There are an incredible number of interesting tidbits about our great city of Nashville. Here are just a few:
1. “Good to the Last Drop”
In 1892, Joel Owsley Cheek developed a superior blend of coffee, and made the decision to market it only through the best hotel in Nashville at the time, the Maxwell House.
In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt was visiting the Hermitage, and asked for some coffee while touring the home. He was given the local brand, named after the Maxwell House hotel in Nashville, and declared the coffee “good to the last drop.”
In 1928, Postum (now General Foods) purchased the Maxwell House coffee company for more than $40 million. With the money, the Cheeks bought 100 acres of what was then woodland in West Nashville for a country estate, and hired New York architect Bryant Fleming.
The result was the limestone mansion and extensive formal gardens known to us as Cheekwood.
Although Maxwell House coffee is still enjoyed everywhere, the last time it was served at the hotel where it got its start was on December 25, 1961.
Iroquois (1878–1899), was the first American-bred Thoroughbred race horse to win the prestigious Epsom Derby in Surrey, England.
In 1886, Iroquois was purchased by Tennesseean William Hicks Jackson, and transported to the Belle Meade Plantation at Nashville.
The operator of Belle Meade, William Giles Harding, was more interested in improving the blood stock of Thoroughbreds than in racing itself. He saw racing as a means for properly selecting horses (sire and dam) to produce a quality Thoroughbred.
Harding’s philosophy was a success! By 1860 he had the largest collection of silver trophies and cups of anyone in America. The quality of the stallions standing at stud and his mares used for breeding made the annual crop of yearlings highly sought after.
Iroquois did well at stud, becoming the leading sire of 1892.
Other famous horses bred at Belle Meade Plantation include War Admiral, Seabiscuit, and Secretariat.
Iroquois died at the age of twenty-two on September 17, 1899. Nashville still honors Iroquois by hosting the annual Iroquois Steeplechase on the second Saturday of each May.
3. Gibbons, Meerkats, and a Jungle Gym!
Nashville Zoo has three nationally recognized areas!
Gibbon Island and Meerkat Habitats – recognized by Animal Planet to be the best in the country.
As you enter the Zoo, two islands covered with various trees and bushes are home to siamangs and white-cheeked gibbons, who love to climb and swing through the treetops in their natural habitat. Throughout the day their distinctive calls greet the visitors entering the Zoo.
At the meerkat habitat, you can get face to face with a mob of extremely social meerkats. View them through a plexiglass wall or – this is the really cool place – through a cylindrical window within the habitat! Here you get a meerkat’s-eye view of the meerkat colony as they dig out their expansive network of underground tunnels.
Nashville Zoo’s Jungle Gym, proclaimed by Travel+Leisure to be one of the “World’s Coolest Playgrounds” is the largest community-built playground in America.
Thousands of volunteers worked together to build a vast array of slides, cargo netting, swings and climbing structures for children. There really IS something to “The Volunteer State” nickname!
With a 35-foot-tall tree house, cargo-net climbing area, slide, and giant snake tunnel, it’s a perfect stopover between the African Savannah exhibit and the Jungle Loop.
4. FM Radio
FM broadcasting in the United States began in the 1930s, and has always been associated with higher sound quality in music radio.
In 1941, the owners of WSM, at that time only an AM station, became the first commercial broadcaster in the country to receive an FM license from the Federal Communications Commission, making Music City the first to enjoy static-free radio.
The station operated for about 10 years, until they realized that few area households had FM radio receivers and that its commercial potential was lacking. The owners shut down WSM-FM in 1951 and returned the license to the FCC.
The station’s present-day FM broadcasting began on November 1, 1962, and is now known as WSM-FM, with a country music format.
5. And buried inside the Capitol Building…
Tennessee’s Capital Building is one of the oldest operating capitols in America. Its tower is designed after the monument of Lysicrates in Athens, Greece, by architect William Strickland, who considered it his crowning achievement.
There are four people buried either inside the capitol walls or on the grounds.
When Strickland died suddenly during construction in 1854, he was buried in a crypt on the north facade.
In the East Garden of the capitol, President James K. Polk and his wife Sarah Childress Polk are buried in a tomb designed by William Strickland. The tomb was originally located at the Polk home a few blocks from the capitol, but the home was eventually sold and torn down. To protect the Polk graves, the state moved their bodies and the tomb to the capitol grounds.
Samuel Morgan, a prominent citizen of Nashville, was president of the commission charged with planning a new State Capitol for Tennessee. He was instrumental in choosing William Strickland of Philadelphia as the architect.
Morgan died in Nashville and is buried in a crypt in the southeast corner wall of the State Capitol building.
The Tennessee State Capitol building is one of Nashville’s most prominent examples of Greek Revival architecture. It is one of only twelve state capitols (along with those of Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, and Virginia) that does not have a dome.
Our great city has an enormous number of interesting facts. Tell me about your favorite bit of Nashville lore in the comments below. Thanks for reading!