City photographer captures Music City's evolution

Tuesday, December 29, 2009 at 4:11pm
By Maria Browning,

To be reminded of just how much the landscape of Nashville has changed in the past half-century, turn to page three of Historic Photos of Nashville in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.

The photograph you’ll find shows a drab, semi-rural scene: a narrow, two-lane road banked by tall weeds, with a shabby Esso station on one side and a railroad track on the other.

It’s almost hard to believe the caption, which identifies the place as Harding Road circa 1950, just north of the Highway 70/100 split. The peaceful country lane is long gone now, replaced with a standard five-lane suburban thoroughfare, cluttered left and right with gas stations and fast-food outlets.

Historic Photos of Nashville in the 50s, 60s, and 70s is part of a popular series from Turner Publishing. The Nashville-based publisher has produced a few dozen historical photography collections devoted to cities and sites of interest across the United States.

This latest volume is drawn entirely from the archives of longtime Nashville photographer Bob Grannis, and it documents the city’s evolution from sleepy post-WWII town to sprawling Sunbelt metropolis.

Change is the ever-present theme in these photographs. As author Ashley Driggs Haugen writes in the book’s preface, “A lot happened in three decades.”

The face of Nashville was altered dramatically during those years, and Grannis turned his camera on all the new buildings and arriving industry. There are several shots of the L&C Tower under construction, and Grannis documented much of the early development of Green Hills. The 1956 opening ceremony for the Ford Glass Company is commemorated in a very funny shot of a mink-clad matron wielding a torch.

For most Nashvillians, however, the photos will be more interesting as reminders of places that have disappeared. Fair Park, the Tennessee Theater, the downtown department stores and the Children’s Museum are all memorialized. There are a number of shots of the Sulphur Dell baseball stadium, and a rather poignant photo of the small, family-owned businesses that once lined Deaderick Street where the Tennessee Performing Arts Center now stands.

The photos unintentionally document some painful facts about Nashville’s past. It’s impossible not to notice that blacks and whites are equally represented in the crowd entering Harvey’s department store, but the folks seated at the lunch counter inside are all white. Group shots of firefighters and bus drivers don’t include a single black man — or any women.

A lot did indeed happen in Nashville during those post-war decades, for good and ill. For those of us who can recall a very different city, Historic Photos of Nashville in the 50s, 60s, and 70s provides a chance to reminisce, and it will be a fascinating document for future readers when the old Nashville has passed from living memory.

For more local book coverage, visit Humanities Tennessee’s online journal,

3 Comments on this post:

By: Kosh III on 12/30/09 at 10:11

Is this available locally? Where?

By: nvestnbna on 12/31/09 at 10:01

There are a couple of versions or editions I think. I first saw them at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Must be at the bookstores as well. In addition someone is working with or selling Grannis photos. I saw some at Provence a year or two ago. Nashville Biggest Photographer.

By: RickTNRebel on 2/11/10 at 3:56

Found a few Major Caption problems and errors: (1) PG 7 is printed backwards! (2) PG 56 is not Church St. It's 4th Ave looking north. The Boy's sign is touching the
Maxwell House Hotel! It was taken right across 4th from Turner Publishing! See PG 78 for the same view up 4th ( notice the "Palace" and "1Hour Cleaning" in both photos). (3)PG 93: This is not 8th and Commerce. The street sign clearly identifies this as the SW corner of 7th and Commerce. (4) PG 118: This is not West End! The white signpost under the stop sign clearly identifies this as the NW corner of 9th ave S and Mc Gavock which are BEHIND the Post Office! (5) PG 197: This photo was not taken in 1975. It's more like 1967. If you'll see PG 153; the 1968 photo from the Gulch, you'll clearly see the NL&A building is completed and standing tall! My guess is the photo # 6-75 S/B # 67-5( may '67?) The Pickup in the fence behind the '61chevy is a 1967 chevy or GMC.