Story by Lee Rennick. Photos provided by Schacklett’s Historical Photo Collection and Woodfin Funeral Home.
Murfreesboro is booming. Nashville may be heralded as the “it city” because of the massive growth in the medical industry, education, entertainment, and entrepreneurship, but Murfreesboro was and has continued to be a forerunner in these areas since before the Civil War. And Murfreesboro’s Downtown Square has been the hub of much of that activity. So here are a few things we bet you didn’t know about your historic downtown.
10. Murfreesboro was halfway between Chicago and Miami during the 1930s, and the famous bootlegger and gangster, Al Capone, visited frequently when traveling to his summer home in Florida. He stayed at the elegant James K. Polk Hotel, the current location of SunTrust Bank on Main Street. He was also known to purchase his Tennessee moonshine from Cannon County, considered the best.
9. Speaking of evil doers, the first thing built when Murfreesboro became a city was a set of gallows, next to the new courthouse that cost $2,500 to build in 1806. By 1818, when Murfreesboro became the capitol of Tennessee, the courthouse had been moved to its current site and the gallows were located north of West Main, with bleachers to accommodate the crowds.
8. True entrepreneurs find a need and fill it. In 1900, John T. Woodfin moved his wife’s family’s furniture and undertaking business to Murfreesboro City Square. Originally open in a storefront, it was eventually moved to what is now Milano’s II. Murfreesboro Little Theatre also used the location after business hours in the 1960s for some of its first plays, and before Woodfin Memorial Chapels moved over to its former location by MTSU.
7. WGNS Radio was started in Murfreesboro in 1947 above Cecil Elrod’s French Shoppe, which was located on North Church Street. Current owner, Bart Walker, has a history with the station. He worked there in the 1960’s as a youth for station founder Cecil Elrod, Jr., as did former State Representative John Hood before him in the 1950s.
6. The Center for the Arts began its existence as Murfreesboro Livery Company. Even in the 1800s there was a parking problem downtown, and the large barn offered that time’s version of the parking lot. Eventually the barn was torn down and the Murfreesboro Post Office was built. That building was then retrofitted into Linebaugh Library. When the library outgrew the space, the building was saved by a local group of arts lovers to become the current Center for the Arts in the mid-1990s.
5. Murfreesboro was an education center long before Nashville, and the current Bradley Academy Museum once drew sons from Middle Tennessee’s most distinguished families, like the young James K. Polk before he became President of the United States. After the Civil War, the building was given to the African American Community and it became one of their first schools in the state, and considered the best.
4. The Hub Store on Main Street was a dry goods store owned by the Arbit family when Steve Waldron was a boy. Now the offices of his law practice, his experiences in the building were so positive as a child, that he bought it in the 1980s and lovingly restored it with then partners Sandra Trail and Ed Netherland. The Arbits were like vaudevillians and knew how to put on a show to sell their wares. Papa Arbit could be found on a cold day on the street in front of the store barking “Boots! Boots! Boots! Right here, get your winter boots!”
3. Murfreesboro has had many famous visitors, but in 1951 it was General Douglas MacArthur. Landing at Smyrna’s airport, then called Sewart Air Base, he and his wife, Jean Faircloth MacArthur were driven around Murfreesboro’s Square through cheering crowds, down Main Street to MTSU, and then on to Stones River Country Club for a meal of chicken on toast and tomato stuffed with crab meat.
2. National Healthcare Corporation, housed in Murfreesboro’s “skyscraper,” is traded on the New York Stock Exchange and has a market capitalization of more than $933 million. It has recently been listed on a number of investment sites as an undervalued small cap company worth looking into.
1. More than fifty-five movies and videos have been filmed in and around downtown Murfreesboro. One award winning short film, which was shot in an old home on Main Street, even went to the Cannes Film Festival.