The Third Coast: Nashville history and trivia

The Third Coast Union Station Hotel

Long before the arts population inspired the name the Third Coast, Nashville’s Union Station Hotel was at the center of bustling railway activity. (Photo Credit: Tom Stanford/The Tennessean)

With it’s rich history in music and arts it’s no surprise that Nashville’s earned the nickname “The Third Coast”. But that’s not all the trivia DealChicken’s dug up as he’s hunted and pecked around the city for the best daily deals. Here’s a bit of Nashville history and facts that even your favorite fine-feathered know-it-all didn’t know until recently.

Tennessee has served as the setting for many Hollywood films, earning the city the nickname “The Third Coast.” Sharp-eyed locals have noted some surprising geography in “The Thing Called Love,” starring Sandra Bullock, Samantha Mathis, Dermot Mulroney, River Phoenix and K.T. Oslin as the fictitious owner of the very real and much-revered Bluebird Cafe. In the film, the Bluebird, a Nashville landmark located in Green Hills, appeared to be across the street from the Drake Motel, where Samantha Mathis’ character stayed upon arriving in Nashville. In reality, that motel is located clear across town on Murfreesboro Road.

The historic Maxwell House hotel, which was located at Fourth Avenue and Church Street, was one of the city’s finest hotels. It welcomed such high-profile guests as Buffalo Bill, Thomas Edison and at least seven U.S. presidents, including Teddy Roosevelt, who visited in 1907 and is rumored to have called the hotel’s coffee “good to the last drop.” Sadly, the hotel burned down on Christmas night, 1961.

The Union Station Hotel, located downtown on Broadway, is one of Nashville’s most lauded historical structures. With its Gothic design and castle-like architecture, it was at one time a bustling center of railway activity. The station opened, to considerable fanfare, on Oct. 9, 1900. At the time, the train shed was the nation’s largest unsupported span and could house 10 trains at one time, and a few may remember the two alligator ponds on the track level. The decline of train travel required a re-purposing of the building, and Union Station opened as a hotel in late 1986.

The Tennessee State Capitol is a regal presence in the Metro Nashville skyline. Designed by William Strickland, the structure took 14 years to build and was completed in 1859. Strickland, who died in 1854, is entombed above the cornerstone, but he’s not alone. President and Mrs. Polk are also buried on the capitol grounds. And history buffs, mark your calendars: The time capsule buried on the grounds in 1927 will be unearthed and opened in 2027.

The Dutchman’s Curve disaster, which took place in West Nashville’s Sylvan Park area in 1918, remains the deadliest train wreck in American history. The accident, which killed 101 and injured more than 100, occurred when two trains traveling at high speeds collided head on, causing what nearby residents described as the worst sound they’d ever heard. The site of the wreck is commemorated with a historical marker on the Richland Creek Greenway.

Adelicia Acklen’s Belmont Mansion was originally built as a summer home for her and her husband, Col. Joseph Acklen. Though they eventually took to living there nearly year-round, it was the midnight parties Adelicia threw during the hottest months of the year that were noteworthy. Due to Nashville’s warm summer climate, Acklen hosted parties starting at 11 p.m. on full-moon nights, and she had pitchers of water with ice cubes—a sign of wealth—for her guests to sip on while enjoying a respite from the heat of the day.

Listen up! Nashville, being Music City, has always demanded the finest in music listening. Fittingly, the city was granted the nation’s first commercial FM radio broadcasting license in 1941, rendering Nashville airwaves static-free and music-filled.

Nashville’s Parthenon, first built for the Centennial Exposition in 1897, is a full-scale replica of Greece’s ancient structure. The only thing setting Nashville’s Parthenon apart from Greece’s was Athena, or the lack thereof. In 1982, Nashville artist Alan LeQuire was commissioned to create the statue of Athena, who now greets—and stuns—all who visit. Taking eight years to build, the 41-foot-10-inch, golden-gilded goddess weighs in at approximately 12 tons.

The Union Gospel Tabernacle, completed in 1892, was renowned for its impeccable acoustics, garnering it the unofficial title "The Carnegie Hall of the South.” The facility’s main benefactor was a riverboat captain by the name of Tom Ryman, and, upon his passing, the facility’s name was changed to Ryman Auditorium in his honor. The Grand Ole Opry called the Ryman home for thirty years, but after the weekly show moved to its current location, the historic structure fell into disrepair. It was restored in the mid-1990s, and today the Ryman still serves up top-billing concerts, which, for many, are near-religious experiences.

The old Tennessee State Penitentiary off Briley Parkway closed in 1992, to be replaced by the newer, more up-to-date Riverbend Maximum Security Institution. The formidable Gothic castle, though, found more popularity after closing, serving as the setting for, most notably, “The Green Mile,” starring Tom Hanks. The building is rumored to be haunted and, with its history of jail breaks, violence and harrowing prisoner accounts, it’s not hard to believe.

Already a pro at the trivia of the Third Coast? Then check out DealChicken’s round up of the Triad trivia.