Tennessee State Capitol

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Tennessee State Capitol
Tennessee State Capitol
Tennessee State Capitol
Tennessee State Capitol is located in Tennessee
Tennessee State Capitol
Tennessee State Capitol is located in the United States
Tennessee State Capitol
LocationCapitol Hill
Nashville, Tennessee
Coordinates36°9′57″N 86°47′3″W / 36.16583°N 86.78417°W / 36.16583; -86.78417Coordinates: 36°9′57″N 86°47′3″W / 36.16583°N 86.78417°W / 36.16583; -86.78417
Area4.9 acres (2.0 ha)
ArchitectWilliam Strickland (1788-1854)
Architectural styleGreek Revival style
NRHP reference No.70000894
Significant dates
Added to NRHPJuly 8, 1970; 50 years ago (July 8, 1970)[1]
Designated NHLNovember 11, 1971; 49 years ago (November 11, 1971)[2]

The Tennessee State Capitol, located in Nashville, Tennessee, is the seat of government for the U.S. state of Tennessee, serving as home of the Tennessee General Assembly and the location of the governor's office. Designed by architect William Strickland (1788–1854) of Philadelphia and Nashville, it was built between 1845 and 1859 and is one of Nashville's most prominent examples of Greek Revival architecture. The building, one of 12 state capitols that does not have a dome, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and named a National Historic Landmark in 1971. James K. Polk's tomb is also in this area.

Design and construction[edit]

Tennessee State Capitol during the Civil War. Photo by George N. Barnard.

The prominent Nashville hilltop site of what is now the Tennessee State Capitol was formerly occupied by the Holy Rosary Cathedral (no longer extant), the first Roman Catholic cathedral church in Nashville (with the Diocese of Nashville at that time once comprising the entire territory of the State of Tennessee).[3][4][5]

The State Capitol was designed by renowned Philadelphia architect William Strickland, who modeled it after a Greek Ionic temple. The prominent lantern structure located above the roof line of the Tennessee state capitol is a design based upon the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens that honors the Greek god Dionysus doing battle with Tyrrhenian pirates.[6] The cornerstone of the Tennessee state capitol was itself laid on July 4, 1845 and the building was completed fourteen years later in 1859.[7]

View from the capitol ca. 1865

The American Society of Civil Engineers has listed the building as a civil engineering landmark in recognition of its innovative construction, which made unusually extensive use of stone and was an early example of the use of structural iron. Both the interior and exterior are built with limestone from a quarry about 1-mile (1.6 km) from the site. Some interior columns were built from single pieces of stone, requiring massive wooden derricks to hoist them into place. Wrought iron, instead of wood, was used for the roof trusses to reduce the building's vulnerability to fire.[8]

Tennessee State Capitol depicted on an 1864 Confederate $20 banknote
Tennessee State Capitol depicted on an 1864 Confederate $20 banknote

Commercial, convict, and slave labor were used in the project. Fifteen enslaved Black men worked on carving the Capitol's limestone cellar from 1845 to 1847; Nashville stonemason A.G. Payne was paid $18 a month for their labor. It is believed to be "the most significant project where the [Tennessee] state government rented slave labor".[9]

Strickland died five years before the building's completion and was entombed in its northeast wall. His son, F. W. Strickland, supervised completion of the structure. William Strickland also designed the St. Mary's Cathedral (located along the base of the capitol hill), as well as Downtown Presbyterian church located just a few blocks away from the state capitol.[4]

Samuel Dold Morgan (1798–1880), chairman of the State Building Commission overseeing the construction of the Tennessee State Capitol, is entombed in the southeast corner near the south entrance.


Monuments on the Capitol grounds include statues of two of the three Tennessee residents who served as President of the United States: Andrew Jackson by Clark Mills and Andrew Johnson by Jim Gray. The second President from Tennessee, James K. Polk, is buried in a tomb on the grounds, together with his wife, Sarah Childress Polk.[10][11] Other monuments on the grounds include the Sgt. Alvin C. York Memorial by Felix de Weldon, the Tennessee Holocaust Commission Memorial, the Sam Davis Memorial at the southwest corner of the Capitol grounds, and the Memorial to Africans during the Middle Passage at the southwest corner of Capitol grounds. The Charles Warterfield Reliquary is a group of broken limestone columns and fragments removed and saved from the State Capitol during the mid-1950s restoration, located near the northern belvedere on Capitol Drive.

On May 30, 2020, the Sen. Edward Ward Carmack Memorial located above the Motlow Tunnel near the south entrance was toppled by protestors during a demonstration in response to the police killing of George Floyd.[12] During the Nashville Autonomous Zone the area near where the statue stood has been unofficially claimed by protesters as "Ida B. Wells Plaza", after the anti-lynching advocate whose death had been advocated by Carmack.

The building has housed a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest thanks to Democratic state senator Douglas Henry since 1978.[13] The presence of the bust has been controversial since its dedication.[13] Legislation was proposed in 2017 towards moving it to the Tennessee State Museum.[14] The Tennessee Historical Commission voted 25-1 on March 9, 2021, to move the bust to a museum as soon as possible.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  2. ^ "Tennessee State Capitol". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2009-09-03.
  3. ^ "FIRST - Catholic Church in Tennessee - Nashville, Tennessee - First of its Kind on Waymarking.com". Waymarking.com. Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Capitols and churches: Built and buried in Nashville • Tennessee Star Journal". Tnsjournal.com. 22 December 2015. Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  5. ^ "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Nashville". Newadvent.org. Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  6. ^ "Choragic Monument of Lysicrates". famouswonders.com. Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  7. ^ The Tennessee State Capitol: A Self-Guided Walking Tour. Tennessee State Museum. 2009.
  8. ^ Tennessee State Capitol Archived 2012-03-14 at the Wayback Machine, History & Heritage of Civil Engineering, American Society of Civil Engineers website
  9. ^ Iv, Thomas Joseph Broderick (2008-06-03). "They Moved the Earth: The Slaves Who Built the Tennessee State Capitol". Vanderbilt Undergraduate Research Journal. 4. ISSN 1555-788X. Retrieved 2015-02-23.
  10. ^ Burke, Sheila (March 24, 2017). "Plan to dig up President Polk's body – again – stirs trouble". Yahoo. Associated Press. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  11. ^ Resolution to move former President James K. Polk's body approved - CBS News
  12. ^ https://www.wkrn.com/news/local-news/toppled-statue-just-some-of-damage-at-tennessee-capitol-after-floyd-protests/
  13. ^ a b Ebert, Joel (August 18, 2017). "Nathan Bedford Forrest bust at the Tennessee Capitol: What you need to know". The Tennessean. Retrieved September 5, 2017.
  14. ^ Natalie Allison; Dave Boucher (December 15, 2017). "Bill filed to relocate Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from state capitol to Tennessee State Museum". The Tennessean.
  15. ^ Falconer, Rebecca (March 9, 2021). "Tennessee to remove monument of KKK leader from state Capitol". news.yahoo.com. Axios. Retrieved March 10, 2021.

External links[edit]