Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park – a 19-acre celebration of the land, people and music of Tennessee – will mark its 25th anniversary on Tuesday.
âIt’s a living history book,â said Berdelle Campbell, 93, who lived in Germantown throughout the construction of the park in the early 1990s. âIt’s better than any museum. . â
Designed and built over the past 18 years, the park is a feat of design and construction executed during two administrations of governors from different parties, Governor Ned McWherter and Governor Don Sundquist.
Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park opened on June 1, 1996, marking the 200th anniversary of Tennessee’s independence. Today, a team of eight rangers manage the park, led by park manager Jerry Wooten. Attracting over 2.5 million visitors each year, the park is the most visited of Tennessee’s 56 state parks.
âVisitors who come here not knowing anything about this place, they’re going to be able to leave here inspired that they went to Tennessee,â Wooten said.
Thirty years ago, the terrain where the park is located was not picturesque. Just south of Jefferson Street stood the old farm sheds of the Nashville Farmers’ Market. At the corner of Jefferson and Eighth Avenue North was a seedy grocery store. Parking lots for state employees choked the back slope of Capitol Hill.
“It was scary. It was a series of dilapidated buildings, garbage. There was a flea market, âsaid Campbell, who worked at the Cordell Hull State Office Building as a statistician. âI walked to work every day with my finger on my mass cartridge. I never felt threatened, but I was prepared.
But unlike other areas of the city, the view of the State Capitol from the north remained unobstructed. Germantown residents – including Aladdin Industries executives Victor Johnson and John Bridges – believed an unobstructed view should be preserved.
In 1992, as Tennessee prepared to celebrate its 200th anniversary, the government of the day. Ned McWherter appointed the Tennessee Bicentennial Commission to oversee planning for the statewide bicentennial celebration in 1996.
As state officials mulled over ways to celebrate the bicentennial, an idea formed to transform the land north of the Capitol into a green space. McWherter received at least five visions for a green space north of the Capitol before Johnson presented his vision to build a Capitol shopping center for the bicentennial celebration, according to Jerry Preston, who oversaw the project as deputy commissioner in the ministry. of Finance and Administration.
Previously, the state had planned to build a huge office space at the back of Capitol Hill, passing through James Robertson Parkway and spanning the CSX railroads that ran through the area. The Department of Environment and Conservation had carried out an archaeological study of the earth’s history – a 2-inch-thick information binder.
âThe state had quietly bought plots here for new office buildings,â recalls Kem Hinton of Tuck-Hinton Architects, who became the project’s lead architect. Hinton had worked with the state on several projects, including the Performing Arts Center and Tennessee State University Student Center.
A team trained to lead the work on the project: Tuck-Hinton Architects, SSOE Inc. Engineers and Ross Fowler Landscape Architects. Preston installed a planning room on the 17th floor of the James K. Polk building with different space proposals on the walls.
âI remember the first meeting we had with Governor McWherter,â Hinton said. “When we spoke with him, he said ‘Kenny’, he said – a huge guy, a big guy – ‘Kenny, I don’t want to be late.'”
Tennessee’s centennial celebration was celebrated a year later in 1897 because Centennial Park was not completed on time. On the imminent June 1, 1996, work on the project began.
A celebration of Tennessee
Much effort went into designing the space not just as a park, but as a celebration of the whole state that every county could be a part of.
âIt had to be interesting and fun to visit, and about the history of Tennessee,â Hinton said. “Without it, people can come and play ball and have fun, but it’s just a park that will serve this area.”
Hinton and the design cohort traveled across the state from Memphis to eastern Tennessee, meeting people and gathering feedback on what the park should include. After interviews in the state, the team identified a theme for the park: the land, the people, and the music of Tennessee.
âYou need a place to play. And you need a place to remember how beautiful our state is, the vegetation, âHinton recalls. âAnd even though it’s in Davidson County, that represents 94 other counties. We need the county’s involvement – why don’t we bury time capsules? “
Opposite the Capitol is a huge granite map of Tennessee. Beyond are fountains and a Tennessee Waters Tribute Wall.
âYou go to Arizona or Colorado or places like that, and you realize how blessed we are,â Hinton said. “The water has a lot to do with how quickly Tennessee was colonized.”
On the west side, a timeline of Tennessee history runs the length of the park. The timeline shatters in the Civil War. On the east side is a celebration of the plants and trees that grow in every part of the state.
At the north end, a large carillon with 95 bells representing the 95 counties of Tennessee plays Tennessee music to mark every quarter of an hour. A 96th carillon bell sits on Capitol Hill, just west of the Capitol, to signify the state’s listening and response to the counties.
Bring the vision to life
In 1993, the Bicentennial Mall team met with McWherter and constitutional officials for final approval.
âI have to present the plan,â Hinton said. âIn the end, Senator (Douglas) Henry almost went mad. He just stood up and said, âThis is fabulous! As we walked out, Jerry Preston grabbed my arm and said, âYou don’t know how precious this is. If he’s excited, it will happen. “
Henry, D-Nashville, and Senator Thelma Harper, D-Nashville, were instrumental in securing legislative approvals for the project.
Hinton believed it was important to set up roundabouts to prevent large trucks from entering the area.
âWe approached Public Works and I showed them these roundabouts. There were no roundabouts in Nashville, and the guy from Public Works said, “We don’t do roundabouts,” Hinton said. âThe state has therefore taken to the road again. If you look at a property map of this property, Fifth Avenue to Eighth Avenue, James Robertson Parkway to Jefferson Street, that’s a parcel. Just for those roundabouts.
Otherwise, the state’s collaboration with the City of Nashville and then-mayor Phil Bredesen went well, Preston recalled.
âIt was hand in hand,â Preston said. “Mayor Bredesen certainly agreed.”
The farmers market has moved to its current location on the west side of the mall. The state worked with the CSX Railroad to raise the track onto a trestle to allow pedestrians to cross the area directly. The grocery store – a Kroger – was moved further down Eighth Avenue.
âUnderlying was the prospect that everyone knew it was the right thing to do,â Preston recalled. âThey knew we had to get there. It was the determining factor of many things.
Construction continued when Sundquist took over in 1995.
Campbell, walking to work each morning to the Cordell Hull building, made a detour around the construction area to observe the park’s progress.
âI was walking on my way to work. I approached as close as I dared until someone yelled at me, “You’re going to the helmet area!” “And I would stop and go the other way,” recalls Campbell. âThey finally decided to give me my own helmet. I was there almost every day during its construction.
New additions and “more to come”
In April 1996, a delegation from each of Tennessee’s 95 counties came to the park to bury time capsules in graves on the east side. At the time, it was the largest time capsule burial on record. On June 1, 1996, Tennessee’s 200th anniversary, the park opened to the public.
While many of the main elements of the park were completed at the time, many more were added.
A World War II memorial – featuring an engraved 8-ton granite globe – was unveiled in 1997. The globe, made in Germany, is the largest engraved globe in the world, continuously rotating atop a nozzle that sprays five horsepower of water.
The carillon was inaugurated in 2000. Since then, the new facility at the Tennessee State Museum and, recently, the State Library & Archives have drawn new crowds to the area.
âThe state followed. I mean, they’ve followed all the elements of the mall, and now they’ve followed the State Museum, and they’ve followed the Library and the Archives, and more is to come, âPreston said. âIt’s just great that, you know, it can go from just a thought to all of these things. “