Walk the Road of Tennessee History at Nashville’s Bicentennial Mall
When I fell in love with my own Southern charmer from Tennessee so many years ago, I had no idea of the amazing number of Tennesseans who had affected the course of history. The storyline of this state could fill a Who’s Who, and you can actually walk through the entire historic timeline of Tennessee’s history and evolution right here in the heart of Nashville.
Enjoying the only clear, unobstructed view of the Capitol building, the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park sprawls NNW from the Capitol, a 19-acre long, narrow green oasis of living history. Opened on June 1, 1996 to commemorate Tennessee’s 200th birthday, the park emulates the National Mall in Washington D.C., every stone, every plant, every inscription holding special significance and telling a part of the story.
The narrative begins, according to the storytellers, one billion years ago. As you walk past the ¼ mile long granite Wall of History, you will learn how the Smoky Mountains were formed by seismic forces, and saber-toothed tigers once roamed this area. You’ll read highlights of Native American tribes fighting to protect their land, westward expansion, and the country’s struggle for independence. The granite wall breaks during the Civil War, a stark reminder of the war that divided families, states and the nation, changing the country irrevocably.
The stories carved in granite touch on historic events like the day the Mississippi River flowed backwards forming Reelfoot Lake; the election of three Tennesseans to the presidency of the United States; Nashville’s rise to fame as a printing and publishing center; the first American horse to win the English Derby; the first automobile totally manufactured in the South; Nobel prize winners, Pulitzer prize winners, Olympic gold medalists, world champion athletes; and, of course, the evolution of music.
In a serendipitous “coincidence” we stumbled across the Vintage 1864 Baseball League playing their inaugural game. Players dressed in 1860’s uniforms followed the rules of the day. You may wonder if you’ve truly stepped through a time warp, looking past costumed observers casually resting in the shade of a tree to the distant State Capitol building presiding majestically over the quiet landscape of living history.
The center section of the park features a Greek-style 2,000 seat amphitheater, site of concerts, ceremonies and special events.
At the foot of the Capitol, you can walk across a 200-foot granite state map, etched with roads, rivers and geographic features of the 95 counties. This can be a great geography lesson for kids – or tourists on a Segway tour.
Just down the steps, under the shadow of the railway trestle, are 31 vertical fountains representing Tennessee’s major waterways. You’ll often find children splashing and laughing here on a hot day.
One of the ‘stars’ in the park is the 18,000 lb black granite globe floating on 1/8 inch of water in the World War II Memorial. Large granite markers give a brief history of events such as the Bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Battle of the Bulge, listing well-known Tennesseans who played significant roles in the war and honoring all those who served.
Along the east side of the park, you can take a virtual walk through the state from east to west. The 95 counties highlight the topographical features of the landscape, with trees, plants, and flowers native to each region. Under the sidewalk are time capsules from each county that will be opened on Tennessee’s 300th birthday. Who will get to taste the smooth, 100 year-old Jack Daniel’s whiskey buried in Moore County’s time capsule?
Like a Nashville ‘Stonehenge,’ old parts of the Capitol building that were replaced in the 1950s give visitors a close up view of some of the ornate Greek revival stonework.
The Court of Three Stars and the 50 bell towers at the far northern Jefferson Street end of the mall draw us like moths to a flame. Designed as the focal point of the mall, at the top of every hour the 95 carillon bells play Tennessee-themed songs that can be heard at the Capitol, a reminder of Tennessee’s music heritage.
When you’re ready for a break from all this walking, cross the road to the Nashville Farmer’s Market for a bite to eat or some fresh, Tennessee-grown produce. Nashville’s free Music City Circuit bus, and the Music City Trolley both make scheduled stops right here.
Next time you want to teach your kids some Tennessee history, or give visitors an appreciation of the rich heritage of our state, take them to the Bicentennial Mall for a fascinating experience.