Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Nashville's Historic Broadway Street

By Michelle Shocklee

If you've ever visited Nashville, you probably ventured downtown to Broadway Street. This famous avenue in the heart of Music City is known throughout the world for its honky-tonks, some with recognizable names like Luke Bryan's Luke's 32 Bridge and Blake Shelton's Ole Red. The music down Broadway Street is LOUD and the crowds are THICK, but it's a place most visitors to Nashville want to experience at least once. 

Nashville's Broadway Street

Yet Broadway Street hasn't always been a crazy, noisy tourist attraction.

Nashville was founded in the late 1770s by pioneers from North Carolina and began as a fort on the banks of the Cumberland River. In 1784 it was incorporated as a town by the North Carolina legislature and became a city in 1806. In 1843 it became the state capital.

Riverboats on the Cumberland

The Cumberland River was a vital part of the city's growth. Not only did riverboats provide transportation to and from the city for newly arriving residents, import and export depended on the waterway. Broad Street, as it was originally known, ended at the shipping docks and wharfs on the Cumberland. It  became a street lined with hardware stores, feed stores, and various other businesses.

During the Civil War, both armies used the Cumberland to access Nashville. One soldier's diary describes thousands of Union soldiers spilling out from newly arrived ships and heading into the city up Broad Street. The famous street appears in my book Count the Nights by Stars when Priscilla follows it in 1897 to attend the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, and in 1961 when Audrey and Jason walk down its sidewalks, enjoying the Christmas decorations in department store windows.

Looking down Broad Street toward the Cumberland River

Nashville grew after the war. Not only with freed slaves, but with displaced southerners. The city flourished. The first public high school was built on Broad Street. Union Station opened October 9, 1900 at the far end of Broad Street as a Louisville & Nashville Railroad station. It had a long history before it shut down in October 1979. When a new post office was built on Broad Street in 1935, it was located adjacent to Union Station. A connecting passageway between the two was used to transport mail to and from trains for more than three decades.

Ryman Auditorium

The most famous building in downtown Nashville is, of course, the Ryman Auditorium. While not located on Broadway (but is less than a block away), it is known as the “Mother Church of Country Music.” The iconic  auditorium hosted the Grand Ole Opry for thirty-plus years and is credited as the reason Broadway Street became what we now see today.

Starting in the 1930s, Jimmy Rodgers began singing in the honky-tonks on Lower Broadway. As his fame grew, other aspiring singers and songwriters were drawn to the area. The heart of the country music scene, the four-block stretch of Broadway earned the nickname Honky-Tonk Highway, a moniker akin to Bourbon Street in New Orleans and Beale Street in Memphis. The bars and music venues launched the careers of many legendary performers. When the Grand Ole Opry moved out of the Ryman Auditorium in the 1970s, Broadway fell on hard times. Twenty years later, the reopening of the iconic music hall (although it no longer hosted the Grand Ole Opry) helped to revitalize the area. 

Today, Broadway Street is a destination unto itself. From morning until late at night, live music is heard in every bar and restaurant lining the street. Tourists flock from all over the world to catch acts that may or may not launch the career of the next Country Music star!

Your turn: Have you been to Broadway Street? What did you think?

Michelle Shocklee i
s the author of several historical novels, including Under the Tulip Tree, a Christy Awards and Selah Awards finalist. Her work has been included in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about. Visit her online at


1961. After a longtime resident at Nashville’s historic Maxwell House Hotel suffers a debilitating stroke, Audrey Whitfield is tasked with cleaning out the reclusive woman’s room. There, she discovers an elaborate scrapbook filled with memorabilia from the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Love notes on the backs of unmailed postcards inside capture Audrey’s imagination with hints of a forbidden romance . . . and troubling revelations about the disappearance of young women at the exposition. Audrey enlists the help of a handsome hotel guest as she tracks down clues and information about the mysterious “Peaches” and her regrets over one fateful day, nearly sixty-five years earlier.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the post today, and for your ongoing participation in the blog. I never have been to Nashville. The history of the area of Broadway Street is interesting. In theory, it sounds like fun but considering I don't care for crowds and overly loud music, I probably won't see it for myself. I appreciate its' rich musical history, though!