Middle Tennessee is one of the three Grand Divisions of the U.S. state of Tennessee that composes roughly the central portion of the state. It is delineated according to state law as 41 of the state's 95 counties. Middle Tennessee contains the state's capital and largest city, Nashville, as well as Clarksville, the state's fifth largest city, and Murfreesboro, the state's sixth largest city and largest suburb of Nashville. The Nashville metropolitan area, located entirely within the region, is the most populous metropolitan area in the state, and the Clarksville metropolitan area is the state's sixth most populous. Middle Tennessee is both the largest, in terms of land area, and the most populous of the state's three Grand Divisions.
Geographically, Middle Tennessee is composed of the Highland Rim, which completely surrounds the Nashville Basin. The Cumberland Plateau is located in the eastern part of the region. Culturally, Middle Tennessee is considered part of the Upland South. Crops such as cotton and tobacco were first cultivated in the region in the antebellum era, and the world-famous Tennessee Walking Horse was first bred in the region during this time. Middle Tennessee was extremely crucial during the American Civil War, and saw many battles and campaigns. In the 20th century, the Grand Ole Opry cemented Nashville as the home of country music. Since the early 1970s, the region has been transformed by many new economic sectors, including automotive manufacturing, healthcare, finance, technology, tourism, and professional services. Both the Nashville and Clarksville metropolitan areas are among the fastest growing regions in the nation.
Native Americans and colonization
Throughout the past 10,000 years, a number of different Native peoples are believed to have inhabited what is now Middle Tennessee. The regions is believed to have been rich in game animals favored by Ice Age hunter-gatherers. During the Mississippian period (1000-1600 AD), Native Americans established chiefdoms and constructed numerous mounds in the regions, such as Mound Bottom in Cheatham County and the Castalian Springs site in Sumner County. By the late 17th century, for unknown reasons, there were few Native Americans left in Middle Tennessee, but the Cherokee and the Chickasaw claimed the region as their hunting grounds. Natives that had occupied what is now Middle Tennessee prior to this time may have been wiped out by diseases introduced by European explorers.
The first Europeans to reach what is now Middle Tennessee was probably an expedition in 1540-1541 lead by Spanish conquistador Hernando De Soto. By the late 17th century, the French had begun to explore the Cumberland River valley in Middle Tennessee. In 1714, a group of French traders constructed a trading post at a site along the Cumberland River in modern-day Nashville that became known as French Lick. These settlers quickly established an extensive fur trading network with the local Native Americans, but by the 1740s the settlement had largely been abandoned. In the 1750s and 1760s, longhunters from Virginia explored much of Middle Tennessee, especially the Cumberland plateau. In 1779, James Robertson and John Donelson led two groups of settlers from the Watauga Association in what is now East Tennessee to the French Lick. These settlers constructed Fort Nashborough, which they named for Francis Nash, a brigadier general of the Continental Army. The next year, the settlers signed the Cumberland Compact, which established a representative form of government based on the government that had been established by the settlers of East Tennessee. Fort Nashborough later grew into the city of Nashville, and a number of other settlements were established nearby. In 1790, what is now Tennessee became the Southwest Territory, and the settlements in Middle Tennessee, which were commonly referred to as the Cumberland Settlements, were organized into the Mero District, named after Spanish territorial governor Esteban Rodríguez Miró.
In 1795, a survey conducted by the territorial legislature found that the majority of residents of Middle Tennessee were opposed to statehood, which the majority of residents of East Tennessee, of which there were approximately three times more, were in favor. Nevertheless, Tennessee was admitted to the Union as the 16th state the following year. During the antebellum era, a slavery-based agrarian economy took hold in Middle Tennessee, especially in the fertile soils of the Nashville Basin. Planters primarily grew cotton in the Nashville basin, and tobacco and corn took hold in the Highland Rim. By 1860, slaves composed about 29% of the population of Middle Tennessee. After the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, a majority of Middle Tennessee voted against the state's ordinance of secession in June 1861, which resulted in Tennessee joining the Confederate States of America (CSA).
Civil War and Reconstruction
A number of crucial campaigns and battles of the Civil War took place in Middle Tennessee. General Ulysses S. Grant and the U.S. Navy captured control of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers in February 1862 at the battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, giving the Union control of Middle Tennessee. Union control in the area, however, was tested in a series of Confederate offensives beginning in the summer of 1862, which culminated in General William Rosecrans's Army of the Cumberland routing General Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee at Stones River in Murfreesboro. This was one of the bloodiest battles of the entire war. The next summer, Rosecrans's Tullahoma campaign forced Bragg's remaining troops in Middle Tennessee to flee to Chattanooga with little fighting. The last major battles in the state occurred in the fall of 1864 Franklin–Nashville campaign when the Confederate Army of Tennessee under the command of General John Bell Hood unsuccessfully tried to lure Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, who was conducting the Atlanta campaign in Georgia, back into Middle Tennessee. Hood was defeated at the Battle of Franklin in November, then completely dispersed from the state by General George Thomas at the Battle of Nashville the following month. The United States Colored Troops played a major role in this campaign.
During Reconstruction, Middle Tennessee's economy fell into a state of disrepair. The Ku Klux Klan was formed in Pulaski in December 1865 as a vigilante organization to advance the interests of former Confederates. In the late 19th century, African Americans began fleeing Middle Tennessee to booming industrial cities in the Northeast and Midwest. This mass migration, which occurred in every Southern state and accelerated between 1915 and 1930, and became known as the first wave of the Great Migration. Coal mining grew extensively in the Cumberland Plateau in Middle Tennessee in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Late 19th century to present
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In 1897, Tennessee celebrated its centennial of statehood one year late with the Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition in Nashville. A full-scale replica of the Parthenon in Athens was designed by architect William Crawford Smith and constructed for the celebration, owing to the city's reputation as the "Athens of the South." The site of the exposition is now a city park called Centennial Park.
Since 1970, the Nashville and Clarksville metropolitan areas have been two of the fastest growing regions in the United States. This growth has accelerated since 1990, causing Middle Tennessee to surpass East Tennessee as the most populous of the state's grand divisions in the 2000s. The region's economy has been transformed by new economic sectors, including the automotive, healthcare, banking, technology, and entertainment industries.
Middle Tennessee's principal city is Nashville, which is the state capital and largest city. Other major sizeable cities in Middle Tennessee include Clarksville and Murfreesboro, the latter of which is the largest suburb of Nashville. The total land area of Middle Tennessee is 17,009.41 square miles (44,054.2 km2).
According to custom, Middle Tennessee consists of that portion of the state east of the Tennessee River's western crossing of the state (in which it flows northward back into Tennessee after having flowed through northern Alabama) and west of the dividing line between the Eastern and Central time zones. Exceptions to this rule are that Hardin County, which is located on both sides of the Tennessee River, is considered to be entirely in West Tennessee and that Bledsoe, Cumberland, and Marion counties are generally considered to be in East Tennessee despite being in the Central Time Zone.
The Official Tourism Website of Tennessee has a definition of the eastern border slightly different from the legal definition. The website includes Cumberland County in Middle Tennessee, while excluding Grundy and Sequatchie counties.
Middle Tennessee is composed predominantly of the Nashville Basin and the Highland Rim, although the western portion of the Cumberland Plateau also extends into Middle Tennessee. It is characterized by rolling hills and fertile stream valleys.
Under the most common definition, there are 41 counties in Middle Tennessee:
- Van Buren
Population and demographics
Middle Tennessee is the largest in area and most populated of the state's three Grand Divisions. At the 2010 census it had 2,455,911 inhabitants living in its 41 counties, an increase of 385,935, or 18.64% over the 2000 figure of 2,069,976 inhabitants. Its population was 38.70 percent of the state's total, and its land area is 41.27 percent of the state's total land area. Its population density was 144.39 square miles (374.0 km2) inhabitants per square mile at the 2010 census. Prior to the 2010 census, Middle Tennessee was the second-most populous of the state's Grand Divisions, behind East Tennessee.
A diversity of sectors drives Middle Tennessee's economy, including music and entertainment, automotive manufacturing, healthcare, and technology. The region's economy is reportedly one of the fastest growing in the United States.
Music and entertainment
Nicknamed "Music City", Nashville is perhaps best known as the home of country music. The Big Three record labels, as well as numerous independent labels, have offices in Nashville, mostly in the Music Row area. Today, Nashville is the second-largest music recording center, behind New York City. Nashville's music industry is estimated to have a total economic impact of about $10 billion per year and to contribute approximately 56,000 jobs to the Nashville area.
The largest service industry in Middle Tennessee is healthcare. More than 300 healthcare firms are based in the Nashville area, including Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), the world's largest private operator of hospitals, Community Health Systems, the largest provider of general hospital services in the United States, Envision Healthcare, Vanguard Health Systems, Ardent Health Services, and LifePoint Health. Other important business sectors in the region include banking, finance, insurance, and publishing. The technology sector is also rapidly becoming an important aspect of Middle Tennessee's economy, with such tech giants Amazon and Oracle pledging investments in the area in 2018 and 2021, respectively, that are expected to employ thousands.Other major corporations headquartered in Middle Tennessee include Caterpillar Inc. in Nashville, Acadia Senior Living in Franklin, Dollar General in Goodlettsville, Tractor Supply Company and Delek US in Brentwood, and Cracker Barrel in Lebanon.
Automotive manufacturing is the largest manufacturing sector in Middle Tennessee. Nissan operates an assembly plant in Smyrna, which is the largest automotive assembly plant in north America, and also operates an engine plant in Decherd. General Motors operates an assembly plant in Spring Hill that was formerly the sole manufacturing facility for Saturn Corporation. Nissan relocated its North American headquarters from California to Franklin in 2005, and Mitsubishi Motors did the same in 2019. Bridgestone has its North American corporate headquarters in Nashville, and operates manufacturing facilities throughout the region. Middle Tennessee is home to several automotive parts suppliers scattered throughout the region. Other products manufactured in Middle Tennessee include processed foods, consumer electronics, electrical equipment, computer products, chemicals, and firearms.
Soybeans and tobacco are grown throughout Middle Tennessee, and beef cattle is raised throughout the region. Middle Tennessee is perhaps best known for its horticultural products and for being a prime breeding ground for horses. Warren County is one of the top producers of nursery products in the nation, and is nicknamed the "Nursery Capitol of the World". The soils of the Nashville Basin reportedly produce grasses which are favorable to horses, and as a result, the region is a top equestrian location. The Tennessee Walking Horse was first bred in the region in the late 18th century and is today one of the most recognized horse breeds in the world. The Cumberland Plateau is a major source of timber, and reportedly ranks as one of the top producers of hardwood in the country.
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) provides electric power to Middle Tennessee. TVA operates coal and gas fired plants in the region, including the Cumberland Fossil Plant, Gallatin Fossil Plant, and the Johnsonville Combustion Turbine Plant, as well as several hydroelectric dams. In addition, TVA also purchases power from dams on the Cumberland River operated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The largest provider of power to the region, however, is the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in northern Alabama, the second-largest nuclear plant in the United States.
Tourism plays a major role in Middle Tennessee's economy. Nashville has the largest tourism economy in the state, and contains many attractions, mostly related to its musical heritage. Top attractions in the region include the Grand Ole Opry, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Ryman Auditorium, Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, Johnny Cash Museum, National Museum of African American Music, Frist Art Museum, The Parthenon, the Tennessee State Museum, and Jack Daniel's Distillery. A number of antebellum residences are preserved in the region, including The Hermitage, the home of Andrew Jackson, the Belle Meade Plantation, and several homes in Franklin. The National Park Service preserves two Civil War battlefields in Middle Tennessee: Fort Donelson National Battlefield near Dover, and Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro. In addition, the American Battlefield Trust operates the Franklin Battlefield. The Natchez Trace Parkway begins in Nashville, and runs through the southwestern part of Middle Tennessee. In addition, the state operates many state parks in Middle Tennessee that preserve historic sites and natural features of the region.
Middle Tennessee has an abundance of institutions of higher learning—most notably Vanderbilt, Belmont, Lipscomb, and Tennessee State universities in Nashville and Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville. Other prominent universities are Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, the University of the South in Sewanee, Cumberland University in Lebanon, and Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, which is the state's second-largest institution of higher learning, just behind the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
Unlike the geographic designations of regions of most U.S. states, the term Middle Tennessee has legal as well as socioeconomic meaning. Middle Tennessee, West Tennessee, and East Tennessee are the state's three Grand Divisions. According to the Tennessee State Constitution, no more than two of the state supreme court's five justices can come from any one Grand Division. The Supreme Court rotates meeting in courthouses in each of the three divisions. The Supreme Court building for Middle Tennessee is in Nashville. A similar rule applies to certain other commissions and boards, in order to prevent a geographic bias.
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|Record high °F (°C)||78
|Mean maximum °F (°C)||68
|Average high °F (°C)||49.1
|Daily mean °F (°C)||39.6
|Average low °F (°C)||30.1
|Mean minimum °F (°C)||11
|Record low °F (°C)||−17
|Average precipitation inches (mm)||4.02
|Average snowfall inches (cm)||2.0
|Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in)||10.8||10.9||11.6||11.2||11.6||10.7||10.3||9.4||7.8||8.4||9.0||11.4||123.1|
|Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in)||2.0||1.9||0.9||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.2||0.5||5.5|
|Average relative humidity (%)||70.4||68.5||64.6||63.2||69.5||70.4||72.8||73.1||73.7||69.4||70.2||71.4||69.8|
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||139.6||145.2||191.3||231.5||261.8||277.7||279.0||262.1||226.4||216.8||148.1||130.6||2,510.1|
|Percent possible sunshine||45||48||52||59||60||64||63||63||61||62||48||43||56|
|Average ultraviolet index||2||4||6||7||9||10||10||9||7||5||3||2||6|
|Source 1: NOAA (relative humidity and sun 1961−1990)|
|Source 2: Weather Atlas (UV index)|
The weather in Nashville is a decent mix of extremes. Plenty of sunshine in the summer, and crisp, cold air throughout the winter.
Interstate 40 (I-40) traverses Middle Tennessee in an east to west alignment, passing through Nashville and its suburbs to the east. Interstate 65 (I-65) runs north to south through the region, serving Nashville and its suburbs to the north and south, including Brentwood, Franklin, and Spring Hill. Interstate 24 (I-24) enters the region in Clarksville and runs in a southeast to northwest alignment, passing through Nashville and its southeastern suburbs of La Vergne, Smyrna, and Murfreesboro, before exiting the region in the southeast. I-440 serves as a bypass around downtown Nashville, and I-840 is an outer bypass around Nashville, passing though suburban counties to the south. Other important freeways in Middle Tennessee include State Route 155 (SR 155/Briley Parkway), a northern bypass around downtown Nashville, Ellington Parkway, part of U.S. Route 31E (US 31E) in Nashville, SR 386 (Vietnam Veterans Boulevard), which serves Nashville's northwestern suburbs of Hendersonville and Gallatin, and SR 396 (Saturn Parkway), which connects Spring Hill and its General Motors plant to I-65. Middle Tennessee also has several other important corridors that are part of the National Highway System (NHS), including U.S. Routes 43, 64, 70S, 79, and 231, and State Routes 55 and 111.
Air, rail, and water
Nashville International Airport (BNA) is the region's primary airport and the busiest airport in Tennessee. The Music City Star is a commuter rail service that serves Nashville and its eastern suburbs of Mt. Juliet and Lebanon. CSX Transportation operates most freight trackage in Middle Tennessee, and runs a classification yard in Nashville called Radnor Yard. Both the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers are navigable in Middle Tennessee.
- Mean monthly maxima and minima (i.e. the expected highest and lowest temperature readings at any point during the year or given month) calculated based on data at said location from 1991 to 2020.
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