National Library Week: Libraries Transform – the Past

By , April 11, 2016

This week is National Library Week, and the American Library Association has selected “Libraries Transform” as its theme. While the Nashville Public Library has received widespread recognition in recent years, we have a long history of innovation and outreach to our community.




Books in Schools

As early as 1910 the Nashville Public Library was actively involved in getting books into the hands of children in schools. Mayor Hilary Howse praised the efforts of chief librarian Mary Hannah Johnson, and declared the library to be a “university of the people” for the educational opportunities it provided to all citizens, rich and poor, young and old.


Teenagers at the library in 1960s


Young Modern’s Den

Though it is a far cry from today’s technologically sophisticated Studio NPL and Teen Centers, the Young Modern’s Den of the early 1960s offered both educational resources as well as entertainment. Here, one couple learns to dance, while others take a look at the latest newspapers, enjoy a Coke, or look for sources for a school project.


Bookmobile in rural area



The bookmobile operated as a mini branch library on wheels, serving residents of Davidson County from the early 1940s until 2008. Though it’s hard to believe today, much of the county remained rural for most of the 20th century, and the bookmobile offered important services to those in outlying areas.


Stewardess at Airport Reading Room


Airport Reading Room

The first of its kind in the nation, the Airport Reading Room opened in 1962, though it lasted less than a decade. It provided a space for travelers and airline crews to unwind in between flights, like the stewardess shown here.


Books for checkout at a grocery store



Yet another innovation was the development of the “booketeria” concept – a small collection of books available for self-service checkout at local grocery stores. This 1953 scene is inside Logan’s Super Market in Belle Meade. Library Director Robert Alvarez guides a patron on how to check out a book.


Puppeteer Tom Tichenor


Tom Tichenor

Tom Tichenor is the father of the Nashville Public Library’s tradition of puppetry. In 1938, while a student at Hume-Fogg High School, Tichenor performed “Puss in Boots” for the Children’s Department of the Nashville Public Library. In addition to his long association with the library, lasting 50 years, Tichenor wrote plays and books, performed on television, and was part of the Broadway production of Carnival in New York City.

The tradition of puppetry at the Library lives on through the work of Wishing Chair Productions.

Today’s Library

Today the Nashville Public Library has 21 locations and offers access to more than 2 million items, including e-books and downloadable music and movies. The Library continues to lead in innovative services and programs, garnering national recognition for its Civil Rights RoomLimitless Libraries partnerships with schools, Bringing Books to Life preschool literacy program, and other programs and services. In 2010, NPL received the National Medal for Museum and Library Science – the highest honor given to libraries in the nation.

Participate, Visit, and Learn!

Sign up for a library card.

Find a branch near you.

Check out our events calendar.

Explore a timeline of Nashville Public Library’s history.


Nashville Banner, Feb. 26, 1910.

Nashville Room Historic Photographs Collection, images P-2195; P-2205; P-1184; P-2252; P-2738; held by the Special Collections Division.

Holiday cooking, 1925

By , December 14, 2015

woman at kitchen table with appliances




The holiday season brings with it tables full of home-baked goodness. Cookies, cakes, pies, turkey, ham, potatoes, casseroles – the list is nearly infinite. The next time all the cooking seems to be just too much for you – consider our foremothers a century ago. Most women (and at this time, nearly all the family cooking was performed by females) still cooked with wood- or coal-fired stoves. Consider what a revolution it must have been when electrical appliances came on the market!



 Electricity Means No More Kitchen Drudgery!


billboard promoting electric cooking 1925

This billboard from Nashville Railway and Light showcased the benefits of cooking with electricity, proclaiming “No more kitchen drudgery.” Electric ovens and stoves provided even, precise heat, from a  power source that required no venting to the outside and therefore no-mess from loading up the coal scuttle or wood bin. Other electrical appliances also helped in the kitchen: refrigerators, coffee pots, and toasters, to name just a few.

Cooking School Demonstrations

Nashville Electric Service cooking school

In fact, electric kitchen appliances were such a novelty that Nashville Railway & Light offered weekly cooking schools, beginning in 1925. Led by Miss Doreathea Lutzler, the classes were made more attractive by offering prizes, fresh cooked samples, and recipes. Held in “Electric Hall” at the company headquarters on Church Street (located where the present-day Nashville Public Library is), the classes drew large crowds.

CoffeePotOct25SunTo make the transition to electrical appliances more appealing, the company offered numerous trade-in allowances, like the advertisement at right.

What was a “railway” company doing selling kitchen appliances?

Nashville Railway and Light was incorporated in 1903, uniting the work of Cumberland Electric Light and Power Company, and the Nashville Railway Company. This brought electrical power distribution into NR&L’s hands, and as electrification of homes expanded during the early twentieth century, NR&L often had to tout the benefits of electricity over alternative fuel sources, such as gas or kerosene lighting or wood stoves. The company launched major publicity and educational campaigns to grow their business.

Today it is hard to imagine life without electricity and the conveniences it brings, and harder still to imagine a time when consumers had to be cajoled and persuaded to adopt its use.

Learn more about:

  • how electricity revolutionized women’s lives and housework in the early twentieth century
  • how electrification of streetcar lines transformed Nashville’s landscape
  • how the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and hydroelectric power impacted farming and rural development during the New Deal era

All of these themes and more can be found in the papers of the Nashville Electric Service Public Relations Records in the holdings of the Special Collections Division

You might also enjoy these books:

A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender and Southern Food by Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt

Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote by Janet Theophano

Southern Food: At Home, On the Road, In History by John Egerton

New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Foodways

What is ephemera?

By , October 12, 2015

What is “ephemera”? And how do you pronounce it, anyway? Ephemera (pronounced: “i-FEM-ur-uh”), refers to anything short-lived. Today we may be more familiar with the adjective, “ephemeral,” used to describe fresh-cut flowers, a misty morning, or the rapidly changing colors of a fading sunset. But the noun, used in a library or archives setting, more often refers to two-dimensional objects, usually made out of paper, designed for limited use, often for just one day. It can include items such as tickets, advertising broadsides, performance programs, handbills, and a variety of other items.

In the Special Collections Division at the Nashville Public Library, we use the term a little more broadly, encompassing those materials described above, but also including items that may be more enduring or substantive, such as essays, booklets, promotional literature, catalogs or other materials. In this instance, think of ephemera as a broad “miscellaneous” category. Typically, it is individual items that have come to us in isolation, without any accompanying materials and often no information about the item’s background. It might be a pamphlet someone found at a garage sale; a ticket stub between ancient floorboards; or any number of other items found under various circumstances.

For ease of access, we have grouped these random items into general subject categories, such as Businesses, Schools, Communities (including neighborhoods), Biography, Parks, and innumerable other headings. Let’s take a look at a few examples, to get a better sense of the variety of materials that come under this broad heading of “ephemera.”

Eddie Jones for Mayor, 1987


Eddie Jones for Mayor brochure, 1987

This brochure, from Eddie Jones’ 1987 campaign for mayor outlines his experience and qualifications for the job, his vision for the city, and encourages supporters to get involved in his campaign. He lost the election to Bill Boner. (Source: Biography Ephemera Subject Files).


Community Bridge and Liberation Message, 1972


Cover of Community Bridge magazine 1972

This is the cover from a local publication serving Nashville’s African-American community in the early 1970s. It includes articles about a national meeting of black social workers held in Nashville; the inequitable attention given public works projects in the Music Row area, while neighborhoods in North Nashville needed maintenance and upgrades; and other subjects. Advertisements for black-owned businesses and events of interest to the community are also included. (Source: Black History Ephemera Subject Files).










Nashville Conservatory of Music Recital, 1905


Nashville Conservatory of Music recital program, 1905


As a student at the Nashville Conservatory of Music, Ellen Lovell gave a piano recital on Jan. 27, 1905. This program shows her portrait on the cover, as well as a full listing of the performances and performers at the recital. (Source: Schools Ephemera Subject Files)






Although the majority of materials in the Special Collections Division’s Ephemera holdings date from the 20th century, it’s not uncommon to find items from the 19th century as well.


Fearless Railway Threshing Machines, ca. 1878


Ad for horse powered saw 1878

This illustration is from a catalog brochure for products of the Fearless Railway Threshing Machine Company, dated around 1878. George Stockell was a Nashville dealer who served as an agent of the company, which was headquartered in New York state. Most of the company’s products used literal horse-power, with one or more horses walking on a treadmill-like device to drive gears, belts, and machinery – which included devices like a thresher or a saw. This particular contraption was listed with a retail price of just over $200 – but did not include shipping charges from New York to Nashville. (Source: Businesses Ephemera Subject Files).

The Ephemera Subject Files in the Special Collections Division at the Nashville Public Library contain literally hundreds of documents related to a tremendous variety of subjects relating to Nashville’s history. Search the catalog for “Ephemera Subject Files” to learn more.

- Linda B.


Summer Vacation, 1962

By , August 10, 2015

Cover of 1962 mapCome enjoy a waterfall. Waterski. Catch a whopper or lounge by the pool. Ride horses. Enjoy relaxing in the comfort of an inn, or set up your pop-up camper. It’s summertime, 1962 – and it’s time to enjoy the great outdoors at a Tennessee State Park!

Some Things Never Change

Summertime fun with friends or family never goes out of style, and as the recent award for “Best in the Nation” proves, Tennessee State Parks are still a favorite for vacationers near and far.

This 1962 brochure lists twenty parks. Though Tennessee now boasts over 40 parks, a time traveler from 1962 would have little difficulty joining in on a round of golf, or paddling along a river in a canoe.

But that’s where the similarities might end.


Our time traveler would no doubt get some ribbing for their out-of-date fashion and hairstyles. Tank tops were for men; women wore sleeveless blouses with a wide shoulder area. Shirt colors were kept simple, and men tended toward horizontal stripes or plaids; women had floral or simple designs. Jeans were favored by boys, but were not ubiquitous among men. Women rarely wore jeans or long pants, preferring instead to wear capris or shorts.

Four young women in canoe

Modest two-piece suits were still in fashion for these camp counselors in 1966. Nashville Banner photograph by Tim Hardin.

It was acceptable for ladies to reveal their skin from thighs to feet, and midriff and upper chest, but it was considered racy to show too much close to their bosom or of the upper thigh. Short shorts and mini-skirts had not yet come into fashion. Few men bore tattoos on their body, and for women, it was unheard of. Piercings were exclusive to women’s ears—one piercing only, on the lower lobe of each ear. In fact, ear piercing was still a novelty, and most women wore clip-on earrings.

Hairstyles would be one of the more obvious differences between 1962 and our time. Women’s hairstyles were often “puffy” or in a bouffant style and they would often wear light scarves on their head, even on the hottest days, to keep their hair in place in the wind.

Men, as well as boys, still kept to crew cuts or other very short styles. The Beatles, with their long mops, had yet to make their American debut. However, much to their parents’ chagrin, young men would start letting their hair grow longer to follow this trend in just a few years. Men were usually clean-shaven —- again, a clear contrast to the long sideburns, beards, and mustaches their sons would sport later in the decade.

Fees for park inns, 1962

Overnight Fees

Most parks provided the opportunity to stay overnight, and presented several options: cabins, campsites, and in some cases, inns. In 1962, the going rate for any of these facilities started at less than $10/night. Today, even a camping spot runs $20; a stay at an inn is about $70; and cabins rent for as high as $150 – all of these are comparable rates to commercially-operated hotels or cabin rentals.


In 1962, the interstate highway system was more envisioned than real. Only a small section of I-24 was complete near Cowan and Monteagle, for instance. The highway was not even projected to go north of Nashville. A short section of I-40 went from Nashville west to the Harpeth River, but did not even reach as close as Dickson. For the vacationer of 1962, travel would be along state highways. But even a long road trip along these routes, with the family packed into the station wagon, could still be economical with gasoline costing just 28 cents per gallon. Today’s gasoline prices, gridlocked traffic, and 70 mph speeds on the interstates would no doubt be shocking for a visitor from 1962.

Close up of 1962 map

Note the dotted lines indicating projected construction of interstate highways, and the location of Booker T. Washington State Park in the lower right.


The most noticeable difference experienced by our fictional time traveler would undoubtedly be the dramatic changes in race relations and the wide diversity of our state and city today.

In 1962, segregated parks were the norm. There were just two parks in the state designated for use by African-Americans: Booker T. Washington State Park near Chattanooga, and T.O. Fuller State Park near Memphis. The illustrations on the map hint at this situation, with African-American families portrayed at both of these locations, while whites cover the rest of the map.

Although there had been serious discussions during the 1940s and 1950s of adding more parks for African-Americans, the state was stymied by trying to satisfy “the desires of the Negroes as well as the prejudices of the whites.” In 1954, segregation was upheld by State Parks Director E.C. Tayloe, citing state law: “‘I have no alternative other than to refuse colored citizens the use of our white parks and refuse white citizens the use of our colored parks.’” A few years later, a proposal to sell a portion of T.O. Fuller park land met with dismay from Memphis and State officials, who were concerned that it could upset race relations in Memphis. Apparently the sale was tabled.

Finally, and very quietly, in 1962, Tennessee State Parks were desegregated by executive order of Governor Buford Ellington. No formal written order has been found; apparently Ellington informed the Director of Parks verbally. Superintendents were directed to not interfere if blacks showed up to white parks or vice versa. This change in policy was not announced to the press, in order to “avoid racial incidents.” It may be that this map is the last of its kind, showing state parks in a segregated world.


Original materials from the Special Collections Division:

Parks Ephemera Subject Files (the source of the featured brochure)

Nashville Room Map Collection

Books (Reference Only in Special Collections Division):

A History of State Parks in Tennessee by Bevley R. Coleman, (Ph.D. dissertation, George Peabody College for Teachers, 1963). [Source for information in this post about segregation.]

Joyous Vacation Days in Scenic State of Tennessee, Division of State Information, 1938.

Books (Available for check-out):

Tennessee: A Guide to the State by Federal Writers’ Project (NY: Viking Press, 1939). And a reprint of the same under a different title: The WPA Guide to Tennessee (Knoxville: Univ. of Tenn. Press, 1986).

Browse Tennessee recreation guides at call number 917.68

Travel Tennessee keyword search

Are We There Yet? The Golden Age of American Family Vacations by Susan Sessions Rugh (Lawrence: Univ. Press of Kansas, 2008.)

– Linda


Nashville and Old Glory

By , June 8, 2015

Flag Day (June 14) is just around the corner, and although not as widely observed as other patriotic holidays, it’s a good opportunity to examine Nashville’s unique contribution to flag history by looking at the story of William Driver and the term “Old Glory.”

Photograph of William Driver


William Driver, sea captain, Massachusetts

William Driver was born in 1803 in the sea-faring town of Salem, Massachusetts and ran away to become a cabin boy. By age 21, he was captain of his own ship. His mother and sisters made a United States flag for him to mark the occasion. Seven years later, he was ready to set sail for an around-the-world voyage on the brig, Charles Doggett. This time, the citizens of Salem presented him with a flag that could no doubt be seen at some distance; it measured 10 feet by 17 feet. As it caught the wind, Driver reportedly exclaimed, “I’ll call her Old Glory, boys, Old Glory!” but it would not be until Driver moved to the interior and the nation was rent in two that his name for the flag would gain a wider appreciation.


William Driver in Nashville

Driver moved to Nashville, Tennessee at the end of 1837. A widower, he soon remarried and had a large family. His home was located on the west side of today’s Fifth Avenue South, just a few blocks north of Lafayette Street. On holidays, the large flag would be draped across the street for the entire neighborhood to enjoy.

Old Glory in Civil War Nashville

Then in 1860 came secession fever. The flag of the United States was regarded with hostility. Concerned that someone might steal or desecrate the flag, Driver took it to a friends’ house, where the women sewed it inside a comforter. He returned home, and hid the comforter. More than once, he stood his ground against hostile search parties who came looking for the flag.

In February 1862, after the fall of Fort Donelson, Nashville fell to the Federal army. Driver learned that Union troops would be landing at the wharf, and he rushed to greet them. Members of the 6th Ohio Infantry disembarked and Driver approached their commanding officer, begging to hoist “Old Glory” above the state capitol. Permission was granted, and Driver’s flag was the first United States flag to fly over a former Confederate state capitol.

Image of old tattered flag known as Old Glory


Old Glory – a National Treasure

Much of Driver’s story has been elaborated over the years. Sometimes, it is difficult to know the truthfulness about some of the details associated with him or his flag. However, there is generally universal consensus crediting him with giving the flag the nickname of “Old Glory” and confirming that it flew over the Tennessee capitol (though it was once again removed by Driver for safekeeping shortly thereafter).

Today, Driver’s flag still survives, preserved and cared for by the Smithsonian Institution.

Learn more:

Smithsonian article  about some of the controversy surrounding Driver, his family, and his flags

An up-close video from the Smithsonian Channel

Nashville City Cemetery – William Driver’s last resting place

Nashville Public Library resources (reference only in Special Collections Division):

Old Glory, the True Story by William Driver’s daughter, Mary Jane (Driver)Roland

How the Flag Became Old Glory by Emma Scott

“I’ll Call Her Old Glory, Boys, Old Glory” – a typescript telling Driver’s story – as well as that of a patriotic immigrant from Italy who lived in a house built on the foundation of Driver’s old home.

Nashville Public Library resources (can be checked out):

Nashville, the Occupied City: the First Seventeen Months by Walter Durham

Flag Day books for children.

Other books about the American Flag.

Photo credits: portrait from Old Glory, the True Story; flag from Smithsonian Institution.

- Linda

Historic Nashville Inc. Downtown Survey

By , April 13, 2015

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.

View of front of building, corner of Church St. and 7th Ave. N.

Sometimes there will also be photographs of architectural details, such as these windows.


Photograph of details of windows


Architectural description

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.

Architectural description of building


 Deed Research

The file also includes this sheet, showing property transfers based on research in deed records, dating all the way back to 1845!


Deed research worksheet

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.


Sketch of building plan


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.

Learn more:

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.

- Linda

Nashville & Selma

By , February 9, 2015

Poster for movie Selma

Watching the new movie Selma was like seeing Nashville’s Civil Rights “All Stars”: James Bevel, Diane Nash, C.T. Vivian, John Lewis, Bernard LaFayette are all depicted in the film.

To be sure, the Nashville movement was much larger than these five people. Many others who gained national prominence in the Civil Rights Movement also got their start in Nashville. But they couldn’t have done it alone. Countless ordinary “foot soldiers” – like the mass of marchers in Selma – took part in the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins in 1960, often enduring beatings, arrests, and insults.


James Bevel in1960, at a protest in Nashville

James Bevel at a protest in Nashville, March 1960


What you may not have known – and what is not shown in the film – is that former Nashville activist, James Bevel, first proposed the Selma-to-Montgomery march. Prompted by the cold indifference of Alabama governor George Wallace to the killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson by state troopers, Bevel said:

“I’m going to go and talk to Wallace, and I’m going to walk all the way from Selma to Montgomery, because I want to think about what I want to say to him…. How many people you think … [will] walk with me?”

Listen to this excerpt of an oral history interview with Bernard LaFayette, where he tells more about Bevel’s role in initiating the march.


LaFayette on Bevel and Selma march

LaFayette on Bevel and Selma march


The Nashvillians portayed in Selma could march forward without fear, because they had already endured so much. They were, in the strongest sense of the word, veterans. In 1961, when some of them – including Diane Nash and John Lewis – left Nashville for Alabama to ensure that the Freedom Rides continued, they quite consciously knew they were risking death. These courageous men and women, most of them in their early twenties, made sure they had made out their wills before leaving town.

Now, it was four years later, and the Civil Rights campaign had focused on Selma. People who had gotten their training in non-violent protest in Nashville during the sit-ins were again at the forefront, and they were still risking their lives.

Learn more:


The Children by David Halberstam (tells the story of the Nashville sit-ins)

Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Raymond Arsenault

In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma by Bernard LaFayette [Library Use Only]

Cradle of Freedom: Alabama and the Movement That Changed America by Frye Gaillard [Library Use Only]


Nashville: We Were Warriors [available for individual viewing in the Main Library's Civil Rights Room]

Freedom Riders

4 Little Girls [Library Use Only]

Selma the City and the Symbol [Library Use Only]

Home of the Brave [Library Use Only]

Primary sources at Nashville Public Library:

Civil Rights Oral History Project

Civil Rights Collection

Civil Rights topics in our Digital Collections 

– Linda

Discovering The War of the Rebellion: The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies

By , December 8, 2014
Train station in foreground with Tennessee capitol building in background, 1864

Nashville, 1864. From Library of Congress.


Chances are, the Civil War Battle of Nashville was omitted from your high school history books. Maybe you never knew that a large battle was fought here, involving two major armies and hundreds of thousands of men. Or perhaps you’re familiar with the battle and have read several general works, but crave more detail. With the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Nashville approaching on Dec. 15-16, now is a good time to explore an essential Civil War resource.


The War of the Rebellion: The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, more commonly known as the Official Records or even more simply, the “OR” is a treasure trove of detail. First published in 1880, this multi-volume set contains thousands of battle reports, orders, and accounts of activities of both Union and Confederate armies, from all geographic areas.


Civil War buffs can get a “boots on the ground” perspective of the action straight from the commanders’ pens. Local historians can learn more about a skirmish that took place for control of a nearby railroad bridge, or guerrilla activity in the countryside.  Genealogists can learn about great-grandpa’s regiment – or on rare occasions, even find him mentioned by name!

The ORs are also available online and are keyword searchable. Although their online format makes access convenient, it can also be problematic when a search provides an enormous quantity of matches that are difficult to sort through. Using the hard copy books, with their indices, can at times be a more efficient way to find the information that you seek.


Organization of the Official Records

Let’s break it down into its main method of arrangement.

♦ Series

♦ Volumes

♦ Parts


Spines of books showing Series labels

There are four “Series” to the OR’s.

Series I. Military Operations (which contains the largest quantity of material)

Series II. Prisoners of War

Series III. Miscellaneous Union correspondence

Series IV. Miscellaneous Confederate correspondence


After identifying the Series, you locate the Volume. Note that Volumes sometimes may be broken down into subsequent “Parts.” Think of a “Part” as literally being a part of a Volume that was simply too big to be bound together in one giant book.


Spines of books showing numbered Parts of a Volume


So, with this basic orientation, let’s work through an example.


Step 1 – Consult “General Index”

Index to the Official Records book

Begin by consulting the “General Index” – the last book in the entire set. Say I want to learn more about Samuel J. Churchill. The reference in the index is: “I, 45.”


This is referring to Series I, Volume 45.


Step 2 – Consult back-of-the-book index in each Part of the Volume of interest

Knowing that there may be multiple Parts to a Volume, check all indices in the back of the book for all Parts.

In the case of Series I, Volume 45, there are two Parts. This means I’m going to check the index in two separate books.

In the index of Part I, I find an entry for an otherwise unidentified “Churchill.” This might be of interest, and should be pursued, but for the sake of my example, I’m only going to investigate direct mentions of Samuel J. Churchill. There is an entry for him in Part I, directing me to page 492.




I’ll also want to check the Part II index, because there may be references to him there as well. In this instance, there is not an entry for him in Part II, so that makes our job simple.

Let’s check out that reference to him in Part I.


Step 3 – Follow the reference given in the back-of-the-book index to the appropriate page.

Let’s go to page 492 in Part I.

Here, we find an account of Corpl. Samuel J. Churchill’s heroic actions at the Battle of Nashville:



Corpl. Samuel J. Churchill… commanding one gun detachment [of Battery G, 2nd Illinois Light Artillery] is highly commended for distinguished bravery displayed on the first day. At a time when two of the enemy’s batteries opened upon his guns, compelling for a short time the men of his detachment to seek the protection of the ground, this young soldier stood manfully up to his work, and for some minutes worked his gun alone.


With further research in other sources, we might soon learn that Churchill was later awarded the Medal of Honor in 1897. This report in the OR provided key evidence, and was instrumental in his receiving the award.



The ORs are an essential source for any type of detailed Civil War research. Convenient indices provide a step-by-step process to obtain detailed information on individuals, officers, regiments, battles, and even small skirmishes at tiny crossroads villages.

Further Sources:

Two smaller works can provide assistance in using the ORs:

A User’s Guide to the Official Recordsby Alan C. and Barbara A. Aimone provides a solid overview of how the published OR’s came about, how to use them, and a large bibliography.

Lawrence M. Jarratt has made it easier for all Tennesseans to know more about their particular community in the Civil War. Although compiled in 1986, long before the internet and keyword searching, his A Complete County by County Guide to Civil War Battles, Actions, Engagements, Skirmishes, Affairs, Reconaissances, Expeditions, Scouts and Camps in Tennessee makes it possible for one to easily find accounts in the Official Records about actions in particular locales.

William Eichbaum’s Sketchbook of Nashville

By , October 13, 2014

Photograph of William Eichbaum, circa 1868

He has a grim appearance. Sunken cheeks, deep eyes, prominent nostrils, and a firm, thin mouth. A bit like Phantom of the Opera. William Eichbaum doesn’t look like someone you’d enjoy meeting. In fact, I would probably cross the street to avoid him. But it would be my loss if I chose to do so.

Eichbaum was the son of German parents, but was born in Ireland in 1787. He immigrated to the United States around 1820, and soon thereafter settled in Nashville, marrying Catherine Stearns in 1825. In the 1830s, he opened the Nashville Bookstore on College Street (now Third Avenue N.), and built the first brick house on what is now Seventh Avenue. He was very involved in various civic activities and organizations, was a charter member of the Tennessee Historical Society, served as treasurer of the Mt. Olivet Cemetery Company, and was an active member of the Christian Church. His obituary in January 1873 declared: “he was seldom seen at home without a book in his hand.”

Turns out, he’s my kind of guy.

Buildings of Nashville

First Presbyterian Church pen and ink drawing by William Eichbaum

First Presbyterian Church

I’m even more certain of this fact when I look at the pen and ink wash drawings he did of various buildings around Nashville in the 1850s.

Some are still easily recognizable, like the downtown First Presbyterian Church, designed in the Egyptian revival style by William Strickland.  Now known as Downtown Presbyterian, the building can still be seen at the corner of Fifth Avenue North and Church Street.

Pen and ink drawing of Davidson County, Tenn. Court House circa 1856

Davidson County Court House, Public Square




Others are of buildings long gone, including a few that were lost to fire in Eichbaum’s lifetime, such as the Davidson County Court House (1830-1856).



Pen and ink map of Nashville in 1804 by William Eichbaum

Nashville in 1804


Some of the more fascinating materials include hand-drawn maps of Nashville – one from 1804 based upon “notes of an intelligent resident at the time” and a contrasting map from 1854, showing the growth of the city in the course of fifty years.

Eichbaum’s sketchbook contains a total of twenty-seven highly detailed drawings. In a time when photography had not yet entered the mainstream, this resource provides an incomparable view of Nashville in the 1850s. Some images may be the only ones that exist of some of these buildings.

Viewing the Sketchbook

View online: Eichbaum’s entire sketchbook is available online as part of the Library’s Digital Collections, with the capability to zoom in for detailed close study. View the sketchbook.

View color copies in person: Due to the extreme fragility of the original, only color copies of the sketchbook are available for research use in person at the Special Collections Division.

The Special Collections Division is open during regular library hours on the second floor of the Main Library downtown, or call us at 615-862-5782 for more information on our holdings.

(Photograph: William Eichbaum, circa 1868 from Nashville Room Historic Photo Collection, P-2129)

– Linda

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