Monday, August 11, 2003

Over the river...

While I was in DC last weekend, the mayor officially opened the newly-refurbished Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge. It's about time -- it has been closed and under construction pretty much since I moved to Nashville more than five years ago. So today I decided to go see the new span.

It is incredible -- definitely worth the long wait!

Shelby Street Bridge

The Shelby Street bridge, which has been also been called the Sparkman Street Bridge, the Broadway Bridge, the McGavock Street Bridge, and even the "Korean War Veterans 1950-53 Memorial Bridge," was originally built in 1909, along with a companion bridge at Jefferson Street that has since been replaced. The bridge was among the longest in the nation when it was completed.

The bridge was built in the midst of a great deal of commercial activity. On the east side of the river, it bisected the operations of the Nashville Bridge Company, which manufactured barges. A building (with an entrance at the bridge level) can still be seen, and the remains of derricks used for launching barges are also visible:

old Nashville Bridge Company building    Nashville Skyline with remains of barge works in foreground   

On the west side, the bridge descends over an old railway line, and emerges into the "SoBro" area -- that's what the Chamber of Commerce calls the area South of Broadway. In the 19th century, it was first known as "Black Bottom," a notorious slum containing "A conglomeration of dives, brothels, pawnshops, secondhand clothing stores, filthy habitations accompanied by the daily display of lewdness and drunkenness on the sidewalks and redolent with the stench of every vile odor," according to one resident. Later in the century it became known as Hay Market -- an area of town used for swapping cows, horses, and cow/horse paraphenalia. You can still see traces of this on some of the remaining buildings:

old American Steam Feed Company    Bar Nashville with old signs

The Bridge now emerges very near the square that is currently flanked by the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Hilton, and the Gaylord Entertainment Center. (Home of the recent Brewer's Festival for those of you who are keeping track at home.) The fourth side of this square is currently a Metro firehouse, but will soon be home to the new concert hall for the Nashville Symphony. (That's just a mural below -- the real building hasn't been started yet.)

Shelby Street Bridge looking toward GEC    mural of new symphony hall     Looking toward Bellsouth building from Shelby Street Bridge

The bridge itself is a joy to walk over. It soars high into the air, and offers superb views of the Nashville skyline, the river, the Coliseum, and even the new Gateway bridge being built to its south. (The Shelby Street bridge was deemed unsafe for vehicular traffic, so it was converted to a pedestrian bridge and a new bridge was planned to carry Shelby Avenue across the river.)

new Gateway bridge    Shelby Street bridge at dusk

The only downside is the noise, pollution, and visual blight created by the Nashville Thermal Plant, a humongous garbage incinerator built on the Nashville waterfront in the mid-1970s. At that point in history downtown was seen as a good place to send trash, demolish buildings to create parking lots, etc. Nowadays, Nashville is more interested in fostering a livable city, and the plant is scheduled to go away soon. There is some debate over what to do with the riverfront real estate it currently occupies, but the most interesting idea is to build a new downtown ballpark for the Nashville Sounds, our minor league baseball team. They currently play in an aging ballpark in a remote corner of the city that is only accessible by car. Moving this ballpark downtown near the shopping and entertainment district (and next to the bridge) would be a great idea -- keep your fingers crossed!

Nashville Thermal and Railroad spur    Looking up on Shelby Street Bridge     decorative railings on Shelby Street Bridge

I ended up spending several hours walking around on the bridge and downtown, and I'm seriously considering occasionally walking across the river to work. (The main barrier to this is my chronic inability to get up in the morning!)

In any case, this bridge definitely goes on my list of must-see Nashville attractions, along with Bicentennial Mall.

You can read more about the bridge right here. You can also see the rest of my pictures over at ClubPhoto.

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