Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Nashville's Public Square In The 20th Century

R. L. Polk's 1931 Nashville City Directory describes the Public Square as "Bounded by 1st and 3rd avs N at beginning of Victory Blvd (Deaderick) and Cedar (Charlotte)."  The business of the city and county governments took place inside the courthouse, which stood in the center of the square.  The city market house, adjacent to the courthouse was an active place, where many Nashville residents did their grocery shopping. Buildings surrounding the square were busy as well.  The stores sold all sorts of merchandise, including dry goods, hardware, shoes and household wares.

The photo below, made about 1935, shows the public square before major changes that would take place over the next 70 years.

Walter Williams Collection - MNA

The first major change of the Nashville Public Square in the 20th century was on the north side in 1935, when the eastern most block was leveled for the construction of a new City Market House.
This was done at the same time a new courthouse was being constructed in the center of the square.  The new courthouse covered the footprint of both the old courthouse and market house, necessitating the construction of a new market house, across the street and just north of the courthouse. As shown in the photo below, in 1953 several buildings on the northern end of East side were lost to the construction of the Victory Memorial Bridge.

Nashville's Public Square - mid 1950's - MNA

A map of downtown Nashville, shows the public square as it was in about 1952.  Several buildings shown on the map, on the east and west sides of the square were demolished in 1953 and 1955.

Map of Nashville, NPL

In 1955 the Warner, Jungerman & Jeck and Zickler buildings and others on the West side were demolished, to make way for James Robertson Parkway. These buildings were in the block running north from Charlotte.

West side of Public Square, north of Charlotte, Warner, Jungerman & Jeck, and Zickler buildings, MNA

Buildings on the west side of the square, between Deaderick and  Charlotte, were torn down in 1971.

West side of Public Square, south of Charlotte. MNA

In 1970 many of the buildings lining the South side of the Square were torn down. By 1972 all of the South side was removed and buildings on Union Street, once a block away, became the southern perimeter of the Public Square. 

South side of Public Square, MNA

Between 1974 and 1976 the remaining buildings on the East side, including the Neely Harwell Building, were demolished and the street on that side was closed. The street that ran in front of the Courthouse on the South side of the Square was closed and a parking lot was built from the front steps of the Courthouse out to Union Street.

East side of the public square. NPL

 In 1975 the Reeves building on the North side came down. In 1981 only a few old buildings on the square, all on the north side, remained. These last hold-outs on the Public Square were torn down for the construction of the Criminal Justice Center, dedicated in October 1982.

North side of the public square. NPL

The oldest building, other than the Courthouse, remaining today on the public square, built as the Nashville City Market in 1937, is the one which was the beginning of the end for the old square. Known today as the Ben West Municipal Building, the structure is used  by the Davidson County court system.

Ben West Municipal Building, google images.

Change to the public square, did not end in the 21st century.  In 2006, the courthouse and part of the public square underwent a major renovation.  The result was Public Square Park, an updated public event and greenspace area, directly in front of the courthouse. This comparison of the public square in the 1950's and today gives one an idea of the old vs the new.  The building marked with the red X in each view is the Stahlman Building.  Once a block away from the courthouse and separated by rows of buildings, today the Stahlman Building is just across the street.  All of the buildings that bordered the square, in the 1950's are gone, except for the market house.  It is now used by the Davidson County Courts and was renamed, Ben West Municipal Building.

The building marked by the red X in both photos is the Stahlman building.

This record researched and prepared by Debie Cox.
MNA = Metro Nashville Archives
NPL = Nashville Public Library
Originally published June 28, 2005.  Updated January 15, 2015