Tennessee State Museum

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Tennessee State Museum
Established 1937
Location Nashville, Tennessee
Coordinates 36°09′54″N 86°46′54″W / 36.1649°N 86.7817°W / 36.1649; -86.7817
Type Heritage centre
Website http://www.tnmuseum.org

Tennessee State Museum is a large museum in Nashville depicting the history of the U.S. state of Tennessee. Starting from pre-colonization and going into the 20th century, the museum interprets the Frontier, the age of President Andrew Jackson and the American Civil War. The museum includes an area of more than 60,000 square feet (5,600 m2) of permanent exhibits and a hall with changing exhibitions covering 10,000 feet (3,000 m). The total ground area of the museum is 120,000 feet (37,000 m) on three floors. The museum's collection of uniforms, weapons, and battle flags from the Civil War is one of the largest in the nation.[1]

The museum is situated in the bottom floors of the James K. Polk building in downtown Nashville, a building shared with the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. In 2013 a state building commission was formed to commission planning for a new building to house the museum near the Bicentennial Mall State Park and the First Tennessee Park minor league baseball stadium.[2]


The earliest record of a museum in the city date to 1817 when a portrait artist, Ralph E. W. Earl, opened a museum at the public square of Nashville.[3] The state museum opened in 1937 in the War Memorial Building, after being authorized by the General Assembly. It decided that the state needed a museum to deal with various collections from the state and mementos from World War I. Most of the museum operations moved to the James K. Polk Building in 1981, which it shares with the Tennessee Performing Arts Center.

The museum displays a variety of paintings, silver, weapons, and furniture. Larger exhibits include reproductions of a historic print shop, a painting gallery, and a grist mill. The state museum features a museum store offering handmade crafts, jewelry, and Tennessee memorabilia.

The Military Museum, focused on overseas wars, is still housed in the War Memorial Building across the street. Its exhibits range from Tennessee participation in the early battles of the Spanish–American War to World War II.

Museum operations and policies are overseen by the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission, a group of appointed citizens to represent the public interest.

The State Building Commission in 2013 revived plans for a new state museum. Made up of top state officials and constitutional officers, in August 2013 it approved $475,000 for planning this project. There have been discussions that the museum would be sited east of the Bicentennial Park Mall and near a proposed minor-league ballpark. The commission hired a museum consultant to create a master plan; this would include the program for the building, a site analysis, and conceptual operating plan and funding plan.[2][4]

The museum also owns the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, part of the non-profit, privately owned museum complex of the National Civil Rights Museum. It leases the motel to the Lorraine Motel Civil Rights Museum Foundation on a long-term basis to be operated as part of the museum complex. Under the terms of its 20-year lease made in 2007, the Tennessee State Museum reserves responsibility for major maintenance of the Lorraine Motel. The Foundation owns and operates the other buildings and properties associated with the complex. Certain parts of the motel have been preserved for their historic aspects related to Martin Luther King, Jr.


  1. ^ "Tennessee State Museum", cite from Metropolitan Historical Commission, at Battle of Nashville Preservation Society website
  2. ^ a b "TN takes fresh look at museum plans for Sulphur Dell area", The Tennesseean, 23 August 2013, accessed 13 February 2015
  3. ^ "Information", Tennessee State Museum website
  4. ^ Nina Cardona, "Dormant Plans Revived to Build a New Tennessee State Museum and Archives", Nashville Public Media, 23 August 2013, accessed 13 February 2015

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