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A Nashville Morning Trip 6/25/2017

by Chris Guenzler

We got up and left the Days Inn at 6:15 AM and drove into downtown Nashville to visit the State Capitol building of Tennessee.

Out in front was a statue of Edward Carmack.

The Tennessee State Captiol building. From here, we made our way over to Nashville Union Station which is now a hotel.

Nashville Union Station History

Nashville's Union Station is a former railroad terminal, now hotel, opened in 1900 to serve the passenger operations of the eight railroads then providing passenger service to Nashville, Tennessee. Built just to the west of the downtown area, its design placed it to the east and above a natural railroad cut through which most of the tracks of the area were routed which was spanned by a viaduct adjacent to the station. The station was also served by streetcars prior to their discontinuance in Nashville in 1941.

The hotel became affiliated with Autograph Collection Hotels in 2012 and completed a full renovation of all guest rooms and public space in 201.

History and architecture

The station is an example of late-Victorian Romanesque Revival architecture and is highly castellated. The tower originally contained an early mechanical digital clock; when replacement French silk drive belts proved unavailable during World War I, it was replaced by a traditional analog clock. The tower was originally topped by a bronze statue of the Roman god Mercury; this was toppled in a storm in 1951, but would be replaced in future years. When a new Main Post Office was built in Nashville in 1935, it was located adjacent to Union Station. A connecting passageway between the two served to transport mail to and from trains for over three decades.

The station reached peak usage during World War II when it was the shipping-out point for tens of thousand of U.S. troops and the site of a USO canteen. It started a long decline shortly thereafter as passenger rail service in the U.S. generally went into decline. By the 1960s it was served by only a few trains daily. Much of its open spaces were roped off and its architectural features became largely the habitation of pigeons. The formation of Amtrak in 1971 reduced service to the northbound and southbound Floridian train between Chicago and St. Petersburg and Miami branches each day. When this service was discontinued in October 1979, the station was abandoned entirely.


The station fell into the custody of the United States Government's General Services Administration, which struggled for years to find a viable redevelopment plan as the station declined further. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and had a tremendous sentimental appeal to many Nashvillians who categorically rejected any redevelopment plans which did not involve the retention of the main terminal building. In the early 1980s a group of investors came forward with a plan to finance the renovation of the station into a luxury hotel which was approved.

The hotel plan was based around the use of "junk bond" financing; the interest payments required were so severe that the hotel would require 90% occupancy at an average room rate of $135/night to break even. This was not supportable in the 1980s Nashville hotel market and the initial investors soon found the project to be bankrupt. Many feared that this meant that the station was doomed; however, the new investor group who bought the hotel out of bankruptcy were able to operate it profitably because they had a much lower cost basis in it and were not forced to charge such exorbitant room rates or project such a high occupancy rate. By the mid-1990s they had restored Mercury to his place atop the tower, albeit in a two-dimensional form painted in trompe l'oeil style to replicate the original. This was destroyed in the 1998 downtown Nashville tornado but was soon replaced.

More problematic was the attempt to find a modern use for the massive train shed adjacent to the terminal building, where the passengers actually met the trains. The structure, said to be the largest of its kind in the world and an engineering masterpiece, continued to deteriorate as its fate was debated. Plans, including those involving raising it up to the level of the surrounding street (from the cut level) and making it into a farmers' market, never came to fruition. The structure was eventually demolished in late 2000 after a fire damaged the shed, and no viable preservation alternatives were identified. Its design had been carefully recorded.


As of May 2016, the station is a part of Marriott International's Autograph Collection Hotels. The "AAA Four Diamond Award" hotel offers 125 re-imagined and luxuriously appointed rooms, including 17 suites.

Nashville Union Station.

There are also two passenger cars here, formerly VIA Rail.

The inside of this beautiful restored station that was the topic of our NRHS Banquet speaker. From here, we drove to Centennial Park for our next stop on this early morning.

A Brief History of NC&StL 4-8-4 576

Engine 576 was built by the American Locomotive Company in August 1942, a class J-3, builder #69786. Designed by C.M. Darden, the NC's Chief Mechanical Officer, the J3's were a technological marvel marvel of their day. The one piece cast frame and sealed roller bearings on the engine were revolutionary in reducing maintenance costs for the road. And the lateral motion devices on the lead driver set allowed a much larger, and more powerful, engine to be used on the NC's tight curves.

The Whyte system classification for steam engines calls 576 a 4-8-4. Four wheels on the leading trucks, eight drivers, and four wheels on the trailing truck. Most railroads called their 4-8-4s "Northerns" after the Northern Pacific Railroad, who first adopted the design. However, the NC&StL went to and from Dixieland, so no "Northerns" would be welcome on the line. Instead, the 4-8-4s were called "Dixies." In practice, the crews called the engines "Yellow Jackets" or "Stripes."

As delivered, the 576 had a streamlined nose and wide skirts. However, during the Second World War, shop crews cut off the streamlining to make servicing the engine faster and easier.

When the engines were streamlined, the crews called them "Yellow Jackets" for the broad yellow stripe on their sides. When the wide stripe was removed after the skirts were gone, they were called "Stripes" for the thin line of paint that replaced the wide stripe.

After the traffic surge died down from the Second World War, and traffic died down, the J3's were bumped from prime service spots to lesser passenger and freight trains. Eventually, by September 2 1952, all of the J3's were withdrawn from service. All of them except 576 were scrapped. The only surviving example of mainline NC&StL steam, J3-57 class locomotive 576 has been on static display in Centennial Park.

Restoration of NC&StL 576 is in the works!

Now let's look at this beautiful example of a Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis 4-8-4 576.

Views of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis 4-8-4 576. From here, we drove over to the Parthenon which I had promised my kids and teachers at Heninger Elementary School that I would photograph it since it plays a part in the movie they see after they read the book "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief".

The Parthenon

The Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee is a full-scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens. It was built in 1897 as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition.

Today the Parthenon, which functions as an art museum, stands as the centerpiece of Centennial Park, a large public park just west of downtown Nashville. Alan LeQuire's 1990 re-creation of the Athena Parthenos statue is the focus of the Parthenon just as it was in ancient Greece. The statue of Athena Parthenos within is a reconstruction of the long-lost original to careful scholarly standards: she is cuirassed and helmeted, carries a shield on her left arm and a small 6-foot-high statue of Nike (Victory) in her right palm, and stands 42 feet high, gilt with more than 8 pounds of gold leaf; an equally colossal serpent rears its head between her and her shield. Since the building is complete and its decorations were polychromed (painted in colors) as close to the presumed original as possible, this replica of the original Parthenon in Athens serves as a monument to what is considered the pinnacle of classical architecture. The plaster replicas of the Parthenon Marbles found in the naos (the east room of the main hall) are direct casts of the original sculptures which adorned the pediments of the Athenian Parthenon, dating back to 438 BC. Many fragments of the originals are housed in the British Museum in London; others are at the Acropolis Museum in Athens.


Nashville's moniker, the "Athens of the South", influenced the choice of the building as the centerpiece of the 1897 Centennial Exposition. A number of buildings at the Exposition were based on ancient originals, however the Parthenon was the only one that was an exact reproduction. It was also the only one that was preserved by the city, although the Knights of Pythias Pavilion building was purchased and moved to nearby Franklin, Tennessee.

Major Eugene Castner Lewis was the director of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition and it was at his suggestion that a reproduction of the Parthenon be built in Nashville to serve as the centerpiece of Tennessee's Centennial Celebration. Mr. Lewis also served as the chief civil engineer for the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad. Originally built of plaster, wood, and brick, the Parthenon was not intended to be permanent, but the cost of demolishing the structure combined with its popularity with residents and visitors alike resulted in it being left standing after the Exposition. In 1895 George Julian Zolnay was "employed to make models for the ornamentation" for the building. Within the next 20 years, weather had defaced the landmark; it was then rebuilt on the same foundations, in concrete, in a project that started in 1920; the exterior was completed in 1925 and the interior in 1931.

Some of the most elaborate events that occurred at the Parthenon were the Spring Pageants of 1913 and 1914. These extravaganzas were theatrical productions on a massive scale. With casts of up to 500, the Pageants brought in audiences from surroundings states and rail prices were lowered to encourage attendance. The entire city of Nashville reveled in the opportunity to celebrate the "Athens of the South." The 1913 performance was entitled The Fire Regained, a play written by Sidney Mttron Hirsch, and featured a mythological storyline enhanced by theatrical spectacle popular in that era. The 1914 production, "The Mystery at Thanatos," had a similarly mythological plot, but was shorter and better received. A copy of the script is on file at the Nashville Public Library. The most impressive thing about these Pageants was the incredible use of visual spectacle. Both shows featured impressive displays ranging from chariot races to huge dance numbers to thousands of live birds to set pieces that shot flames, all set against the backdrop of the majestic Nashville Parthenon.

As an art museum, the Parthenon's permanent collection is a group of 63 paintings by 19th- and 20th-century American artists donated by James M. Cowan. Additional gallery spaces provide a venue for a variety of temporary shows and exhibits.

In the summertime, local theatre productions use the building as a backdrop for classic Greek plays such as Euripides' Medea and Sophocles' Antigone, performing (usually for free) on the steps of the Parthenon. Other performances, such as Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses, have been done inside, at the foot of Athena's statue.

It contains a replica, completed in 1990, of the Athena Parthenos statue which was in the original Parthenon in Athens.

The Parthenon got a full makeover in 2002 with a much needed cleaning and restoration to the exterior. The exterior lighting was upgraded to allow the columns of building to be illuminated with different colors than the facade, allowing a uniquely versatile display of effects for events.

In popular culture

The Parthenon served as the location for the political rally in the climactic scene of Robert Altman's 1975 film Nashville. It was also used as a backdrop for the battle against the Hydra in the 2010 film Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. It features in the title and lyrics of the song Nashville Parthenon from the album Etiquette, by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. It was used in the 2000 PBS series Greeks: Crucible of Civilization.

Now let's take a look at this replica of that famous Greek building.

The Parthenon looked absolutely radiant in the bright morning sunshine. We met a dog walker who then told us another great shot was across the lake. We thanked him and drove over to the lake to find a fantastic photo spot.

The views across the lake of that famous Parthenon in Nashville Centennial Park. Satisfied, we drove back to the Waffle House to have another fantastic breakfast. Bob realized, or he thought, he had lost his cell phone in the bathroom at Nashville Union Station. So we drove back over there but he had no luck finding it, until he looked on the floor of the back seat of the car and found it. Well, this is okay because now we are going to get more pictures of Union Station and might even see a train or two. So we drove over to the bus station parking lot and since it was a Sunday morning and nobody cares, we parked there for just a few minutes to capture more views of Union Station.

Another view of the two passenger cars.

Nashville Union Station.

CSX ES44AH 3123 and CSX AC4400CW 78 on a eastbound stack train.

Nashville Union Station once more.

CSX 3123 East near Nashville Union Station at the crew change point.

The train and Nashville Union Station.

CSX ES44AH 3102.

CSX 3102 are the DPUs for an unknown eastbound CSX freight.

CSX 3123 East leaves Nashville behind. We returned to the Days Inn and relaxed before I drove Bob and Elizabeth back to the Nashville Airport for their flight home to Seattle. From here, I will drive north to Bowling Green, Kentucky to visit the Bowling Green Historic Railpark and Train Museum, my last thing I will do on this trip.