Image: Tenn. Capitol turns 150
Mark Humphrey  /  AP
The Tennessee State Capitol stands apart from newer buildings in Nashville, Tenn. The Capitol, celebrating its 150th birthday, has a history unmatched by any of the other historic locations in Nashville.
updated 10/5/2009 2:25:42 PM ET 2009-10-05T18:25:42

In this city of songs and sequins, it's not a honky-tonk. Or a recording studio. Or a Grand Ole Opry guitar.

But the Tennessee State Capitol may be the most historic of all.

The imposing building, sitting majestically in downtown Nashville atop the city's highest hill, is celebrating its 150th birthday.

For sure, this is no ordinary structure.

For starters, the man who designed it is buried in the walls of the north facade. William Strickland of Philadelphia, who died suddenly during construction in 1854, wanted it that way. It was dedicated in 1859.

It was built, not by dedicated construction workers, but by slaves and prisoners.

"It's definitely stood the test of time," Scott County attorney John Beaty said as he toured the inside of the Capitol with his 12-year-old nephew. "It's surely made to last."

There is Civil War history associated with the structure, sounding like something from "Gone With the Wind."

In 1862, the Capitol was placed under heavy guard by Union forces. Then-Gov. Isham G. Harris, in a flash of caution and concern, moved the seat of government 190 miles away to Memphis.

Nonetheless, the Capitol has endured to be 66 years older than the fabled Grand Ole Opry country music show and 87 years older than the city's first recording studio.

"It is truly a state treasure," Beaty said.

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It's made mostly of marble, quarried in the Tennessee hills, and is regarded as a prime example of Greek Revival architecture. It's more than 206 feet tall and covers an area of 112 feet by 239 feet.

It's copied from an Ionic temple, with porticos on the north and south facades, each with eight fluted columns. The east and west porticos have six columns surmounted by parapets.

The Capitol offers a spectacular view of downtown Nashville. Motorists can see it like a beacon from busy Interstate 40/65.

"The vantage point on the hill, overlooking downtown, is a destination for locals and visitors alike and adds to the uniqueness of Nashville," said Butch Spyridon, president of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Free guided tours are available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

But wait! Stories persist that the Capitol is haunted.

Frank Harris, who runs Nashville Ghost Tours, says he's heard shouting and fighting some 30 times during paid tours he's guided outside the Capitol over the last seven years.

"It lasts five or 10 seconds, usually around 9 o'clock," he said. "You can make out a word or two; it sounds like it's 50 or 100 feet away."

Speculation is it's coming from Strickland and Samuel Morgan, who like Strickland is buried inside the Capitol. The two were enemies as the building was being built.

"The stories are, they are not happy about being entombed together," Harris said.

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