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it's just dave

Nashville's Centennial Park

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Once again, it's Sunday, and I decided to take my morning walk through Nashville's Centennial Park. Located approx. 2.5 miles west of downtown, the park started its history as a country race track (1880s), then the western terminus of the street car line (late 1800s), then the home to Tennessee's Centennial Exposition in 1897, now, and urban space and oasis among the modern hustle and bustle of our city's West End. I've borrowed some text from author John Egerton's book, published in 1979, entitled Nashville: The Faces of Two Centuries 1780-1980 to partially explain why this park exists.

I offer no photographs of what was, but I do offer the place as it exists today. The centerpiece of the park itself is the Parthenon and as we get underway with the Olympics in Athens this week, I thought it appropriate to salute one of the most famous buildings adorning the Athenian landscape...Nashville-style. Hope you enjoy the walk through.

Just a bit of background from Egerton's book as he describes this part of our city's history in the 1890s.

"Nashville was a city of extremes. Its virtues and vices were displayed extravagantly, in grand manner and heroic proportion. Sporting events and saloon celebrations no less than revivals and temperance meeting attracted large and emotional crowds. With the slightest provocation, Nashvillians could be heard praising and condemning with equal fervor the perceived saints and sinners of the day.

"There could have been no better place, then, for a celebratory extravaganza such as the Tennessee Centennial of 1897-one year late-the 100th anniversay of Tennessee's admission to the Union. It lasted six months, attracted 1,786,000 people, and turned a modest profit-a result virtually unheard-of for such events.

"The exposition grounds were in Nashville's West Side Park, later to be renamed Centennial Park. Exhibit halls, midway attractions, lakes and fountains and glittering lights drew visitors day and night; there was even an exotic troupe of camels and turbaned merchants and belly dancers from the Middle East. President William McKinley lead a train of prominent visitors to the fair, but the primary attraction was a building, not a person. It was the centerpiece of the show, painstakingly constructed of wood, plaster, and stucco: a full-size replica of the ruined pride of Greece, the Parthenon.

"Nashville liked the Parthenon, liked the symbolism of it, like the park in which it stood. When the fair was over, all the other buildings were either moved or town down and sold for scrap, but the Parthenon was left standing. Within ten years, it had begun to deteriorate: within twenty, it was near to being like the original-a ruin. In 1922, the city would decide to replace the replica with a permanent structure built of reinforced concrete. Nine years later, Nashville would have a permanent and lasting symbol for its self-styled image as the Athens of the South."

Egerton ends here, but recently a multi-million dollar 11-year project to renovate the building was completed. This stunning reconstruction now stands and will for decades to come.

Sunday morning in the park:

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