It’s hard to believe November is right around the corner, and that means preparation for the black-tie fundraiser benefitting The Conservancy for the Parthenon and Centennial Park is well underway. This year’s “Then & Now” Conservancy Gala, set for Saturday, November 4, 2017 at the Parthenon, is a new theme that highlights the impressive past and exciting present and future of Centennial Park. Big Events will be the décor designer and event planner for the 2017 Conservancy Gala, which will pay homage to the Tennessee Centennial Exposition of 1897 — the six-month celebration of Tennessee’s 100th year of statehood held on the grounds of what would become our very own Centennial Park — as well as celebrate its ongoing beauty and vitality. The exhibition, which brought 2 million people to Nashville and put the city on the map, spotlighted the state’s economic, educational and cultural achievements. It also gave birth to the original rendition of Nashville’s Parthenon, which was one of 30 buildings built for the occasion.
“The importance of the Centennial Exposition cannot be overstated in establishing the bold attitude and sense of modernization that exemplify Nashville to this day,” says gala co-chair Mara Papatheodorou. “As a current vision for Centennial Park is unfolding, we decided to recreate the magic that characterized our city during the remarkable Exposition. We look forward to an unforgettable occasion that is uniquely Nashville and even more uniquely Centennial Park.”
So, as Mara, a former editor of Bon Appetit Magazine and nationally established Taste and Traditions expert, and co-chair Beth S. Courtney, president and managing partner of DVL Seigenthaler, are busy putting the final touches on a much anticipated event that will provide critical support for Centennial Park’s ongoing revitalization, we thought we’d take a look at the role Centennial Park has played in women’s lives through the years.
“I love the quote, ‘If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are,’” says Sylvia Rapoport, president of the Conservancy for the Parthenon and Centennial Park. “Author Wendell Berry wrote that, and I think it explains why it’s so important to understand the story of Centennial Park.”
Ann Roberston Cockrill, on whose farmland Tennessee’s Centennial Exposition was held, provides a good starting point for the story of women and Centennial Park. Long before the 1897 Exposition, Ann made a name for herself when she instructed the women of Fort Nashborough to throw boiling water on invaders who attacked the fort while the men were gone.
“She was one brave woman,” Sylvia says.
After her husband died, Ann continued to farm the 640 acres known as Cockrill Spring and raised eight children on her own. She created the first school in the state of Tennessee and was known as Nashville’s first teacher. In 1784, she became the first woman to receive a land grant in her own name. Though Ann died before the 1897 Exposition, her legacy as a brave woman was certainly represented at this magnificent event when her farm became the grounds for the Exposition. Now situated in Centennial Park, Ann’s former farm is home to a monument in her honor, as well as the newly unearthed Cockrill Spring, which flows 56-degree water year round and provides rills where children now play.
Like the Parthenon, a Women’s Building was among the temporary buildings erected for the 1897 Exposition. The building showcased the progressive feminist movement of the South, and as Sylvia explains, became a key locale for lectures by prominent women like Susan B. Anthony and Jane Addams.
In the early 1900s, Tennessee women participated in the National Playground Movement, which resulted in Nashville’s first playground in 1909 built in Centennial Park.
“These women embraced the idea that a city park should be more than a place for quiet reflection and relaxation, but should be a place for active recreation,” Sylvia says.
Less than 10 years later, in 1916, suffragists staged a parade from the capitol to the Parthenon steps in support of a woman’s right to vote.
And the beat goes on! Today, Sylvia says, women like Beth and Mara, as well as Conservancy Board leaders Paula Van Slyke and Hope Stringer and last but not least, Mayor Megan Barry, are dedicated to the revitalization of this 120-year-old park and Nashville treasure.
“All of us in this community have been the beneficiaries of bold, powerful, forward-thinking women who make us all better through their courage and grace,” Sylvia says. “Today, their passion continues the story of women in Centennial Park.”
As a support organization, The Conservancy for the Parthenon and Centennial Park is committed to strengthening, enhancing and restoring these two crown jewels for the next century and beyond. The organization is responsible for a range of initiatives aimed at maintaining the park’s vibrancy, including the Musicians Corner free weekly concerts in the spring and fall months, the Kidsville program that invites families to enter the Parthenon free of charge and be part of storytelling and art activities every Saturday morning at the feet of Athena, and the Centennial Park restoration project to revitalize and transform the park into a model of ecological practice and horticultural excellence. Through fundraisers and private donations, The Conservancy oversees educational programs, public art exhibits, performing arts, a speaker’s bureau, symposia, classical theater, docent training at the Parthenon and preservation of Centennial Park’s landmarks.
The Conservancy Gala is a black-tie fundraiser providing crucial support for Centennial Park and the Parthenon. Information about tickets is available by emailing [email protected] or visit conservancygala.com.
This article is sponsored by The Conservancy for the Parthenon and Centennial Park.