Curious Nashville: What We've Learned In Two Years Of Answering Your Questions | Nashville Public Radio

Curious Nashville: What We've Learned In Two Years Of Answering Your Questions

Mar 16, 2018

Piranhas, tombstones, tunnels, and trains. Questions about Nashville road names. And even a query about how much it rains here. (The answer: Nashville does receive more annual rainfall than stereotypically soggy Seattle.)

These subjects, and many more, have made for a lively 2 years for Curious Nashville.

This WPLN project has now fielded hundreds of questions and assigned reporters to chase down several dozen answers. In the process, we’ve stitched together bits of local history, examined contemporary civics, introduced a cast of characters to our listeners and, as often as possible, plunged with gusto into head-scratching mysteries.

We’ll be pressing on with more answers (and podcast episodes) this year. But in honor of the 2-year anniversary that we recently marked, we’re taking a moment to reflect on where we've been and share updated information from some of our popular past stories.

Dark Inquiries

Cemeteries factor into a sizable share of listener questions. So, in hindsight, it was fitting that our project’s first in-depth answer told the story of a mysterious tombstone in the Nashville City Cemetery.

Later, we shared tales of “water witching” — or divining — to find unmarked graves. 

More recently, we had a different (inadvertently) morbid question come in. Christi Mooring asked:

Why is the cool old warehouse building across from the Nashville Jazz Workshop, curved??

This old warehouse is the defunct Neuhoff slaughterhouse. Back in 2016, we detailed its history, as well as ideas about its potential revitalization.

The question inspired us to revisit the curve, which University of Tennessee architecture professor T.K. Davis agrees is eccentric.

Having studied the property, he explains that the curve had matched the arc of a rail line that hugged the building. At the end of the meat processing sequence, workers would load product into rail cars.

“I have always assumed there was a desire to maximize frontage on the track, resulting in its curvature,” Davis said.

A 1947 aerial image, found through the Tennessee State Library and Archives, shows the rail line in use.

This aerial image from 1947 shows the now-defunct Neuhoff slaughterhouse in the Germantown neighborhood.
Credit TSLA

Curious Nashville attracts many questions about local history and unusual buildings like the slaughterhouse. One of the most popular is the 8th Avenue Reservoir, which we detailed in 2016.

More recently, Catherine Hoffman asked a follow-up:

What is the little house at the top of the 8th Avenue Reservoir? What’s in it?

The answer: that building is known as the gatehouse, and it previously served as the control room for the reservoir, allowing water to flow as needed between the two sides. Metro Water says the room has not been in use for years.

As for what’s in it these days: nothing, really, except for the empty shaft of its once-warming fireplace.

Progress At Dragon Park

One of the best outcomes of Curious Nashville questions is when a seemingly simple answer leads to a rich narrative. That was the case when we were asked about the mosaic dragon at Fannie Mae Dees Park in Hillsboro Village.

The Fannie Mae Dees Park "dragon," photographed through a fence prior to structural rehab work.
Credit Mack Linebaugh

As detailed last year, this landmark sculpture has a rich history and lives on in a park with a name that some consider deeply ironic.

At the time of our reporting, the mosaic serpent was showing its age — prompting it to be cordoned off while the neighborhood raised money to restore it.

A year later, we can report significant progress. The folks with Save Our Dragon have raised $150,000 toward a $200,000 goal and completed the first phase of structural renovation in January, repairing more than 100 cracks and holes. Now the team says it has 60 mosaic sections to replace (this time with durable, frost-resistant porcelain tiles).

The group says a reopening could be within reach in May, pending fundraising.

Roadway Musings

Alongside history questions, Curious Nashville attracts a lot of queries about transportation — why the roads are the way they are and how they’re named, and a raft of questions about train travel, which seem to have gravitated toward reporter Blake Farmer. (His Amtrak answer is here and the story of the infamous Dutchman’s Curve crash is here.)

And those interstate digital signs — insistent and pithy and occasionally alarmist — have drawn about as many questions as any other subject. Here’s how Adrien Good asked:

I would love to hear the story behind the TDOT slogans and messages that run above the interstate. Who comes up with them?!

WPLN answered this question in 2016. It’s two-fold.

First, the state has run a few contests for residents to submit ideas, and those messages have been part of the rotation.

Otherwise, the Tennessee Department of Transportation has a dynamic message sign coordinator who writes some of the messages, and the department's Chattanooga spokeswoman has become known within TDOT for her witty suggestions.

Changing Region Means More Questions

With Middle Tennessee growing quickly, we’ve tried to answer questions that will intrigue natives and newcomers alike.

So we’ve gone deep into music history along Jefferson Street, and explored one of the ripple effects of recent development — what happens to all of the construction and demolition waste?

When we explored the legends of tunnels beneath the city, we didn’t anticipate that a brand new tunnel (two in fact) would soon make news. In the past year, a new tunnel has been constructed for the Tennessee General Assembly.

The new tunnel to the Tennessee General Assembly is now in operation.
Credit Chas Sisk / WPLN

And one of the key pieces of the pending mass transit proposal would be a 1.1-mile tunnel beneath downtown Nashville, intended to aid buses and light rail trains in bypassing congestion.

While the tunnel has drawn a raft of skeptical questions — largely about its $936 million cost — our reporting for Curious Nashville does make clear that modern tunnels are certainly feasible.

This early diagram shows how a multimodal tunnel might function beneath downtown Nashville.

Many of the legendary downtown tunnels could not be confirmed, and likely would have been difficult to cut through the bedrock without obviously large-scale civic effort. But government projects have, in fact, created several miles of infrastructure-related underground routes throughout downtown, which carry energy systems, stormwater and sewage — along with deep underground parking.

So, thanks to questions from our listeners — both practical and wondrous — we’ve had ample reason to take on stories such as the tunnels reporting.

Through Curious Nashville’s blend of history and current day exploration, we’re endeavoring to build a newsroom that is responsive to your interests — and one that is enriched each time we pursue an answer.

So whatever question you have about Nashville, let 'er rip in the form below: