Tennessee Centennial Exposition

On June 1, 1796, President George Washington signed the act of Congress that made Tennessee the 16th state of the United States Union.

One hundred years later (a century), Nashville was chosen to celebrate and host a Centennial Exposition. Committees were formed, plans were made, money raising began, and construction of buildings began to form a world class Exposition. However, during 1896, the stockholders of Tennessee Centennial Company postponed the Exposition in West Side Park until May 1, 1897 due to lack of funds and completion of buildings.

The Exposition had its official opening with ceremonies in the auditorium on the grounds of West Side Park. Many dignitarians spoke. Director General Eugene C. Lewis ceremoniously presented a key to Centennial City to Mayor John W. Thomas who served as president of the Centennial Company which managed the exposition.

At 12 o’clock noon, United States President William McKinley in Washington touched a button that, by way of telegraph wires, started machinery working and fired the parade-ground canon at the Centennial Exposition in Nashville. Whistles blew, crowds cheered, the band played, and Mayor Thomas said, “I now proclaim the Tennessee Centennial Exposition open to the world.”

People poured into the Ex- position on streetcars, wagons, on the railroad, and on foot. The official attendance on this opening day was 20,175.
Nashvillians had used great vision and planned ways to raise the amount of money needed to go into such an endeavor as this hamongous Centennial Exposition.

There would be 34 buildings in different sizes and styles, ranging from the bandstand to the large domed Transportation Building, Woman’s Building, Mineral and Forestry Building, Commerce Building. Government Building, the Negro Buildings, Agricultural Building, and more. The beautiful grounds were in a setting of grass, small lakes, tree-lined walkways, and beautiful flower beds.

The Parthenon which was built, preserved, renovated, and kept which we still enjoy today is a full scale replica of the structure which stood on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

There were six Venetian gondolas on Lake Watauga in which people could ride. And, at dark every night, there was a huge display of fireworks which lasted an hour or more. Our Nashville even early on knew how to do things up right.

During the 1897 Exposition, the Mineral and Forestry Building displayed every form of mineral which was commercially mined in Tennessee, and uses the industry made of them. The Barry Vermont Granite Quarries sent a long granite shaft for exhibit. Today, we can still see that granite shaft standing in a vertical position at the south end of Lake Watauga.

It seems that Tennessee and especially Nashville were a big item during the time of our Centennial Exposition which began on May 1, 1897, and closed on October 31 of that year.

All of that excitement took place on the grounds of West Side Park off of West End Avenue. Since that time, we have called that location Centennial Park.
E. D. Thompson can be contacted at thompsonia04@att.net