Historic Nashville, Inc., (HNI) documents and preserves the cultural, historical, and architectural heritage of Nashville. HNI has been instrumental in saving some of Nashville’s most iconic and historic buildings, like Union Station and the Ryman Auditorium, and can be credited with jump-starting the revitalization of downtown in the early 1980s.
Historic Nashville Inc. Downtown Survey
One of HNI’s projects, undertaken around 1980, is the Historic Nashville Inc. Downtown Survey. Today, this is a popular resource for individuals researching downtown building histories. It contains information on over 250 buildings in an area generally bounded by the Cumberland River on the east; by 10th Avenue to the west; by the State Capitol at the north; and by Demonbreun Street on the south. The origins of the project are not clear, but generally the focus seems to be on buildings that were 50 years old or older and still standing in 1980.
Many buildings remain familiar parts of the downtown landscape: historic churches like Downtown Presbyterian or St. Mary’s; hotels like the Hermitage Hotel; or iconic buildings still bearing their original names, if not their original use, such as the American Trust building, Southern Turf, or the Silver Dollar Saloon. Other buildings include less well-known structures, though ones you still may pass every day, like the Berger Building or the Weil Block. Yet others have been torn down in the decades since 1980, and this collection is especially useful for the documentation it provides on these sites.
Each file typically includes three types of materials: photographs taken of the building’s exterior in 1980; an architectural description; and a compiled listing of deed and/or city directory research for the individual property.
627-631 Church Street and Candyland
Let’s take a look at one of the files. I’ve chosen Property #101, for the address of 627-631 Church Street, part of the block where the Nashville Public Library is located today.
Most structures will have a photograph of the front of the building, taken from street level.
Sometimes there will also be photographs of architectural details, such as these windows.
The survey provides a detailed description of the architectural features of the structure. The compiler also noted interior use and layout, and condition of the building.
The file also includes this sheet, showing property transfers based on research in deed records, dating all the way back to 1845!
The researcher in this case also added a sketch of the property and adjacent lots that were described in the will of George W. Smith in 1885.
Not all of the properties covered in the Downtown Survey have as much detail; some have less, some have more. But this should serve as an introduction to this collection if you wish to know more about historic buildings downtown.
View the list of properties included in the survey, arranged by address, or read the formal finding aid which provides an overview.
See what other collections or materials we have that were produced by Historic Nashville, Inc.
Historic Nashville Inc Downtown Survey – Property 101 (pdf)
View selected photographs from a related collection, the HNI Sacred Sites Survey Project. This project was conducted from 1999-2003, and documented local churches that were fifty years old or older.