Primary Source Document, transcribed by Mike Slate.
Yesteryear’s folding booklets of postcards sometimes included a few paragraphs about the featured state or city. The text below, which reads as though it might have been prepared by the local Chamber of Commerce, came from a booklet of postcards published by S. H. Kress & Co. and is hand-dated September 15, 1924. Ephemera like this can often provide both interesting data and thought-provoking interpretive possibilities.
Nashville is the Capital City of Tennessee, and the County Seat of Davidson County.
Four railroads serve the city. Forty-four passenger and sixty-eight freight trains arrive in Nashville daily.
The Cumberland River is navigable 210 miles down the river practically the year round and 352 miles up the river for about six months, and the work of installing new locks and dams will increase this practically to ten months each year. Nashville has seven bridges across the Cumberland River.
There are 22 parks and playgrounds, containing 468 acres. Centennial Park has the only replica of the Parthenon in the world. Shelby Park has a nine-hole municipal golf course. The Vanderbilt Stadium seats 22,000 people, and is the largest athletic field in the South. Nashville’s water supply is pure and inexhaustible, with more than 50,000,000-gallon capacity daily. The Tennessee State Fair, one of the largest expositions in the South, is held in Nashville each year. The Public Auditorium has a seating capacity of 5,000 persons.
Vanderbilt University, with assets of $11,000,000, has entrance requirements and a curriculum equal to any university in the United States, and has drawn students from every state in the Union and from eight foreign countries. It has an endowment of $6,850,000. The medical department has an endowment of $3,500,000, and is erecting the most complete medical school in the South and one of the finest in America.
The only Y.M.C.A. College in the South is located in Nashville.
Three institutions for women, Ward-Belmont, St. Bernard Academy, and St. Cecilia, draw students from practically every state in the Union. Ward-Belmont alone has over 600 non-resident students.
The Southeastern School of Printing has $80,000 worth of equipment, and is the only school of its kind in the South.
George Peabody College for Teachers, with an investment of $4,000,000 and 20 departments, is the only teachers’ college in the South, and the second largest in the United States. It has an endowment of $2,500,000, and in 1922-23 had an enrollment representing 36 states and 5 foreign countries.
It leads all other cities in the South in livestock, butter, poultry, grinding of wheat, eggs, and various agricultural products.
The mean annual temperature is 60 degrees; the average summer temperature is 78 degrees; and average winter temperature is 41 degrees.
The average annual rainfall is 47.2 inches, humidity moderate, and no sunstrokes are recorded.
Nashville has more than 500 manufacturing enterprises, makes more self-rising flour than any city in the world (“Goodness gracious, it’s good!”), and is one of the two largest hardwood flooring markets in the world. Its annual hardwood flooring output would pave an automobile boulevard 10 feet wide from Nashville to New York. Over 35,000,000 pounds of green coffee are roasted annually.
The Hermitage, the home of Andrew Jackson, is located near Nashville, and is one of the show grounds of America.
Three Presidents of the United States, Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Andrew Johnson, have lived in Nashville. Jackson is buried at the Hermitage and Polk on the grounds of the historic State Capitol.
William Walker, the “Grey-eyed Man of Destiny,” the most famous of all American filibusters, was born and reared in Nashville. Walker became president of Nicaragua and raised the blood-red five-point star of the United States of Central America, but he failed in his plans and was shot by a firing squad. (1997)
Nashville began to attract streams of visitors almost from the moment it became a frontier trading post. As time passed, tourists and settlers came for the music and theatre and food, for history and politics and education, for the casual atmosphere and friendly people. It was educator Philip Lindsley (1785-1855) who first referred to Nashville as the “Athens of the South” (Philip actually said “Southwest”), for the city has long been a center of educational and cultural activities. And high on the list of attractions is the intriguing variety of architectural styles to be discovered here.
One’s first impression of Nashville, the downtown skyline, features the “Batman” and “R2-D2” building silhouettes, several tall hotels and banks, and the dear old L&C Tower, whose 31 floors made it, at the time of its 1957 opening, the “tallest commercial structure of its day in the Southeastern United States.”1 Church Street and Broadway feature some of our most interesting church buildings: the First Baptist Church; Christ Church Episcopal; McKendree Methodist, its earlier façades buried beneath layers of renovations; Downtown (First) Presbyterian with its rich and compelling history; and, a little farther out, the graceful Holy Trinity Episcopal Church on Sixth Avenue.
Many tourists come to Nashville specifically to visit historic homes, and the city has a lovely collection of these as well: The Hermitage, fourth most-visited Presidential home in America (after the White House, Mount Vernon, and Monticello); Belmont, former home of one of the country’s richest women, and now the centerpiece of the Belmont University campus; Belle Meade and Travellers Rest, renowned for the breeding of magnificent horses; Cheekwood, with its exquisite gardens and galleries; and the wedding-cake charm of Clover Bottom and Two Rivers. Equally unforgettable are the stand-alone architectural delights of the Tennessee State Capitol, the Customs House, Union Station, Ryman Auditorium, and the splendid Parthenon, the crowning glory of Centennial Park and the only full-scale replica of the ancient Athenian temple in the world.
Yet if we could visit the Nashville of earlier days, we would be astonished, not only at the number of public buildings that have been transformed into more modern spaces, but also at the number that have disappeared forever.
Not all the stories have tragic endings, of course. Union Station was saved from impending destruction a few years ago, as was the Ryman. Moreover, the Metropolitan Historical Commission encourages preservation activities by presenting a number of awards each year to individuals and groups who have rescued and restored public or private structures throughout the city. But the very word “progress” conjures up an image of bulldozers, and Nashville, like many American cities, has seen far too many beautiful buildings destroyed to make room for, among other things, motels and parking lots!
One of the city’s loveliest lost buildings was the Second Presbyterian Church, once part of our riverfront skyline, but now only a fading image in a handful of old photos. The church stood on Third and Gay Streets, not far from the spot where the James Robertson Parkway crosses Third Avenue before swooping across Victory Memorial Bridge. Dr. John Todd Edgar and Dr. Philip Lindsley spoke at the church’s 1844 dedication.2
There are significant differences of opinion about the history of “2nd Pres,” as John Berrien Lindsley called it in his 1859 diary.3 Many Nashvillians believe that William Strickland, architect of the Capitol, designed the church. However, according to James Patrick, author of Architecture in Tennessee, 1768-1897, the architect was James M. Hughes, a man the Nashville City Directory lists as a carpenter.4 Patrick refers to a silver plate deposited in the cornerstone of the church naming Hughes as the architect. In 1844 the Nashville Whig listed the full text of the inscription:
The Second Presbyterian Church of Nashville, OLD SCHOOL. erected in the year of our lord 1844. Rev. Robert A. Lapsley, Pastor. Samuel Seay, William B. Shapard, William H Marquess, James M. Hamilton, and Adam G. Adams, Elders. Samuel Hill, Foster Williams, Abram Stevens, and John McCrea – Deacons. Organized February, 1844, with 32 Members. JOHN TYLER, President of the United States. James C. Jones, Governor of Tenn. P.W. Maxey, Mayor of Nashville. Population of Nashville, 8,000. James M. Hughes, Architect. Engraved by D. Adams.5
Adding further weight to Patrick’s assertion, Nell Savage Mahoney, a lifelong student of Strickland’s work, omits Second Presbyterian from her list of his creations.
Support for Strickland’s involvement, however, may be found in “William Strickland, Architect,” a 1986 article from the Tennessee Historical Quarterly. Author James A. Hoobler, Curator of the Capitol, compares the altar area of the Second Presbyterian Church with a Strickland drawing labeled “Second Presbyterian.” 6 The structural similarities of shape and dimension cannot be denied. (Hoobler has also discovered compelling evidence that St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, long attributed to William Strickland, was, in fact, built by Adolphus Heiman, but that’s a story for another day.)
Actually, a fairly strong case can be made for the possibility of a collaboration between the two men, with Strickland as teacher/adviser and Hughes as apprentice/contractor. Mahoney herself provides evidence of an earlier such alliance between Strickland and one of his students. Strickland is believed to have drawn the original elevation used by his former pupil Thomas U. Walter when the younger man was appointed to design a building for the Girard College campus in Philadelphia.7
Further evidence of a Strickland-Hughes partnership comes from Circuit Court records, January term 1857. Strickland had been engaged by H.R.W. Hill “to serve as an architect for and superintend the erection of a Methodist church [in New Orleans] . . .. William [Strickland] was put to great expense in going to and from said city during the progress of said work . . .. The church was built at the same time that the St. Charles Hotel was erected – both the St. Charles and the Methodist Church on Pozdras street were burned in February, 1850 . . .. Strickland and Hughes were here at the time, as this witness learned from Hughes, to get a contract for [re]building the St. Charles.”8
So even finding James Hughes’ name inside the cornerstone does not rule out the possibility that the original drawings for Second Presbyterian came from Strickland.
Newcomers may wonder why William Strickland’s buildings are so valuable. In fact, many people consider them national treasures – Strickland is widely considered to be one of the most influential architects of the nineteenth century. Prior to his move to Nashville, he built so many notable buildings in Philadelphia, he was sometimes called “the city architect.”9 Among his important designs there are the Second Bank of the United States (His best-known portrait places him in front of the Bank, which strongly resembles the Parthenon.); the Merchants Exchange; St. Stephen’s Church; Masonic Hall; and dozens more. In Nashville Strickland contributed to the design and re-design of many private homes, burial monuments, and a wide variety of public buildings. Best known, however, are the Downtown (First) Presbyterian Church – now widely considered America’s finest surviving example of church architecture in the Egyptian Revival style – and his masterpiece, the Tennessee State Capitol. Many of Strickland’s buildings have been designated National Historic Landmarks.
In 1902, convinced that the neighborhood was becoming too commercial, the Second Presbyterian congregation sold the building and relocated to North Nashville, moving again in 1929 to better oversee the Monroe-Harding Children’s Home in Green Hills.10 They left behind not only the classical simplicity of the building’s exterior, but also the beautiful interior, which included a painted fresco behind the altar suggesting a classical porch with a view of distant hills, and a network of intricate trompe l’oeil panels and columns adorning the ceiling and walls. For many years thereafter, the original building – described at the time of its dedication as a “new and beautiful edifice . . . an ornament to that part of the city”11 – was used by the Standard Candy Company as a warehouse.12
By the late 1970s the church building had become the property of Metro Nashville. The city’s plans to build a new Criminal Justice Center involved razing the old church and other nearby structures. Although preservation advocates from the Metropolitan Historical Commission and the Tennessee State Museum pleaded with city officials to be permitted at least to salvage significant architectural elements from the building, their requests were denied.13 In 1979 Nashville’s historic Second Presbyterian Church was bulldozed into rubble in order to provide a handful of parking spaces for the Criminal Justice Center.
1 Zepp, George. “Nashville L&C Tower once offered bird’s-eye view of Nashville,environs,” Nashville Tennessean, 16 Feb 2005.
2 Nashville Whig, April 27, 1844.
3 Lindsley Family Papers, ca. 1600-ca. 1940. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
4 Patrick, James. Architecture in Tennessee, 1768-1897. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1981.
5 Nashville Whig, April 27, 1844.
6 Hoobler, James A. “William Strickland, Architect,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Spring 1986.7 Mahoney, Nell Savage (1889-1986) Papers, 1825-1972. THS Acc. No. 457 & 681. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
12 Hoobler, James A. A Guide to Historic Nashville, Tennessee. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2008.
13 Hoobler, James A. A Guide to Historic Nashville, Tennessee.
This article was first published in The Nashville Retrospect. We thank publisher Allen Forkum for his permission to republish it here. Much gratitude also to Jim Hoobler, Cathi Carmack, Lori Lockhart, and Mike Slate for helping me untangle the knotted threads of this story. KBL
The vision of Samuel Henry Kress (1863-1955), a Pennsylvania multi-millionaire and philanthropist, has enhanced many urban areas in Tennessee. In 1887, after seven years as a teacher, Samuel Kress had established a stationery and novelty shop in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. When this venture prospered, Kress brought the concept of a 5&10-cent store to Tennessee, opening his first 5&10 in Memphis in 1896. One year later he opened his second 5&10 at 420 Union Street in Nashville. In 1900 Kress moved the store to 219 North Summer Street (which would become Fifth Avenue North five years later). In 1913 he opened a second store at 317 Third Avenue North. The Kress Company operated these two stores, two streets apart, until 1968.
In its first few years in Nashville the Kress Company leased space in older buildings, unlike their previous policy in Memphis, Knoxville, and other Tennessee cities that had received architect-designed, one-of-a-kind Kress buildings. However, in 1936 the S.H. Kress Company constructed a new store in Nashville to replace the former building at 237-239 Fifth Avenue North. The new Kress Fifth Avenue building was hailed as “the finest type of mercantile building known to modern engineering.” According to a company advertisement, the store was Kress’s way of showing his gratitude to the citizens of the Tennessee Valley “for their enthusiastic acceptance of his merchandising principles.”
During the 1930s Kress stores were designed in the popular Art Deco style. Many of these modern stores also featured locally or regionally influenced ornamental details, the concept of Edward F. Sibbert, Kress’s supervising architect from 1929 until 1952. In the 1970s Sibbert stated that his architectural influences were “anything but classical,” a comment that increases the significance of the Fifth Avenue Kress building, because it is possible that architectural details of the Kress building were borrowed from the Parthenon in Centennial Park. Architectural historian Bernice Thomas first proposed this theory in her book, America’s 5 & 10 Cent Stores: The Kress Legacy. Although there are no design records or corporate documents to confirm Thomas’s theory, details of the Kress building illustrate several similarities between the two structures.
The likenesses begin with the four large fluted pilasters that extend upward from the marquee through the roofline. These pilasters may relate to the large fluted Doric columns that encircle the Parthenon. A second similarity is the stylized Greek key motif that extends in a continuous row across the building façade, just below the roofline. These Greek key motifs may relate to the anthemion pattern that lines the roof of the Parthenon. The final and most interesting details of the Kress store are the Greek-inspired panels located to either side of the Kress logo. The left panel illustrates a female figure; the right, a male figure. These decorative panels seem to mirror the painted metopes within the entablature of the Parthenon.
The female panel shows a woman holding a pole topped by a winged hat or helmet. The hat can be interpreted two ways: as the helmet of Hermes, the Greek god of commerce, an appropriate symbol for a 5&10-cent store; or as a woman’s hat that one might purchase in Kress’s millinery department. The background of the female panel is filled with modern skyscrapers, perhaps an image of the growth Samuel Kress foresaw in Nashville’s future. The male panel portrays an aproned man holding a stylized hammer. Its handle is in the traditional shape at the base but transmutes along its length into layered, gear-like disks. The background of the male panel is a scene of smokestacks which, along with the hammer and gears, serves to illustrate Nashville’s industrial past. The 1936 S.H. Kress building exemplifies the pride that Samuel Kress had in his company, as well as his respect for the cities where he located his stores. Unfortunately, the concept of civic responsibility is rarely a consideration of national chain stores today, thereby increasing our own obligation to preserve the distinctive buildings that are such an important part of Nashville’s heritage
April 24, 2003, marks the 223rd anniversary of the historical founding of Nashville. On that well-known date in 1780, John Donelson’s flotilla of about 30 flatboats and several pirogues completed the 1006-mile voyage via four rivers to the French Lick’s almost-completed log central station. Here the travelers joined James Robertson’s overland settlement party that had traveled into the western North Carolina frontier to cross the frozen Cumberland River on Christmas Day 1779 to establish an outpost of civilization. This two-prong settlement of Nashville was described by Theodore Roosevelt in Winning of the West as “being equal in importance to the settlement of Jamestown or the landing at Plymouth Rock.”
Not as well known is that this year also marks the 100th anniversary of the October 11, 1903, dedication of the Robertson Monument in Centennial Park. The monument’s towering 50-foot granite shaft is actually seven years older than its year of dedication, and the story of the monument’s creation in Nashville’s first public park is nearly as interesting as the Robertson pioneers it memorializes.
The monument’s existence is due to the energy, dedication, and vision of Nashville’s Major Eugene C. Lewis (1845-1917), owner of theNashville American newspaper and a consulting civil engineer. It was Lewis’ friend, local architect William C. Smith, who suggested in a late-1893 speech to Nashville’s Commercial Club that “a spectacular Tennessee Centennial be held to alleviate financial distress and to divert the attention of the people” from the long and severe depression that had engulfed America after the Panic of ’93. Before the depression, according to W. F. Creighton inBuilding of Nashville, local attorney Douglas Anderson had suggested in local newspapers that a celebration be held in Nashville to celebrate the centenary of Tennessee’s 1796 statehood. Although Anderson’s earlier suggestion had evoked favorable public response, no action was taken until Smith renewed interest in the project. The Nashville Tennessee Centennial Exposition Company was formed and by the summer of 1895 was beginning to acquire financial support for the event. John W. Thomas, president of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad, served as president of the Centennial Company and chairman of the executive committee of the Exposition, and Major E. C. Lewis was named director general. The site selected for the Exposition was the West Side Race Track and Park, located on the old fairgrounds surrounding the historic Cockrill Springs area at the end of Church Street and the terminus of the West End Avenue streetcar line. The first Tennessee State Fair had been staged on the site in 1869, with subsequent fairs held in 1873, 1879, and 1884.
The Centennial Exposition, held May 1 through October 30, 1897, was “essentially a fair on a grand scale,” wrote A. W. Crouch and H. D. Claybrook in Our Ancestors Were Engineers. Attractions included 12 large buildings featuring exhibits on the commercial, industrial, agricultural, and educational interests of the state; a “midway” including Egyptian, Cuban, and Chinese villages; a “Giant See-saw” designed by local engineer and steel fabricator Arthur J. Dyer; Venetian gondoliers on newly created Lake Watauga; a Venetian Rialto bridge designed by local architect C. A. Asmus; parades and “sham battles” by the Tennessee Militia; fireworks and other entertainment; and a 250-foot flag staff designed by E. C. Lewis. Major Lewis also had conceived the idea to create a replica of the 5th-century B. C. Athenian Parthenon to house the art exhibit, then commissioned local architect W. C. Smith to make the needed drawings. (The Parthenon, built during 1895-1897, and the city park board’s 1920 decision to have it rebuilt as a permanent structure is a story unto itself.)
Among the exhibits featured at the Exposition’s Mineral and Forestry Building was a towering, 50-foot granite shaft. The impressive monolith is attributed to the “Barry Vermont Granite Quarries” by Creighton in Building of Nashville, but Leland Johnson wrote in The Parks of Nashville that the “granite shaft was quarried at Stone Mountain, Georgia, by Venerable Brothers of Atlanta and shipped to Nashville for display during the 1897 Centennial Exposition. Oral tradition says a portion of the shaft broke off during transit to Nashville.” The shaft’s original flat-stone base remains today on the west bank of Lake Watauga and bears a metal plate commemorating the Centennial Exposition.
After the Exposition closed, all buildings except the Parthenon were torn down and removed. The success of the Exposition, as well as the progressive movement of the late 19th Century to establish public parks, planted the seed for Nashville’s park system. In 1901 Mayor James Head appointed five men, one of whom was Major E. C. Lewis, to the new Board of Park Commissioners. Negotiations were begun by the city in early 1902 with the owners of the 72-acre Centennial Park to purchase the land for a permanent city park. After months of complicated offers and counter-offers, described in The Parks of Nashville, Nashville Railway and Light Company purchased Centennial Park and its title was presented to the city park board on December 22, 1902.
On January 13, 1903, Major Lewis addressed the Tennessee Historical Society on the subject of James Robertson. He began his speech by informing the assembled members of “a fortunate circumstance that transpired only a few days ago. . . .For the first time in all its history, Nashville has park ground worthy of the Capital of Tennessee. The title to the Centennial Grounds, upon which the city has already contributed a large sum of money toward the adornment thereof, is now in the city of Nashville. The Park Commission. . .has so far determined upon but one measure, and that, the erection in Centennial Park of a monument [for] James Robertson, the founder of Nashville.” He concluded his lengthy profile of Robertson by asking, “What have we of Nashville done to honor this man’s memory? Has even the memory of all the good Robertson did been interred with his bones?. . .Are we a grateful people?”
Major Lewis had made prescient provisions to answer his own questions. When negotiations had begun to purchase the Centennial land, he purchased the 50-foot granite shaft for $200, then his fellow-commissioner Samuel A. Champion “resolved that it be erected in the park as a monument to the memory of James Robertson.” Lewis also purchased the flat-stone base for $10 in 1903 to remain beside Lake Watauga as a memorial to the Centennial Exposition. A new granite base was needed to support the heavy shaft after its relocation, but no record has yet been found of the base’s creator or its procurement. Wherever the massive base originated, Johnson described the monument’s creation in The Parks of Nashville: “With a tripod made of three large oak logs and block and tackle, Major Lewis raised the shaft into position and then constructed the foundation beneath it.” The granite shaft and its base weigh a total of 52.5 tons. Text is inscribed on a plaque on each side of the monument:
North Side Text: “James Robertson/Born in Brunswick County, Virginia, June 28, 1742. Moved to North Carolina in 1750. Came to Tennessee in 1769. Settled Nashville in 1780. Died in Tennessee Sept. 1, 1814. Reinterred in the City Cemetery at Nashville, 1825, under authority of the Tennessee Legislature.”
East Side Text: “Charlotte Reeves/Wife of James Robertson/Born in North Carolina, Jan. 2, 1751. Married to James Robertson, 1768. Died in Nashville, Jun. 11, 1843. Buried in the City Cemetery. Mother of the first male child born at Nashville. She participated in the deeds and dangers of her illustrious husband: won honors of her own and along his path of destiny cast a leading light of loyalty, intelligence, and devotion.”
South Side Text: “A worthy citizen of both Virginia and North Carolina. Pioneer, patriot, and patriarch in Tennessee. Diplomat, Indian fighter, maker of memorable history. Director of the movement of the settlers requiring that hazardous and heroic journey so successfully achieved from Watauga to the Cumberland. Founder of Nashville. Brigadier-General of the United States Army. Agent of the Government to the Chickasaw Nation. He was earnest, taciturn, self-contained, and had that quiet consciousness of power usually seen in born leaders of men. ‘He had winning ways and made no fuss.’ (Oconnostota) He had what was of value beyond price–a love of virtue, an intrepid soul, an emulous desire for honest fame. He possessed to an eminent degree the confidence, esteem, and veneration of all his contemporaries. His worth and services in peace and war are gratefully remembered. Amiable in private life, wise in council, vigilant in camp, courageous in battle, strong in adversity, generous in victory, revered in death.”
West Side Text: “James Robertson/Founder of Nashville/’We are the advance guard of civilization. Our way is across the Continent.'” Robertson—1779
The monument to James and Charlotte Reeves Robertson was presented to the city of Nashville on October 11, 1903, by Major E. C. Lewis on behalf of the Park Commission. About 100 Robertson descendants from all over the United States and one foreign country attended the ceremony in Centennial Park, according to Sarah F. Kelley in Children of Nashville. Three-year-old Dickson Wharton Robertson, descended through Dr. Peyton Robertson, was dressed in Scottish-plaid kilts and pulled the string to unveil the towering monument honoring his great-great-grandfather. Among those offering memorial tributes to Nashville’s founder were Governor James B. Frazier and Mayor James Head.
“History often repeats itself,” wrote Kelley. “On June 28, 1972, the descendants of James Robertson gathered once again in Nashville to celebrate Tennessee’s ‘James Robertson Day’ proclaimed by Governor Winfield Dunn.” Among the descendants gathered around the Robertson Monument in Centennial Park was the same Dickson Wharton Robertson who had participated in the monument’s unveiling 69 years earlier.
As the Robertson Monument approaches its centenary, the 107-year-old shaft has weathered well, as have the 100-year-old base and four bronze plaques. Attesting to the passage of a century is that the massive base appears to have sunk several feet into the earth since 1903. Without measured drawings to provide dimensions of the original base, however, a definitive conclusion cannot be made. Thus we celebrate the founding of Nashville with the hope that Centennial Park’s terra firma will continue to support the city’s monument to its founder, so that future Nashvillians may enjoy a bicentennial celebration of the Robertson Monument.
Winning of the West, Volume II: From the Alleghanies to the Mississippi, 1777-1783, by Theodore Roosevelt (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1889).
Tennessee Old and New, Sesquicentennial Edition, 1796-1946, Volumes I and II (Nashville: Tennessee Historical Commission and Tennessee Historical Society, 1946).
Seedtime on the Cumberland, by Harriette Simpson Arnow (New York: The Macmillian Company, 1960).
Building of Nashville, by Wilbur Foster Creighton; revised and enlarged by Wilbur F. Creighton, Jr., and Leland R. Johnson (Nashville: Wilbur F. Creighton, Jr., and Elizabeth Creighton Schumann, 1969).
Children of Nashville: Lineages of James Robertson, by Sarah Foster Kelley (Nashville: Blue and Gray Press, 1973).
Our Ancestors Were Engineers, by Arthur Weir Crouch and Harry Dixon Claybrook (Nashville: Nashville Section of American Society of Civil Engineers, 1976).
The Parks of Nashville: A History of the Board of Parks and Recreation, by Leland R. Johnson (Nashville: Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County Board of Parks and Recreation, 1986).
Andrew Jackson Slept Here: A Guide to Historical Markers in Nashville and Davidson County (Nashville: Metropolitan Historical Commission of Nashville and Davidson County, 1993).
In 1912 at age 25, my father, Ernest A. Pickup, set out on two journeys–marriage and a profession as a commercial artist. When he told his father about his career plans, his father responded, “Son, you go with my blessing, but if you don’t succeed, don’t come back to me looking for a job.” The family had moved to Nashville in 1902 and had established G.A. Pickup & Son, a rubber stamp business that is still in existence. While working for his father, in his spare time his mother allowed him to hide in the attic of their home, where he studied a correspondence course on the basics of art.
The lessons paid off, and he became one of the first commercial artists in Nashville. He was so successful that he needed to keep an apprentice with him in his studio. The first was Herman Burns, who went on to become the Art Director at the Baptist Sunday School Board. Next came Lewis Akin, who became the Art Director for the Methodist Publishing House. Subsequent apprentices included Castner’s Department Store artist Mariah Ferris, Curtis Snell, and cartoonist Bill Wall. Even I was one of his apprentices during my high school and college days. I later worked for Mr. Burns at the BSSB until 1942.
In 1930, when the Great Depression devastated our nation, my father’s commercial work came to a halt. With time on his hands, he began honing the skills necessary to make woodblock prints, an ancient medium that he had long admired. With the encouragement of his artist friends, he submitted his work for an exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. His career as a wood engraver took off, resulting in about 65 woodblock prints made during the 1930s and early 1940s.
One of his greatest honors came in 1937, when the Society of American Etchers chose his print Finis–a Study in Finalities as one of The Best 100 Prints of American Artists, a collection selected to go on a tour of Europe, beginning at Stockholm, Sweden. My father was a very modest man, but when he saw his name listed in the exhibit catalogue next to Thomas Nason, his woodblock hero, he was ecstatic.
His most popular prints were of Nashville landmarks: the Capitol, the Parthenon, the Hermitage, Scarritt Tower, and the Battle of Nashville Monument. He also loved making prints of trees and rural scenes. He used boxwood, a very hard wood with no grain. Woodblocks were made up of two or more pieces of wood glued together. Whenever one would break, he made miniatures out of the pieces, and these are among my favorites. When the curator of the Graphic Arts Division of the Smithsonian saw my father’s work, he asked if we would donate the collection. Because he also wanted the blocks and tools, I turned him down. Some of his work, however, is archived in the Tennessee State Museum.
For over thirty years my father’s art studio was on the 5th floor of the old Cumberland Presbyterian Building, which was located on 4th Avenue about where the AT&T Building is now. When he decided to retire in 1963 at age 76, it was as if his life had come to an end. He could not envision life without his cluttered office, the smell of ink and paint thinner, the whir of the airbrush, or the occasional knock at the door: “Mr. Pickup, I have a job for you–do you think you could do it for us today?”
Then one day the phone rang. Mr. John Ambrose of Ambrose Printing Company called to ask my father if he was willing to join the company as an art consultant “whenever you feel like it.” He “felt like it” until he turned 80, when he announced his full retirement. From then on, he had little interest in anything but sharing stories about his years as an artist, a sometime farmer, a grandfather, and a Sunday School teacher. My father left us a quiet legacy of integrity as well as a collection of woodblock prints. His mother often said of him, “He came into this world drawing pictures on any piece of paper he could get his hands on!.” The year before he died, I found these words that he had written: “Things I want for myself: to be cheerful in the face of difficulties, to merit the esteem of my friends, to be grateful for all that other folks have done for me, and to know no heartache of my own making.”
In the summer of 2002 Alan LeQuire and Lou Reed supervised the gilding of Nashville’s Athena, the tallest indoor statue in the Western world. The statue, unveiled in the Centennial Park Parthenon in 1990, stood large (41′ 10″ tall), white, and incomplete for 12 years. The mission of Nashville’s full-scale replica of the Parthenon is to provide modern visitors a glimpse into the Athenian Parthenon of 438 B.C. Today the gilding project is complete and we are closer to our goal. Remarkably, the project (including gilding and painting) took just over three months, from June 3 – September 5, 2002.
The statue is a re-creation of Athena Parthenos that once stood in the Parthenon in Athens. The Athenian sculptor Pheidias constructed the massive statue from gold and ivory. The statue disappeared around 400 A.D. and little evidence remains to explain what happened to it. However, a number of ancient writings describe the statue before its loss. Sculptor Alan LeQuire studied these writings and relied on historians and his instincts to re-create Athena.
Archaeologists could spend hours discussing the minutiae of LeQuire’s decisions. It is impossible to reproduce the statue to the last detail. No one can duplicate the bridge of her nose; no one can cast a mold of her ancient sandals. She is gone. However, new scholarship circulates and new research stirs lively academic debate.
Kenneth Lapatin, of the Getty Museum, spoke in Nashville on chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statuary on September 23, 2002. His lecture provided listeners the opportunity to learn about the historic precedent of the gilding project. When Lapatin came to Nashville five years ago and saw the ungilded statue, he was politely impressed but expressed relief when he learned that we would not leave the statue white, absent of her gold decor.
In his lecture Lapatin did not offer a head-to-toe comparison of the two figures. Rather, he explained the extravagance, expense, and purpose of the original compared to our own. For example, the gold plates on the Athena statue in ancient times weighed approximately 1,500 pounds and were one-eighth to one-sixteenth of an inch thick. The 23.75-karat gold leaf on Nashville’s Athena weighs about 8.5 pounds and is three times thinner than tissue paper. Our extravagance pales in comparison to the lavish spending of the Greeks.
Lapatin is especially fascinated with the work of ancient ivory craftsmen. Athena’s exposed skin, mainly that of her face and arms, was mysteriously carved or molded from sheets of ivory. Lapatin has even attempted to duplicate ivory casting on a small scale, but we still may never know the ancient techniques. To create a statue exactly as Pheidias did would be economically impractical today. The craftsmen of Nashville’s Athena painted her skin an ivory color to give the impression of delicately carved bone.
The Greeks’ dedication to Athena motivated them to spend and overspend on her monument. The Parthenon in Nashville is a tribute to the art of the 5th century B.C. Our Athena provides us the opportunity to understand the skill and devotion of the ancient Greeks. Lapatin called her “otherworldly” and, to anyone who sees Nashville’s Athena, the archaeological particulars do indeed seem less important. Like the building in which she resides, Athena is impressive…and as accurate as scholarship allows.
List of Artists (Gilders and Painters) Alan LeQuire Lou Reed Allison Byrd Amy Calzadilla Micki Cavanah Smith Coleman Patricia H. Coots Carol Lynn Driver Jenny Gill Susan Jane Hall Susan Harris Charlotte A. Hester Shana H. Keckley Margaret A. Krakowiak Dennis C. Lake Patrick J. Paine Andrew Rozario Jean B. Spencer Luke C. Tidwell