Historic Photos of Nashville, by Jan Duke... a great book

>> Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I have lived in Nashville now for nearly twenty years. I have to say that I love my adopted home. It is such a beautiful city with so much to offer for residents and visitors alike. Recently, the folks at Turner Publishing, here in Nashville, sent me a wonderful book to look over and review. The book, “Historic Photos of Nashville”, by Jan Duke is a treasure trove of images from Nashville’s long and colorful history. The photos are expertly reproduced in a very clear format so that you can really get a sense of what the photographer was trying to show us as well as a feeling as to what life in Nashville’s past was like.

The photos in this book span the period from the Civil War through the development of Metropolitan Nashville to the 1970s. Images have been collected from many different archival sources in order to bring together a broad recordation of Nashville’s history. The photos vary from formal shots of grand structures and events to small glimpses into the life of the city’s residents. The book does not present any specific interpretation of Nashville’s history. There is no grand thesis being argued here. Instead, the reader/viewer is simply presented with these historic photographs and given the opportunity to draw from them what they will. It is an interesting way to present history, and I have to admit, it left me wanting more. My one minor criticism would be that I would love to have the stories behind more of these photographs; however, I realize that that was not the purpose of this volume. This book tells a story, but lets you fill in the blanks for yourself.

There are several photos in particular that really appealed to me. I tend to like historic photos that give you hints into the ordinary daily lives of our predecessors. Many of the grand public buildings still survive today, thank goodness, but the smaller non-descript structures and the businesses and people they housed are mostly gone. One image, of Printers alley, circa 1880s, is a particular favorite. Today, Printers Alley remains, but it is a strip of Honky Tonks, clubs, and bars. The photo on page 33 shows how Printers Alley got its name. The American Paper Box Company was one of the many suppliers for all of the Printing Businesses on Printers Alley. The photo shows us a horse and carriage parked out in front of the business and several signs advertising the warehouses’ goods.

I also really like the photos of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition of 1897. Few of the original buildings from this great fair are still standing. Most famous, at least here in Nashville, is the replica of the Greek Parthenon. Today, it houses a wonderful art gallery. During the Exposition, it was but one of a collection of fantastical buildings that included an Egyptian pyramid, castle towers, a hall filled with the latest advances in machinery, and a giant Seesaw. Centennial Park is a favorite spot for Nashvillians to take in a little fresh and maybe feed some ducks, but this book gives you a lot more to consider during your stroll through the park.

I truly recommend this book to Nashvillians and general history buffs alike. The photos are particular to Nashville, but anyone interested in our not-so-distant past will enjoy flipping through the pages of images.

Historic Photos of Nashville
Text and Captions by Jan Duke
2005 Turner Publishing, Nashville, TN
ISBN: 1-59652-184-8


Thanks for reading!

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