by Mike Slate.
Events of the past continue to shape our lives today, and the prosperous era of the 1850s is a case in point. In 1850 the first locomotive arrived in Nashville, sustaining and enhancing the city as a regional commercial and metropolitan hub, a standing we have never relinquished. Today’s Union Station, built at the turn of the century during the railroad boom, survives as one of our most beloved cultural landmarks.
The Medical School of the University of Nashville opened in 1851, met with immediate success, and quickly established Nashville as a medical center. Following in its wake, Shelby Medical College opened in 1858. The Nashville medical tradition continued with Vanderbilt University, which today provides one of America’s finest medical centers.
In 1854 the publishing arm of the Methodist Episcopal Church South opened on the public square, securing Nashville’s future as a publishing mecca. No doubt the presence here of the Methodist Publishing House played a part in the 1870s formation of Vanderbilt University, which began as a Methodist school. Still in operation today and publishing under several imprints, the publishing house has employed thousands of Nashvillians and pumped millions of dollars into our economy.
Nashville’s first public school was named in honor of educator Alfred Hume, who has been called “the father of Nashville public schools.” Hume School opened in 1855 with 12 teachers. From that modest beginning developed the sprawling Metro Nashville public school system with a total proposed operating budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year of $1,017,807,500, which provides for 157 schools, 86,000 students, and 11,000 employees.
The Tennessee State Capitol, completed in 1859, is the governmental temple in which our state laws are still sanctified. Other structures built in the 1850s that contribute to Nashville’s present character include Downtown Presbyterian Church (dedicated in 1851), Holy Trinity Episcopal Church (1852), Sunnyside Mansion (ca. 1852), Belmont Mansion (1853), Literary Building of the University of Nashville (1853), Church of the Assumption (completed in 1859), Clover Bottom Mansion (1859), and Two Rivers Mansion (1859).
These and other events from 150 years ago belie any notion that history is irrelevant. The past has not only a chronological relationship with the present but also a causative one. We did not just happen upon the present: the past is the impetus for today.
All postcards and photographs used in this article are part of the NHN collection.