The Parthenon (Centennial Park, 2600 West End Ave., 615/862-8431, Tues.–Sat. 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m., Sun. June–Aug. only 12:30–4:30 p.m., adults $5, seniors and children $2.50) has three gallery spaces; the largest is used to display works from its permanent collection of 63 pieces of American art. The other two galleries host changing exhibits. Visitors to the museum are also able to go inside the Parthenon to view the 42-foot statue of Athena Parthenos.
In 1893, efforts began to raise funds for a mighty exposition that would celebrate the 1896 centennial of the state of Tennessee. Though the exposition would start a year late—in 1897—it would exceed all expectations.
The old West Side Race Track was converted to a little city, with exhibit halls dedicated to transportation, agriculture, machinery, minerals, forestry, and African Americans, among other themes. There were Chinese, Cuban, and Egyptian villages, a midway, and an auditorium.
The exposition attracted 1.7 million people between May 1 and October 31. While the event turned only a modest profit for its organizers, it no doubt contributed in other ways to the local economy and to the stature of the state.
When the exposition closed in the fall of 1897, all the exhibit halls were torn down, except for a life-sized replica of the Greek Parthenon, which had housed an art exhibit during the centennial. The exposition grounds were made into a public park, aptly named Centennial Park, and Nashvillians continued to admire their Parthenon.
The Parthenon replica had been built out of wood and plaster, and it was designed only to last through the centennial. Remarkably, it survived well beyond that. But by the 1920s, the Parthenon was crumbling. City officials, responding to public outcry to save the Parthenon, agreed to restore it, and they hired a contractor to rebuild the replica. The contractor did so using tinted concrete.
Today, the Parthenon remains one of Nashville’s most iconic landmarks. It is a monument to the creativity and energy of the New South, and also to Nashville’s distinction as the Athens of the South.
You can see and walk around the Parthenon simply by visiting Centennial Park. It is, in many respects, most beautiful from the outside. You can also pay to go inside.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Tennessee, 5th Edition