There is a saying, “The future can only be built on the successes of the past. This is certainly true regarding the growth of Nashville. The foresight of recent men like Phil Bredesen, Karl Dean and Butch Spyridon in forging a city that is gearing up to end a record-breaking year in tourism for 2014 holds this evident.
Nashville is THE number one music mecca in the country. We have more music-related businesses per capita than any other city in the country. But beneath our wealth of music, sports and business, underneath the layers of mortar, brick and glass, lies a city rich in history, full of stories begging not to be buried under the shiny steel of progress.
When we think of historical cities, the names of Atlanta, Charleston and Savannah come to mind, but Nashville carved out a niche of its own in establishing its rightful place in history. The first image that comes to mind when I think Nashville history is Union Station. From 1939 to the end of World War II, over three million service men and women passed through Union Station, along with thousands of POWs. The Hermitage Hotel holds its own spot in Nashville and music history. The first “million dollar hotel” opened in 1910. The opulent hotel was the hub of social activity through the 30’s and 40’s with Francis Craig and his orchestra broadcasting from the Grille Room from 1925 to 1945 on WSM Radio. His most popular tune, “Near You” marked the beginning of the publishing and recording industry in Nashville.
These stories have not been passed down to me. I only moved to Nashville in 1982, but while doing research for a project in the early 90’s, I came across a man named Jack Norman who, at the time, was ill and not available for an interview. In the gracious spirit of his father, his son Seth Norman, procured an autographed copy of his father’s book, The Nashville I Knew. Immediately, I became smitten with Nashville’s history. His book contained names of places like Flat Rock and Sulphur Dell, Black Bottom and Rutledge Hill; names like “Blinkey” Horn and “Tiptoe” Stevens. It was like reading the recipe for a fine cake but never getting to taste it.
I could go on. The layers get ever so delicious as you peel them back. Stories of sailors and steamboat captains, poker games played in dark, back rooms where family fortunes were bet and lost; places such as Underwood’s Diner, Harvey’s Department Store and Elliston Soda Shop evoke fond, wistful looks from the few among us that remember them.
I can’t say that there were times during Nashville’s history that were grander or better than now, just different from the age in which we live. Let us not forget the Nashville that Jack Norman knew for it is fraught with men and women who learned a tenacity that brought them through drought, depression and a war and united this country in a way our generation simply cannot comprehend and equipped them to progress the city so that we, as their children and their children’s children, would never have to endure their hardships.
So, ever-so-often when you happen by The Hermitage Hotel, or Union Station, or walk the streets of Nashville, stop and give a nod or a tip of your hat to those that walked before us. For the debt we owe them can only be repaid in remembrance and, in remembering, the promise to learn from all of those glorious stories so that our children and our children’s children can live better lives than ours.