The History of Centennial Park in Nashville

If you have been keeping up with my blog, you will know that I have talked a little bit about downtown Nashville‘s Centennial Park on this cite before. However, I did not really go into the history of the park. Tonight, I would like to take a little bit of time to inform you guys about the history of Nashville’s Centennial Park! Centennial Park was the site of the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition. The park had previously been a farm that was purchased in the year of 1783 by a man named John Cockrill, who was the brother-in-law of James Robertson. The site then became the state fairgrounds after the Civil War. After that, from 1884 to 1895, it was a racetrack that was known as West Side Park. The construction of the buildings for the 1897 Centennial began in 1895. The cornerstone of the full scale Parthenon replica was laid on October 8th of that year. A large number of ornate structures were built to serve the 1.8 million visitors to the Exposition from the President down. When the Exposition closed on October 30th of 1897, its leadership called for the preservation of the Parthenon replica as well as the Centennial grounds as a park, therefore initiating the city park movement in Nashville. As a result of a litigation settlement with the Nashville’s government, Percy Warner and the Nashville Railway and Light Company purchased the first 72 acres of Centennial Park for $125,000 and gave it to the Park Board on December 22nd of 1902. The Park Board built a swimming pool, stocked Lake Watauga with fish, planted flowers and shrubbery, constructed roads and walkways, and opened the park to the public in 1903. The Park Board also scheduled Gilbert and Sullivan opperettas for cultural recreation purposes and provided the Parthenon with various art exhibitions. During 1903, the monuments that pay tribute to not only James Robertson but also the leaders of the 1897 Exposition were constructed in the park and still stand proudly today. These statues became the first of many monuments and memorials that are scattered throughout the park. The park also leased the Elliston Tract across 25th Avenue from the park as the site of tennis courts as well as both baseball and football fields. The Board purchased the tract in 1911 and named this area the Centennial Athletic Field. The space of the park was gradually expanded to its current size through land exchanges with the railroad to the north and purchases of residential properties that were located around the periphery of the park. The first community center in the park was built in 1916, with a trolley car located within the playground at the side of the building. A steam locomotive and a fighter plane were placed in the park in 1953 and 1961, respectively. The area that is now the Sunken Gardens used to be a pond called Lilly Lake in 1897 and was then transformed into a Japanese Water Garden that proudly displayed aquatic plants from 1922 to 1949. The bridge between this area and Lake Watauga was constructed in 1906 and is the first reinforced concrete bridge that was built in beautiful Tennessee. The Centennial Park swimming pool that was built in 1932 was reconstructed to be the Centennial Art Center in 1972. The site of the pool itself became a sculpture garden. Ice Centennial was built in 1978. The full scale replica of the original Athenian Parthenon that was built in 1897 and was reconstructed using concrete from 1921 to 1931 and underwent a minor renovation in 1962. The Centennial Croquet Club was built in 1963, although croquet courts had occupied the site many years earlier. The Confederate Powder wheels were moved into the park from Sycamore Mills during the 1897 Exposition and are probably the most prominent artifact of the Exposition in the park, though many other artifacts are scattered functionally and inconspicuously throughout the park.

Centennial Park Today

Now, many years later, downtown Nashville’s Centennial Park is still an absolutely incredible place for various types of outdoor activities, including but not limited to rollerblading, bike riding, walking, running, and jogging. The spacious grassy areas provide the perfect outdoor space for tossing a frisbee, football, or baseball back and forth as well as playing badminton or kicking a soccer ball back and forth. There are numerous trees that provide the ideal place to lie on the grass and read a book or gaze up at the sky. The trails are perfect for walking a dog, and the beautiful outdoor scenery provides ample opportunity to watch birds, squirrels, and other wildlife. The pond is clean and perfect for watching turtles, fish, ducks, and geese. There is even a playground for young children. Other exciting things to see are the Parthenon, a variety of sculptures, and the art events that are often taking place in Centennial Park. So, if you are ever in the Nashville area, just take a day to visit the gorgeous Centennial Park!

Make sure you check out my other blog posts about Centennial Park and the Parthenon! To learn more about my personal experience at Centennial Park, be sure to watch the video below, and check out my podcast below as well!


The fighter jet installment


The steam locomotive installment