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Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville

2011 October 13
by Jan Wilkinson

I have a glass negative of the Tennessee State Capitol building in Nashville, completed in 1859. It was designed by William Strickland of Philadelphia. This photo must have been taken around the same time as the other Tennessee photos in the late 1890’s.  Thank you to Mark D. Cowan and the Texas Historical Commission for their identification.

Glass plate negative owned by

Tennessee State Capitol Building c1898

Design and construction

The State Capitol was designed by renowned Philadelphia architect William Strickland, who modeled it after a Greek Ionic temple. The lantern is a copy of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens. The cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1845 and the building was completed fourteen years later during 1859.[3]

The American Society of Civil Engineers has listed the building as a civil engineering landmark in recognition of its innovative construction, which made unusually extensive use of stone and was an early example of the use of structural iron. Both the interior and exterior are built with limestone from a quarry about 1 mile (1.6km) from the site. Some interior columns were built from single pieces of stone, requiring massive wooden derricks to hoist them into place. Wrought iron, instead of wood, was used for the roof trusses to reduce the building’s vulnerability to fire.[4]

Strickland died five years before the building’s completion and was entombed in its northeast wall. His son, F. W. Strickland, supervised completion of the structure. William Strickland also designed the Egyptian Revival style Downtown Presbyterian Church, formerly known as First Presbyterian Church, Nashville.

Samuel Dold Morgan (1798-1880), chairman of the State Building Commission overseeing the construction of the Tennessee State Capitol, is entombed in the southeast corner near the south entrance.

Portrait of Strickland standing before the Second Bank of the United States, Philadelphia. John Neagle, 1829, Yale University Art Gallery

William Strickland (Navesink, New Jersey, November 1788 – Nashville, Tennessee, April 6, 1854), was a noted architect in nineteenth-century Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Nashville, Tennessee.

Life and career

Strickland was one of the founders of the Greek Revival movement in the United States, using the plates of The Antiquities of Athens for his inspiration.

Strickland’s design for the Second Bank of the United States in Philadelphia (1819-1824) beat out the design of his teacher, Benjamin Latrobe. Although Strickland was still copying classical prototypes at this point, the Second Bank is an ambitious building modeled on the greatest Greek design: The Parthenon of Athens. The competition had called for “chaste” Greek style: Strickland’s elegant Greek temple design is a fitting result. The architect clearly saw this building as one of his major accomplishments, as he had it included as the background of the portrait that Philadelphia society painter John Neagle did of Strickland in 1829 (Yale University Art Gallery)

Second Bank of the United States, Philadelphia. (1819-24)

Comparison of the Second Bank of the U.S. with the later Merchants’ Exchange (1832-4), also in Philadelphia, reveals the growth of Strickland’s talent and confidence as an architect. With the Merchant Exchange, Strickland still had a classical example in mind (the cupola is based on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates), but created a unique building specifically styled to fit the site. The Merchant’s Exchange was to be located on a slightly-awkward triangular plot, at the intersection of two major thoroughfares, between the waterfront and the business district. The elegant, curved east facade faces toward the waterfront, and reflects the carriage and foot traffic that would have been circulating in front of the building. This elevation is unique” Greek Revival, but modern” while a more staid and formal elevation can be found on the west side, facing Third Street. This building demonstrates Strickland’s maturity as an architect, showing that some of America’s architects were truly innovating in the Greek Revival.

Merchants’ Exchange, Philadelphia, PA (1832-34).

Another of Strickland’s buildings was the National Mechanic Bank at 22 South 3rd St. The bank’s construction began in 1836 on a narrow plot between two taller neighbors. Strickland took the narrow space, however, and used strong, square pilasters to support the portico as well as ornate stone carving at their tops to defend the building against its taller and bulkier neighbors. The building is one of Strickland’s smallest and has since gone through several changes of ownership. The building is now occupied by National Mechanics Bar and Restaurant. It was one of Strickland’s last Philadelphia buildings.

Strickland also executed works in other styles, including very early American work in the Gothic Revival style, including his Masonic Hall (1808-11, burned 1819) and his Saint Stephen’s Church (1823), both in Philadelphia. He also made use of Egyptian, Saracenic and Italianate styles. He later moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where his Egyptian-influenced design of the First Presbyterian Church (now the Downtown Presbyterian Church) was controversial but today is widely recognized as a masterpiece and an important evocation of the Egyptian Revival style.

Strickland was also a civil engineer and one of the first to advocate the use of steam locomotives on railways. In his youth he was a landscape painter, illustrator for periodicals, theatrical scene painter, engraver, and pioneer aquatintist. William Levitt (Early Railways 3, 2006) argues that Strickland’s observations made during visits to England in the 1820s were highly influential in the transfer of railway technology to the United States.[citation needed]

Strickland is buried within the walls of his final, and arguably greatest work, the Tennessee State Capitol.

Philadelphia buildings

Buildings elsewhere


Tennessee State Capitol, Nashville, TN (1845-59). Strickland is buried in a crypt within the Capitol.

“Strickland, William (1788-1854)” Philadelphia Architects And Buildings. Available:



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2 Responses Post a comment
  1. October 24, 2012


    I don’t have the research to answer your question. I am glad you found my photo and blog. Thank you for your comment and sorry I couldn’t help.


  2. Michael Riccardi permalink
    October 24, 2012

    As a Philadelphian, I am fascinated by Strickland. The Merchants’ Exchange is one of the most elegant examples of 19th Century architecture anywhere.

    I’ve been studying the Tennessee State Capitol and I was wondering where the legislature met when Nashville was the temporary capital?

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