by Sheryl Turman | photo by Alicia Holland
Nestled just west of downtown Nashville is the 132-acre Centennial Park. Established in 1903 it is an epicenter of arts, culture and the divine feminine. It was fittingly established on land that was the first ever grant of land to a woman in the state of Tenn. From 1884 to 1895, it served as the local fairgrounds and racetrack, and was known as West Side Park. In 1897, it was the chosen location of the Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Tennessee’s statehood, and became known thereafter as Centennial Park.
The park became a popular location for concerts starting in the 60s and the tradition continues to this day. It is also home to the annual Shakespeare in the Park festival, as well as the American Artisan Festival, Tennessee Craft Fair, Celebrate Nashville Cultural Festival, Earth Day Celebration, and Music City Wine and Food Festival, among others. Most events held at the park are free to the public. Among the other notable features of the park is a statue honoring Women’s Equality and featuring Carrie Chapman Catt, Anne Dallas Dudley, Abby Crawford Milton, Juno Frankie Pierce, and Sue Shelton White.
The park lost several large trees to a tornado in 1998 but remains a gorgeous display of greenery amid the city landscape of metal and asphalt The Nature Conservancy has combined efforts with Metro Parks and some of the biggest names in the Nashville music scene to launch “If Trees Could Sing”, an interactive educational experience. As visitors walk through the park, they will note several trees feature a photo of a musician and a QR code that pulls up a video featuring the artist. They talk and sometimes sing about the trees, their benefits, and how to best care for them.
The park boasts such features as walking and fitness trails, Lake Watauga, historical monuments, a dog park, volleyball courts, a band shell, and plenty of green space for play. Probably the most notable of the park’s features is The Parthenon, built as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. An exact replica of the original structure with reliefs cast from the original marbles of the temple, it signifies that Nashville truly is “The Athens of the South”.
The exposition was a success, drawing nearly 1.8 million visitors at a time when the population of the entire state was roughly the same. On October 31, 1897, the majority of the small city created for the event was demolished. Only a band shell, artificial lake, sunken gardens, and The Parthenon were left behind. It was made from plaster and never meant to be permanent, but it was saved from demolition by the romance or fear of losing claim that Nashville was, in fact, The Athens of the South, After nearly a quarter century, the process of restoring The Parthenon and making it a permanent fixture began. The work has been an ongoing labor of love that graces downtown with epic vistas and social synergy. In 1990, a nearly 42 ft gold-leafed statue of Athena was installed inside to make the structure a more exact replica of its Grecian counterpart. Today the Parthenon functions as a self-touring art museum featuring impressive and often thought-provoking exhibits. The space can also be rented for special events and meetings.
Centennial Park is located at 2500 W End Ave, Nashville, TN 37232. Additional information about the park is available at http://www.nashville.gov/Parks-and-Recreation/Parks/Centennial-Park.aspx.