TSLA – Tennessee’s Treasurehouse

by Kathy Lauder.

In early January 2004 Herbert Harper of the Tennessee Historical Commission announced that the Tennessee State Library and Archives building at 403 7th Avenue North “has, upon the nomination of this office, been placed in the National and Tennessee Registers of Historic Places by the National Park Service of the United States Department of the Interior on November 17, 2003.”

The 7th Avenue building was declared eligible for the National Register on two counts. The first was architecture. Designed by H. Clinton Parrent, Jr., and completed in 1953, the structure is an outstanding example of late neoclassical architecture. Introduced at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the neoclassical style is marked by “a symmetrical façade featuring a central entrance shielded by a full-height porch with a roof supported by classical columns.” The Nashville building features the slender columns and side-gabled roofs of the later phase, along with some Art Deco touches. It was designed to complement, although not to duplicate, the neighboring Capitol and Supreme Court buildings.

The former home of the Tennessee State Library and Archives on 7th Avenue North across from the State Capitol.

The September 1953 edition of the Tennessee Historical Quarterly, reporting on the grand opening of the building, included this enthusiastic description: “With its exterior walls of white Tennessee marble, its Roman Ionic columns suggestive of the Greek Ionic columns of the Capitol and the inscriptions along the upper walls which serve as reminders of the cultural traditions out of which the building grew, it adds immeasurably to the beauty of Capitol Hill. The building is as functional as it is beautiful, with eight stack levels to accommodate [over two million volumes of] books and records . . ., a restoration laboratory for the repair and preservation of old books and records, a photographic laboratory . . ., and an auditorium.”

One of the most surprising features of the 7th Avenue facility is that it consists of two very different buildings under one roof. The handsome front section, which contained the public reading rooms and staff offices, consists of three stories and an attic storage area. A highlight is the elegant marble vestibule, featuring a terrazzo floor embellished with a geographical map of Tennessee, and military symbols reminding visitors that the building was dedicated to the Tennessee veterans of World War II. The rear of the building, functional and much less ornate, consists of eight stories of stacks and work areas.

The original Tennessee State Library was housed in the Capitol itself. Architect William Strickland personally designed the lofty and elegant room across from the Supreme Court chambers. In 1854 the legislature appropriated funds to purchase books, appointing Return Jonathan Meigs III to build the collection. Meigs, a respected scholar, was named Tennessee’s first State Librarian in 1856. By the middle of the 20th century, his successors had overseen many changes in the library collection, including the acquisition of the Tennessee Historical Society papers in 1927. As the number of resources grew, particularly under the leadership of John Trotwood Moore, who developed the collection of military and other historical records, the allotted space became cramped. It became clear that the Capitol-based Library was no longer an effective facility for research and study.

The original State Library was in this beautiful room in the Capitol, frequently used now for meetings and receptions.

For that reason, the educational value of the 7th Avenue facility – its second criterion of eligibility for the National Register – may be even more significant. The building was constructed not only to store the State Library’s growing collection, but also to preserve the state’s archival records after many decades during which they were stuffed into attics, cellars, and odd corners of the Capitol and other buildings. In the early 1890s a janitor had actually burned several cartloads of documents, saying they were “wet and nasty and smelled bad.” An 1893 request to ship 85 trunks of Civil War vouchers to Washington, D.C., led Governor Peter Turney to assign Capitol superintendent Robert Thomas Quarles to find them. Quarles became the hero of Tennessee historians forever when he focused attention on the appalling condition of stored records and began a ten-year effort to sort and preserve them. After Quarles’ death in 1914, the state legislature passed a resolution authorizing the governor to appoint a state official to continue the work of sorting and preserving. John Trotwood Moore was named the first State Librarian and Archivist in 1919, and the Library and Archives officially merged in 1921.

Construction of the 7th Avenue building was proposed at the first meeting of the Tennessee Historical Commission on December 3, 1941, by Moore’s widow and successor, Mary Daniel Moore. Unfortunately, the entry of the United States into World War II four days later forced the plans to be delayed for several years. Finally, in 1947 and 1949, under the administrations of Governors Jim Nance McCord and Gordon W. Browning, the state legislature appropriated the necessary funds to begin construction. Ground was broken in 1951; the formal opening took place on June 17, 1953.  

The current home of the Tennessee State Library and Archives is this striking facility on Bicentennial Mall near the Tennessee State Museum .

Update: Early in the 21st century, having outgrown available storage space in the 7th Avenue building, the State of Tennessee approved the development of a new facility. Construction began on December 11, 2017. Designed by Tuck-Hinton Architects, the new TSLA building stands adjacent to the Bicentennial Mall at Rep. John Lewis Way and Jefferson Street. The 165,000-square-foot facility, built at a cost of more than $120,000, includes a climate-controlled chamber for storing historic books and manuscripts within a space-saving robotic retrieval system, a blast freezer to help save water- and insect-damaged materials, and improved work spaces and meeting rooms. The ribbon-cutting and grand opening ceremony took place on April 12, 2021.

The author is grateful to Dr. Edwin Gleaves, Jeanne Sugg, Fran Schell, Greg Poole, and Ralph Sowell, who graciously shared the documents and information used in the preparation of this essay. Originally written in 2004, it was updated in 2021 to include more recent events.

Nashville-Tuskegee Ties, Part II: The Tuskegee Airmen

by Kathy B. Lauder.

Our city’s most dramatic ties to Tuskegee developed shortly after the US entered World War II. In fact, it was Nashvillians who actually built the airbase where the famous Tuskegee Airmen trained. When brothers Moses and Calvin McKissack, well-known local architects, were selected to design and build the Tuskegee Airbase in 1942, they received what was then the largest federal contract ever won by an African American firm. McKissack & McKissack, now headquartered in New York City and Washington, D.C., remains the oldest minority-owned architectural engineering company in the United States.

Tuskegee Airmen 1945

The Tuskegee Airmen, whose exploits have become more familiar through a couple of recent commercial films, were actually not well known during the war, despite their extraordinary skill and courage. They were the first African American aviators to serve in the U.S. military. The “Tuskegee Airmen” title also encompasses the instructors, navigators, mechanics, and ground crew who trained and supported the pilots. According to a National Park Service article, “These men were the crème of the crop, many of whom already had bachelor’s and master’s degrees when they first began flight training in July of 1941.” And a considerable number of those remarkable men – trainers, support staff, and aviators – had ties to Middle Tennessee.

·         Curtiss P-40 Warhawk – produced 1939-1944

The following local men graduated from the pilot training program on the dates listed:

  • 2nd Lieutenant Howard L. Baugh (see story below): Single Engine Section, SE-42-J; 10 Nov 1942.
  • 2nd Lieutenant William J. Faulkner (see story below): Single Engine Section, SE-43-D; 29 Apr 1943.
  • 2nd Lieutenant Carroll N. Langston Jr. (see story below): Single Engine Section, SE-43-I; 1 Oct 1943.
  • 2nd Lieutenant Thomas G. Patton: Single Engine Section, SE-44-B; 8 Feb 1944.
  • 2nd Lieutenant Hannibal M. Cox (see story below): Single Engine Section, SE-44-D; 15 Apr 1944.
  • Flight Officer Robert A. Pillow: Single Engine Section, SE-44-E; 23 May 1944.
  • Flight Officer Robert J. Murdic: Single Engine Section, SE-44-F; 27 Jun 1944.
  • 2nd Lieutenant Rutherford H. Adkins (see story below): Single Engine Section, SE-44-I-1; 16 Oct 1944.
  • Flight Officer Rutledge H. Fleming: Twin Engine Section, TE-45-A; 11 Mar 1945.

Those in the Single-Engine Cadet Pilot Class were trained to fly the Bell P-39 Airacobra, Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, North American P-51 Mustang, and similar combat fighter aircraft. Those in the Twin-Engine Cadet Pilot Class were trained to fly the North American B-25 Mitchell. There was also a third cadet program, the Liaison Pilot Cadet Class, training liaison and service pilots.

The sturdy construction of the Republic P-47N Thunderbolt enabled it to absorb severe battle damage and stay in the air.

After the war, Tennessee State University developed a new program called Aeronautical and Industrial Technology, which included an aviation education component and an Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). Cecil Ryan, who was head of the department of aviation, and his colleague George Turman had been instructors in the Tuskegee Airmen’s cadet program. They would instruct generations of pilots as well as aircraft design and maintenance engineers. Many of Ryan’s students went on to become pilots on both military and commercial aircraft.

Simon Gaskill, a commercial pilot for Eastern Airlines during the 1970s and ‘80s, once wore his pilot’s uniform on a tour of the TSU campus. When he ran into Cecil Ryan, he introduced himself and was startled when Ryan began to cry. “I wanted to be an airline pilot, but wasn’t allowed,” Ryan explained. “Seeing you come in here with that uniform was just too much for me.”

Carroll Napier Langston Jr. and family (photo courtesy of Kristi Farrow)

Carroll Napier Langston Jr. (1917-1944), another of the renowned Tuskegee Airmen, was the great-grandson of John Mercer Langston and great-nephew of Nashvillians James C. and Nettie Langston Napier, widely respected community leaders. Raised in Nashville and Chicago, he graduated from Oberlin College and earned an LL.B. from the University of Michigan. In 1941 he entered law practice in Chicago but, shortly after the U.S. entered World War II, he signed up for flight school at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. By 1943 he was part of the 301st Fighter Squadron (Red Tail Angels) and was subsequently assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group. In June 1944, during a reconnaissance mission off the Italian coast, Lt. Langston’s engine lost oil pressure and he had to bail out. Tragically, his parachute failed to open, and a witness saw him clinging to the side of the plane as it went down. His body washed up on the beach several days later and was brought later to Greenwood Cemetery, where he now rests amongst his family. 

William J. Faulkner Jr.

Captain William J. “Billie” Faulkner Jr. (1918-1944), a graduate of Pearl High School and Morehouse College, was the son of the Rev. and Mrs. William J. Faulkner Sr. His father was dean of the Fisk University Chapel. William Jr. enlisted August 17, 1942, graduating from the Tuskegee pilot program as a 2nd Lieutenant on April 29, 1943. An airman with the 301st Fighter Squadron, U.S. Army Air Corps, he is believed to be the first African American from Nashville to be commissioned in the Army Air Forces. In September 1944 he was awarded the first oak leaf cluster to the Air Medal for “meritorious achievement in aerial flight while participating in sustained operational activities against the enemy.” Barely two months later, November 7, 1944, with 56 combat missions to his credit, he was reported missing in action over Austria. Two days before Christmas his grieving parents finally received word that he had been killed on the day he was reported missing in November, “possibly because of mechanical failure of his P-51C.” (Other sources say he was shot down.) He was awarded the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters. Captain Faulkner is buried in France in the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial, which contains the largest number of World War II American graves (10,489) in all of Europe.

Hannibal M. Cox

Colonel Hannibal M. “Killer” Cox (1923-1988) graduated from flight training at Tuskegee in April 1944 and went on to serve as a combat pilot in three wars – World War II (where he flew 64 combat missions), the Korean War (more than 100 combat missions), and Vietnam. He earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics from Tennessee State University (TSU), a master’s in industrial relations and personnel management from the University of Chicago, and a Ph.D. in psychology from Western Colorado University. After Vietnam one of his command duties was to serve as a professor of aerospace science at TSU, his alma mater. When he retired from the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s (with an Air Medal, five oak leaf clusters, and the Distinguished Flying Cross), he became director of ground equipment for Eastern Air Lines. Later appointed director of Eastern’s equal opportunity and community relations programs, he was instrumental in breaking down racial bias in the airline industry.

Howard Lee Baugh

Colonel Howard Lee Baugh (1920-2008) was born in Virginia; attended public schools in Virginia and Brooklyn, New York; graduated from Virginia State University; and married his college sweetheart. In March 1942 he entered the U.S. Army Air Corps and completed his pilot training at Tuskegee, Alabama, that November. Assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron in Sicily, he flew 135 combat missions.  As a pilot in the USAF, he registered 6,000 pilot hours, with a career record of 250 combat hours. Following his World War II service, Colonel Baugh, who had been trained by Cecil Ryan at the Tuskegee Institute, served for a period of time as Professor of Air Science at Tennessee State University. He retired from the United States Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1967. For his distinguished career as an aviator, Colonel Baugh was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters, the Air Force Commendation Medal, and the Air Force Distinguished Unit Citation, and other medals. In 2004 he was awarded the French Legion of Honor.

Rutherford H. Adkins, 1944

Dr. Rutherford H. “Lubby” Adkins (1924-1998), born in Alexandria, Virginia, developed an interest in physics while studying at Virginia Union University. He transferred to Temple University but was soon drafted into the U.S. Army. He took flight training for single-engine fighter planes at the Tuskegee Flight School, graduating as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1944. A member of the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group – the Tuskegee Airmen – he flew 14 combat missions over Europe. Returning home, he earned a B.S. (Virginia State, 1947), an M.S. (Howard University, 1949), and a Ph.D., the first ever granted to an African American by The Catholic University in Washington, D.C. (1955). At various times he served on the faculties of Virginia State University, Tennessee State University, the U.S. Naval Academy, Fisk University, Morehouse College, and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He was president of Knoxville College from 1976 to 1981, returning to Fisk in 1993 to become division chair of Natural Sciences & Mathematics, interim president in 1996, and president in 1997, only a year before his death.

North American P-51 Mustang

Some of this material has been adapted from the Greenwood Project.

Learn more about the relationship between these two Southern cities in “Nashville-Tuskegee Connections, Part I.

Sulphur Dell, the “Goat Man,” the Roxy, and Other Nashville Memories

A reminiscence by Larry D. McClanahan.

As a 1956 graduate of Gallatin High School who lived in Nashville from ages two to eleven, I was raised on Krystals (I had one this afternoon!) and Krispy Kreme doughnuts sold in a shop where the Estes Kefauver Federal Building now stands. I loved the balcony dinette at the Woolworths on 5th Avenue. Their ham sandwiches on grilled toast were never excelled anywhere else.

I remember street car rides, the old car barn where the Municipal Auditorium now stands, the peddlers’ carts and horses stabled there after the street cars left. I also remember Gilbert’s Men’s Clothing Store on the square, where the money was sent via cable car to the cashiers on the mezzanine. There my dad traded for his clothes, and my parents bought my first suit with long pants. It wasn’t far from the Nashville Court House fountains, with their colored lights under the water.

Early in the morning the street peddlers loaded their carts with produce at the market that is now the Ben West Building. They spread out across town and through the residential streets where they sold ears of corn by the dozen, pole beans by the pound (weighed on a scale on the back corner of the cart), and ice-cold watermelons. They also carried bread and snacks for the kids. I can still hear the call of the drivers as they broadcast their wares.

The paddlewheeler Idlewild

Then there was the annual thrill of driving down to Broad and First to watch the docking of the steamboat Idlewild and hear the calliope. I always wanted to ride on the paddlewheeler but never had the chance. And, of course, I loved Sulphur Dell, where ‘Bama Ray, Buster Boguski, Buckshot Tommy Brown, and Carl Sawatski thrilled us in person or through the radio voice of Larry Munson as we lay in bed on those hot summer nights with the lights out and the windows open, hoping for a breeze to calm the heat. We had an occasional opportunity to see the “Goat Man” when he came through on his endless journey. He rode on a little wagon pulled by a team of goats, trailed by a dog or two and a nanny that was his milk source. It was a true wonder of the world to a youngster.

The original Sulphur Dell (photo used by permission of Skip Nipper)

We had our movie theater, too – the Roxy in East Nashville. On Saturdays at noon, we rushed home, washed up, grabbed a sandwich, and took off on our bikes to get in line for the movies. Note the plural: there were two movies, three or more cartoons, and a serial starring Whip Wilson or Lash Larue, all for 10 cents. A nickel for popcorn and a nickel for a Coke sustained us for the afternoon until we could go home to reenact the roles of good guys and bad guys. There were no gray guys. We knew who was who and that the good guys always won.

Of course, we all made Red Cross boxes, and collected papers and tin cans, while we took our ration books to the store to buy bread, milk, and sugar. If we lost the book, or if the store was out of what we needed, it was a long week until the next supply came. I don’t know whether it is a bad thing or a good one that later generations did not experience those days, but I am glad that I did.

The USS Tennessee at Pearl Harbor

by Kenneth Fieth, Metropolitan Nashville Archivist (includes primary source transcription by the author).

“There were so many of them flying together that they looked like one. They came through the valley very close to the ground and I could clearly see the rising sun on the end of each wing. Not a few minutes later, the rumbling sounds of multiple explosions rolled through the pineapple field.” The missionary’s son whose jet-black hair is now gray waved his hand in a dive as he recalled the first time he ever saw a Japanese warplane . . . on Sunday morning, December 7th, 1941.

The men of the USS Tennessee, moored on Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor, had a far more harrowing experience. The following excerpt is from the official after-action report filed by the Commanding Officer of the Tennessee on December 11, 1941.

The USS Nashville (CL-43) in 1943 (U.S. Navy photo)

“On Sunday, December 7, 1941, the USS Tennessee was moored starboard side to quay Fox 6 [in Naval terms, that is a berth for the ship lettered as “F 6”] with two hausers and seven manila lines. The USS Virginia was moored alongside to port. Boiler #1 was steaming for auxilliary purposes . . .. This ship was the flagship of Commander Battleship Division Two . . .; the USS Arizona was moored about 75 yards ahead and astern of the Tennessee.

“At about 7:55, planes, observed to be Japanese by their markings, were seen dropping bombs on Ford Island. [Ford Island is in the center of Pearl Harbor and was used for mooring the ships of “Battleship Row”]. This ship [Tennessee] went to general quarters . . .. Immediately, after the bombing of Ford Island, planes began torpedoing and bombing the battleships and other ships in the Harbor. This ship opened fire with .50 caliber and 5″ caliber guns about five minutes after the attack.

“Orders for sortie were received [orders to get underway and steam out of the harbor] but later cancelled for battleships . . .. The Oklahoma listed over and in about 10 minutes capsized. The West Virginia listed heavily but was righted by counter-flooding. The Arizona received several large bomb hits, at least one of which apparently penetrated the magazines [ammunition storage areas]. There was a large explosion forward. [Other accounts of the destruction of the Arizona indicate that the ship, over 30,000 tons, was actually lifted out of the water by the force of the explosion.]

“The foremast fell forward and burning powder, oil, and debris was thrown on the quarterdeck of the Tennessee. The Arizona settled rapidly by the bow. The Nevada got underway but was struck by bombs and torpedoes and grounded in the channel. Large fires were raging around the Arizona and West Virginia. The Arizona was moored to quays about 75 feet astern of the Tennessee, and the West Virginia was moored to the Tennessee. The burning powder, oil, and debris from the Arizona explosion plus the intense heat from the fires started [fires] in the stern and port quarter of this ship.

“These fires and subsequent wetting caused considerable damage to the wardroom and officers quarters in this vicinity. The fires were brought under control about 1030. The captain returned aboard and resumed command about 1000. During the engagement the Tennessee received two bomb hits, one on turret III, and one on the catapult and penetrated the roof of the turret. The bomb broke into large pieces but did not explode. The explosive charge spilled into the turret and burned. Fragments of the bomb strongly indicate that it was a converted 15″ armor piercing shell and weighed about 1500 to 2000 pounds. The training gear and rammers were damaged. The range finder was completely wrecked. Several casualties occurred as a result of this hit . . .. The hit on turret II split the hoop on the center gun, rendering it inoperative. Fragments from this hit caused casualties on the machine gun stations. The active fighting was over by about 1000; although small numbers of planes were observed and fired at throughout the day, no more bombs or torpedoes were observed.

“When fires started in and around the West Virginia and Arizona this ship let out all fire hoses and fought fires in the former ships and the oil fires on the water that endangered this ship. This fire fighting continued throughout the day and night. About 1030 it was decided to try and move the ship away from the badly burning Arizona . . .; the West Virginia as a result of her torpedo hits, had wedged the Tennessee so close to the quays that she could not move.

“The engines were kept running at 5 to 10 knots all day and night in order that the screws would wash the burning oil away from the ship. When the fires started, magazines [ammunition storage areas] number 306, 310 and 312 were flooded . . ..

“The following ammunition was expended during the battle: 760 rounds of 5 inch caliber, 180 rounds of 3 inch caliber, and 4000 rounds of .50 caliber. [Caliber is a measurement of diameter of a projectile: 5 inch means 5 inches in diameter.]

“The ship had been fueled on December 3rd. Fuel on hand was 1,380,000 gallons, 94% of capacity . . .. The conduct of the officers and crew of the Tennessee was uniformly in accordance with the highest traditions of the Service. Not only did they fight the battle with calmness and deliberation but for the next 24 hours they fought oil fires on the Arizona and West Virginia . . .; the crew carried out their gunnery and damage control duties as if on drill.”

This is the official historical account of the actions of the USS Tennessee on that fateful day in 1941, sixty years ago this December. [This article was published in 2001] The USS Tennessee would go on to participate in the last battleship-to-battleship engagement the world would ever see in the Surigao Straight, helping to sink the Japanese Battleship Yamashiro and surviving Kamikaze attacks. Unfortunately, this Tennessee namesake was decommissioned in 1947 and sold as scrap in 1959. 

From Knickers to Body Stockings

by Doris Boyce.

German-born Jacob May, 18 years old, came to America in 1879, a passenger in steerage. He arrived in this country unable to speak the language and carrying only seven dollars in his pocket. His first job was peddling dry goods from a pack on his back. When he had earned enough to purchase a horse and wagon, he peddled his wares throughout New England. He eventually married and settled in Laconia, New Hampshire, a hosiery mill town, where he opened a general store. When on buying trips for the store, he sold his suppliers hosiery from the Laconia mill.

A series of photos from November 1910 indicates that the May Company employees were primarily women and children. (Lewis Wickes Hine Photography, from Library of Congress Prints & Photo Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-nclc-01889; Call number LOT 7479, v. 2, no. 1750.)

It was an advertisement in a Boston newspaper that brought Jacob May to Nashville. He and a friend successfully bid on a Tennessee prison labor contract – 50 men at approximately 50 cents a day. May moved his family and several French-Canadian fixers (knitting machine repairmen) to Nashville and started the Rock City Hosiery Mills in the old Church Street penitentiary in 1895.

Jacob May and his partners acquired the six-and-a-half-acre Nashville property for the hosiery mill in 1908. May himself served as president and then as chairman of the board until his death, after which time his sons Mortimer and Dan operated the mill. The May company was noted for the quality of its socks. The crew of Apollo 2, which landed on the moon in 1969, wore socks made by May Hosiery under contract to NASA.

The May building in recent years

By 1908 May and his partners had opened for business on Chestnut Street. In the following years, May Mills counted as customers Marshall Field, Montgomery Ward, Spiegel, Woolworth, Kress, and the Boy and Girl Scouts, as well as Nashville wholesalers J.S. Reeves, Neely-Harwell, W.S. Riddle, and Eskind & Greenspan. In the 1930s May became one of the first licensees of Walt Disney, and his company was a prime contractor for mortar fuses during World War II.

During the years leading up World War II, Jacob and Mortimer May made five trips into Hitler’s Germany and managed to rescue more than 200 Jews before the flow of visas was cut off. Mortimer maintained an association with the network of underground movements in Europe who succeeded in saving some intellectual Jewish leaders the Nazis were eager to destroy. After the war Mortimer took part in the efforts to establish a Jewish homeland in Israel.

The family sold the mill to the Wayne-Gassard Company of Chattanooga in 1965, operating it for nearly 20 years. They sold it to the Renfro Corporation in the summer of 1983 but slow sales forced Renfro to close it soon after (1985), displacing 147 employees.

Today, the expanse of unrenovated buildings still retains the aura of the hosiery mill. It is currently the headquarters for a variety of enterprises including the Tennessee Repertory Theatre, art and photography studios, video productions, scenic design, drapery fabrication, stained glass manufacturing, food products, and more. (2000)

Nashville on the High Seas

by Billy J. Slate.

The following summary has been gathered from a variety of U.S. government releases and media clippings.

Five ships bearing the name Nashville have plowed the world’s waters. The first, the Confederate steamer Nashville, originally a brig-rigged passenger steamer, was seized at Charleston after the fall of Fort Sumter and fitted out as a cruiser. With a length of 215 feet and a beam of 34 feet 6 inches, she was armed with two 12-pounders and carried a complement of 40. The Nashville ran the Union blockade on October 21, 1861 and was the first warship to fly the Confederate flag in European waters. She returned to Beaufort, North Carolina on February 28, 1862, having captured two prizes valued at $66,000.

Confederate steamer Nashville, 1861 (All photos on this page are in the public domain.)

The Nashville was then turned over to Frazer, Trenholm and Company to whom she had been sold prior to her return. After use as a blockade runner, she was refitted as a Confederate privateer and commissioned on November 5, 1862 as Rattlesnake. The Federals destroyed her in the Ogeechee River, Georgia on February 28, 1863.

Confederate ironclad ram Nashville, 1864

The Confederate ironclad ram, Nashville, was built at Montgomery, Alabama in 1864. She had a length of 271 feet and a beam of 62 feet 6 inches and was armed with three 7-inch rifles and one 24-pound smoothbore. Although never completed, Nashville had been heavily armored with steel plating and, when surrendered to the U.S. Navy, was believed unable to carry her weight of armor. At the close of the Civil War, she was stripped of her armor and sold at auction in New Orleans.

USS Nashville (PG7), commissioned 19 August 1897

USS Nashville (PG7), a gunboat built at Newport News, was launched on October 19, 1895. Sponsored by Maria Guild of Nashville, she was commissioned on August 19, 1897, Washburn Maynard commanding. With a length of 233 feet 8 inches and a beam of 38 feet 1 inch, she was armed with eight .40 caliber guns, two 6-pounders, two 3-pounders, and two 1-pounders.

This famous warship fired the first shot in the Spanish-American War and played a major part in naval operations in the Cuban area. She also helped put down the Philippine Insurrection and the Boxer Rebellion in China. During World War I, USS Nashville escorted convoys in the Mediterranean to and from Europe and North Africa. At the close of the war, she was decommissioned and sold for scrap.

USS Nashville (CL-43), commissioned 6 June 1938

USS Nashville (CL-43), a light cruiser that served with distinction in World War II, was commissioned on June 6, 1938, sponsored by Ann and Mildred Stahlman of Nashville. Her length was 608 feet 4 inches and her beam measured 61 feet 8 inches. She was part of the task force that pulled off the spectacular Doolittle raid on Tokyo in early 1942. She was chosen as the flagship to transport General of the Armies Douglas MacArthur on his famous, triumphant return to the Philippines. The Nashville was hit by a suicide bomber in the Sulu Sea and suffered grave damage and many casualties. At the end of the war, she was decommissioned and sold to the Chilean Navy.

USS Nashville (LPD 13) commissioned 14 February 1970 (2006 photo)

The final ship to bear our city’s name is USS Nashville (LPD-13), one of a class of ships designated Amphibious Transport Dock. Commissioned at Puget Sound Shipyard on February 14, 1970, she is the thirteenth ship of her class. On September 9, 1970 Nashville Mayor Beverly Briley participated in “Mayor Briley Day” aboard the Nashville in Norfolk, Virginia. She is 576 feet 4 3/8 inches in length, with a beam of 84 feet 1/2 inch. Her various assignments have included four Caribbean Amphibious Ready Groups, seven Mediterranean Groups, a Mine Countermeasure Group, and NATO North Atlantic Operations. The Nashville is still in commission and involved in operations contributing to the defense of the United States. (1998)

The Army Air Forces Classification Center

by Kenneth Fieth, Metropolitan Nashville Archivist.

“At long last a use has been found for those extra coat hangers that always fall to the floor,” commented Guy Redmond, Red Cross Field Director, in his plea to Nashvillians in August of 1943 to send their extra hangers to the Army Air Forces Classification Center on Thompson Lane. Some 2,500 were needed. Everything had been planned and considered: housing, hospital, mess halls, roads, sewers, and electricity. Nice new lockers, no hangers. So the call went out to wartime Nashville.

The Army Air Forces Classification Center was brand new in the summer of 1943. As early as the spring of 1942, plans had been underway to build a training center for Army Air Force cadets. The Center was an induction station where cadets were brought for preliminary training, aptitude tests, and physical examinations. They were classified according to their skills and talent and then shipped on for further training. Many became pilots, bombardiers, navigators, and gunners in the war against Germany and Japan.

Postcard of Army Air Force Classification Center (from NHN collection)

The Center eventually encompassed approximately 560 acres along Thompson Lane and Franklin Road. The close proximity of Radnor Yards and the L&N Railroad lines helped win the contract for Nashville. The City Council, in special session, passed resolutions authorizing the city to enter into contracts with the Federal Government to furnish water, electrical power, and sewer facilities for the site.

The local railroads agreed to build spur lines into the facility and Nashville Electric Service made a commitment to bring electric power into the site. To win the $5,000,000 project for Nashville, Mayor Cummings worked successfully with local contractors, businessmen, and the Federal Government. Warfield and Keeble, Foster and Creighton, and other architectural and engineering firms provided the expertise to build the complex. When completed, the complex contained hundreds of buildings, including barracks, mess halls, fire halls, warehouses, recreation halls, several theaters, and a chapel.

At its height, the Center had a staff of 200 officers and 500 enlisted personnel and was the largest of the three Army Air Force centers in operation in the United States. The Center housed, on average, 10,000 soldiers per year.

The Center operated from 1942 until 1944 as a classification center, housing WACs (Women’s Army Corps) and Army Air Corps cadets. In early 1945, the classification center was shut down and a portion of the facility served as a separation center for U.S. Navy personnel. Sailors were sent to the Center for final separation from service and were given orientation on civilian life, proper discharge papers, and transportation to their homes.

The U. S. Government continued to lease the site from the Nashville Public Housing Administration well after the war ended. Finally in 1952, the site was declared surplus and the remaining few veterans and their families were transferred to other posts.

Four local businessmen—Dewitt Carter, R. M. Crichton, A. D. Creighton, and John D. McDougall—purchased approximately 113 acres of the site for $456,000. The Nashville Chamber of Commerce led a campaign to make the site Nashville’s first planned and controlled industrial development area. Consequently, the Suburban Industrial Development Company was formed in 1953 and became known by its acronym, SIDCO. By 1954, SIDCO had plants, warehouses, and small manufacturing shops throughout the area. The buildings used during the war were razed to make way for the new development, which grew rapidly and completed its first 50-acre phase in 1959.

The Sidco area still has the plants, factories, and warehouses that were the excitement of the post-war years in Nashville. The building frenzy continued until nothing of the original Army Air Classification Center was left. Those driving by the area today will not realize that during W.W. II the region between I-65 and the Radnor railyards was home to tens of thousands of American soldiers. (2000)