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Nashville - History

Nashville History

Ancient mound-builders and the wandering Shawnee of Algonquin stock occupied modern Nashville's Cumberland River bluffs centuries ago. Europeans first settled the area in 1779 as Fort Nashborough (the Anglocentric name was Americanized five years later). The legendary Daniel Boone had a hand in the deal, and his Wilderness Road brought emigrants over the Appalachians from Virginia, the Carolinas, and northeastern states. Nashville developed rapidly as a trade and manufacturing center; it was chartered in 1806 and named state capital in 1843.

Its vital position on the Cumberland River (linking to the Mississippi navigation system) and at the crossroads of important rail lines made it a strategic point during the Civil War. As federal troops advanced upriver, the legislature picked up and moved to Memphis, and within the week Nashville surrendered. Another legendary Tennesseean, Andrew Johnson (then a US Senator), was appointed military governor and installed Union loyalists to occupy and impose martial law on Nashville from 1862 to 1865, which left the city intact.

Confederates aimed their sights on Nashville to cut off the rail lines supplying Union General William Tecumseh Sherman's campaign against Atlanta, and the two armies fought the Battle of Nashville south of the city in 1864. Confederate General Thomas Hood's troops were destroyed.

The city's economic recovery after the Civil War was hampered by two major cholera epidemics, which killed about a thousand people and caused thousands more to flee. The Centennial Exposition in 1897, for which the reproduction of the Greek Parthenon which still stands was built, signaled the city's eventual recovery.

Nashville's Maxwell family established the world-recognized Maxwell House Coffee business here. Teddy Roosevelt himself proclaimed it 'good to the last drop' at the Maxwell House Hotel downtown. The Maxwell estate is now a fine-arts center and botanical gardens open to the public.

But eventually, Nashville became best known around the globe for the rocketing popularity of its live broadcast Barn Dance - later sarcastically nicknamed the 'Grand Ole Opry' - which began in 1925. The city was quickly proclaimed the Country Music Capital of the World, and recording studios and production companies established themselves along Music Row just west of downtown.

In the 1960s, students from the all-black Fisk University led sit-in demonstrations at lunch counters downtown, encouraged an economic boycott and marched on city hall to demand desegregated facilities. Their successful non-violent protests served as a model and catalyst for civil rights demonstrations throughout the South.

In the 1970s, Nashville's patron Gaylord Enterprises invented the Oprylandia empire and shaped the city's country music tourist business by moving the Grand Ole Opry, renovating the Ryman Auditorium, sending boats up and down the river and contributing to the economic revitalization of the downtown riverfront. Besides the entertainment business and the city's $2 billion-a-year tourist industry, Nashville also relies on its health care industry and a Nissan plant as economic mainstays.

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