1859, and is a magnificent tribute to the people of Tennessee. This graceful structure was designed by noted architect William Strickland who considered it his crowning achievement. When Strickland died suddenly during construction in 1854, he was buried in the north facade of the Capitol. The cornerstone for the building was laid on July 4, 1845, and construction finished in 1859. The grounds of the State Capitol contain statues honoring Sam Davis, Sgt. Alvin York, and Presidents Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson. The tombs of President and Mrs. James K. Polk are also located on the Capitol grounds.
  5. The Parthenon stands proudly as the centerpiece of Centennial Park, Nashville’s moniker, the “Athens of the South” influenced the choice of the building as the centerpiece of the 1897 Centennial Exposition. A number of buildings at the Exposition were based on ancient originals, however the Parthenon was the only one that was an exact reproduction.The re-creation of the 42-foot statue Athena is the focus of the Parthenon just as it was in ancient Greece. The building and the Athena statue are both full-scale replicas of the Athenian originals.

    Parthenon in Centennial Park

    Parthenon in Centennial Park

  6. Belle Meade Plantation, located in Belle Meade, Tennessee, is a historic mansion whose grounds now function as a museum. Belle Meade Plantation consists of 30 remaining acres and includes a winery, visitor’s center, original outbuildings including the Harding cabin, dairy, carriage house, stable, mausoleum and a reconstructed slave quarters.
  7. Historic Travellers Rest Plantation & Museum is the 1799 home of Judge John Overton. John Overton served as a lawyer, politician, businessman and an adviser to U.S. President Andrew Jackson. His plantation home, Travellers Rest, was constructed in 1799 and today stands as the earliest example of Tennessee period residential architecture open to the public.
  8. Fort Nashborough was the stockade established in early 1779 in the French Lick area of the Cumberland River valley, as a forerunner to the settlement that would become the city of Nashville, Tennessee. On January 1, 1780, James Robertson founded Nashville when he led his group of pioneers across the frozen Cumberland river to a place called The Cedar Bluffs. These men built a fort here called Nashborough, which would shelter the first families until Indian attacks ended in 1792.
  9. Dutchman’s Curve” in West Nashville ( 5 Richland Creek Greenway, Nashville, TN 37205 36.12721666    -86.85038333 ), site of the worst train wreck in US history occurring on July 9, 1918 while the US was involved in the “Great War” in France. Two trains collided head-on at 50 mph. Over 100 died, including many African-American workers journeying to work at the munitions plant near Old Hickory.
  10. Union Station Hotel (1001 Broadway, Nashville, TN 37203) Occupying a landmark neo-Romanesque train station, this upmarket hotel features a majestic lobby with a 65-ft high stained glass ceiling. Nashville’s Union Station is a former railroad terminal, now hotel, opened in 1900 to serve the passenger operations of the eight railroads then providing passenger service to Nashville, Tennessee.
  11. Marathon Motor Works From 1907 to 1914, the company manufactured the Marathon automobile. These early gas-powered vehicles are extremely rare. Housed within what was the original showroom at 1305 Clinton Street are four complete Marathons and one additional body. In addition to the showroom, the lobby at 1305 Clinton Street, which was built in 1912 as the new Administration building, has displays and pictures related to the engineer William Collier and the history of the Marathon Motor Works company. The hallways of the factory complex, amidst retail shops and private businesses of all types, is a living industrial museum full of vintage machines from the pre-1914 era. They were powered by line shafts that ran the length of the factory and are the exact types used to build these early automobiles.
  12. Nashville City Cemetery (1001 4th Ave S, Nashville, TN 37203)   is the oldest public cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee. Many of Nashville’s prominent historical figures are buried there.
  13. Rock Castle (139 Rockcastle Ln, Hendersonville, TN 37075) Construction began in 1784; its completion was delayed by Indian attacks until 1791. In 1784 a Virginian surveyor named Daniel Smith moved with his family to the Cumberland Settlement in present-day Middle Tennessee and began construction on a limestone, Federal-Style building that would house generations of the Smith family for almost 200 years. Located next to a Cumberland River tributary called Drake’s Creek, the house was built on part of the 3,140 acres that Daniel Smith received in land grants for his service in the Revolutionary War and his surveying work. Over the course of a decade, the Smiths constructed their home in three phases resulting in the story-filled, multi-cultural historic house that stands today.
  14. Two Rivers Mansion (3130 McGavock Pike, Nashville, TN 37214 ) Two Rivers, one of the earliest and best preserved of the early Italianate houses in Middle Tennessee, was part of an 1100-acre plantation located on fertile, rolling land between the Stones and Cumberland Rivers. The junction of the two rivers suggested the name given to the place by an early owner, William Harding.The mansion, built by David McGavock in 1859, was inhabited by the McGavock family for three generations until 1965. The property was purchased by the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County in 1966. The fourteen-acre tract, which includes the mansion and a small brick house built in 1802, is listed in the National Register.