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
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.
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).
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)