Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park

Tennessee History for Kids has produced a video that goes great with this virtual tour. In "What kind of a mall is this???," History Bill checks out Nashville's Bicentennial Mall and finds an outdoor museum of Tennessee history. And he always did want to walk across the state in seconds. Click here to check it out using Windows Media Player; here to see it using quicktime.
Flags at the Bicentennial Mall

Let’s take a tour of the Bicentennial Capitol Hill Mall State Park. Or, as locals simply call it, the Bicentennial Mall. And before we dig into the details, let’s answer some of the most basic questions. 

What is the Bicentennial Mall?  

This isn’t like most of the malls you've seen. Most malls today are places you shop. The Bicentennial Mall is more like The Mall in Washington D. C. – it’s a public park, with statues, monuments, fountains, trails, and even an amphitheater.

The Bicentennial Mall

When was it built, and why?

The Bicentennial Mall was started in 1994 and completed in 1996. It was built to honor Tennessee’s 200th birthday. 


What is the idea behind the place?

The Bicentennial Mall is an outdoor museum of Tennessee history, geography, and civics. Many of the history lessons that are told in your classrooms, and in this site, are also told through the features of the Bicentennial Mall. 

By the way, the Bicentennial Mall is legally considered an extension of the Tennessee State Capitol grounds. That's why the flags at the top of the flagpole here are Tennessee flags, not American flags. And, speaking of the flags, you will notice that there are two large flags and 16 smaller flags on the south end of the mall. The two large flags represent the state's 200th birthday; the 16 smaller flags represent the fact that Tennessee was the 16th state admitted to the union. Cool, huh?

The Tour

The Bicentennial Mall stretches through downtown Nashville, on the north side of the State Capitol Grounds. It covers 19 acres and contains numerous exhibits of Tennessee history and geography.
The granite map of Tennessee
The mall’s southern tip, for instance, contains a 200-foot granite map of Tennessee. If you’ve ever wanted to walk from Memphis to Mountain City, this is definitely the place to do it! Every community and body of water in Tennessee is featured on the map. It’s actually a lot of fun to walk around the map with your head down, imagining that you are a giant whose legs stretch from county to county.
The rivers of Tennessee fountains
If you walk under the train trestle you will find water gushing from a series of fountains. Most of the people who come here play in the fountains and don’t notice the exhibits that surround them, but each of them means something. There are 31 fountains, each representing one of Tennessee’s major rivers. On the other side of the fountains is a marble wall, and on that wall are inscribed over a hundred tidbits about Tennessee and its water system.
The pathway of history
Now, don’t wear yourself out too much playing in the fountains, because if you really want to experience the Bicentennial Mall then you’ve got some walking to do. With your back to the State Capitol, walk to the left of the wall and find the Pathway of History. The pathway is a straight line; to your right is another wall with tidbits of Tennessee history inscribed in it. The history starts with the beginning of known time and as you walk the events described bring you closer to the present time.
The wall of history breaks up during the Civil War

As you walk along the Pathway of History you will notice something interesting. When the Civil War takes place, the wall breaks up, representing the breakup of the United States during the war itself. Then, in 1865, the wall lines back up again, representing the reunification of the after the war ended.

The World War II Memorial
Next we come to what is, I believe, the best war monument in Tennessee , maybe in the country. It pays tribute to the 5,631 Tennesseans killed during World War II. And it consists of an 18,000-pound granite globe – floating on water and rotating. The globe indicates the places in the world where Tennesseans fought during this war. There are several displays that talk about the war itself, and you will also find seven benches dedicated to the seven men from this state who won the Medal of Honor.
The carillon at the north end of the Bicentennial Mall
Now let's walk all the way to the north end of the mall, and here you will find 50 columns, each of which has bells inside them. There are 95 bells in all, each of them representing (you guessed it) the 95 counties in Tennessee. A collection of bells like this, by the way, is called a "carillon," and every 15 minutes the carillon plays part of the song "Tennessee Waltz." Then, at the top of each hour it will play the whole song "Tennessee Waltz," followed by the hour, followed by three other songs having to do with Tennessee's heritage. You got that?

And what, may we ask, are these? Well, they look like parts of columns of a building. Sure enough, they are. The Tennessee State Capitol was built in the 1850s. A hundred years later the columns that were originally there (made of Tennessee limestone) were replaced with ones made of Yankee limestone from Indiana (imagine the uproar that must have caused!). In any case, these are the old columns.
One of the entries on the Walkway of the Counties
As you head back in the direction of the Capitol, keep your head down. You are walking along the Walkway of the Counties. Each of Tennessee’s 95 counties has an entry along this walkway that tells you interesting tidbits about that county. And, in typical Bicentennial Mall fashion, the counties are arranged in an orderly manner, with West Tennessee on the north side, Middle Tennessee in the middle, and East Tennessee on the south side.