So many of the items I have in My Collections spark long-ago memories and today’s entry is no different.

From sometime in early 1974 until August 1977, I lived with my family in the Nashville, Tennessee, area. For the first month or so, we lived at a hotel adjacent to the city’s airport while waiting for our house to be completed. That was in Hermitage, just a couple of miles down the road from former president Andrew Jackson’s homestead of the same name. Our last year or so was spent in the small (then) community of Hendersonville, near Johnny Cash’s recording studio and where our mother often “bumped into” June Carter Cash at the grocery store.

While living in Nashville, I began collecting both stamps and coins (along with the odd bit of paper currency) and started my interests in local history and reading mystery and adventure fiction. While the numismatics later fell to the wayside, the others continue to grow.

I think it was in Nashville that I first sought out patches of most of the tourist attractions that my family often visited including Tennessee state parks, any public cave we could find, and the odd amusement park. Sadly, I only have a very few of these patches remaining but I did try to revive the collection after moving to Asia, obtaining flag patches from several of the nations I visited here.

Opryland had only been open a couple of years when we made our first visit. The impetus for a theme park in Nashville was the desire for a new, permanent, larger and more modern home for the long-running Grand Ole Opry radio program by the Opry owners, the National Life and Accident Insurance Company. The Ryman Auditorium, its home since 1943, was suffering from disrepair along with the downtown neighborhood’s increasing urban decay since the mid-1960s. Despite the shortcomings, the show’s popularity was increasing as its weekly crowds outgrew the 3,000-seat venue. Organizers sought to build a new air-conditioned venue with a larger capacity and ample parking in a then-undeveloped area of the city, providing visitors a safer and more enjoyable experience than was possible at the Ryman.

During a 1969 visit to the Astrodomain in Houston, Texas, WSM, Inc. (a subsidiary of NL&AI, later NLT Corporation, and then owner of WSM-AM-FM-TV and the Opry) President Irving Waugh was inspired by the presence of AstroWorld. Waugh noted in particular that the theme park was able to draw visitors to the property on days when the Astrodome and related facilities were dormant. Waugh decided that an amusement park adjacent to a new Grand Ole Opry House, which itself only operated two days per week, would be a profitable venture. As a result, WSM, Inc. purchased a large tract of riverside land (Rudy’s Farm) owned by a local sausage manufacturer in the Pennington Bend area of Nashville along the Cumberland River, adjacent to the newly-constructed Briley Parkway, a four-lane highway with access to the interstate system. Plans for the Opryland complex were announced on October 13, 1969.

The theme park opened to the public on May 27, 1972, well ahead of the Grand Ole Opry House, which debuted on March 16, 1974, with a visit by President Richard Nixon. The park was named for WSM disc jockey Grant Turner’s early morning show, “Opryland USA”, itself a nod to the stars of the Grand Ole Opry. However, despite the nominal connection to country music, the park’s theme was American music in general; there were jazz, gospel, bluegrass, pop, and rock and roll-themed attractions and shows in addition to country. Opryland’s focus was more on its musical productions than its rides and other attractions, which helped attract adults as much as children, the target of other similar venues. As such, it was billed as a “showpark”, instead of an “amusement park” or “theme park” in its early days. Major thrill rides at the park’s opening included the Timber Topper (later renamed Rock n’ Roller Coaster) roller coaster and Flume Zoom (later renamed Dulcimer Splash) log flume.

In its fourth season in 1975, Opryland added the “State Fair” area on land formerly occupied by the buffalo exhibit. The expansion featured a large selection of carnival games, as well as the Wabash Cannonball (named after the famous Roy Acuff tune) roller coaster, Country Bumpkin Bump Cars, and Tennessee Waltz (a song made popular by Patti Page) swings. However, shortly before opening, the Cumberland River flooded most of the park, as deep as 16 ft (4.9 m) in some areas. The park’s opening was delayed by a month, and several animals in the petting zoo died in the floodwaters.

Opryland became very successful during the mid-1970s. By the 1977 season, the park was the most popular Nashville tourist attraction, drawing nearly two million guests annually, mostly from Tennessee and adjoining states. The park also drew upon the continued appeal of the Opry show to country music fans from the Southern United States and the Midwestern United States, who often brought their families for several-days’ vacation in Nashville.

I don’t remember too much about our visits to Opryland, which I don’t think were too often. I recall watching a jug-band show there as well as hearing Dixieland music while strolling through the park. I think my favorite ride at the time was the Flume Zoom and I remember The Barnstormer which was a ride flying in a replica bi-wing airplane. I don’t remember if I ever rode the Wabash Cannonball as I have never been a big fan of rollercoasters. Another memory is a cruise or two on a paddlewheel steamboat down the Cumberland River — there are photos of my sister and I aboard — but I am not sure if this was also called the General Jackson as the current showboat wasn’t built until 1985.

My most vivid memories of our time in Nashville (other than regular visits to a stamp dealer and attending the local premier of the first Star Wars movie) was the 1975 flood. My father managed a warehouse on a bend of the Cumberland River downtown. It was on a bluff high above the river but during that flood, he had to access the warehouse using a motorboat. I think I enjoyed that boat ride much more than the big steamboat!

The Barnstormer


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