Frist Exhibition reflects on the Flood of 2010

Residents are canoed to higher ground. May 1 or May 2, 2010. (Courtesy of the Nashville Public Library, Special Collections. Photo: Clinton Larson)

The Nashville Flood: Ten Years Later reflects on the historic 2010 flood in which a record-breaking rainfall caused the Cumberland River to crest almost twelve feet above flood stage. Thousands of homes and business were damaged or destroyed, and twenty-six people in the region died, eleven in Nashville. This exhibition examines the event’s immediate and long-term impact on the city through photographs and excerpts of oral histories from the Nashville Public Library’s flood archive and The Tennessean newspaper. The exhibition was organized by the Frist Art Museum in partnership with the Nashville Public Library and The Tennessean.

The Nashville Flood: Ten Years Later runs through May 17, 2020 in Conte Community Arts Gallery of the Frist Art Museum. A Panel Discussion entitled The Nashville Flood: Our Community’s Response is scheduled for Sunday, May 3, 2020, at 1:30 p.m. in the Frist Art Museum Auditorium. Free; first come, first seated. The panel discussion will commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the 2010 flood, moderated by former Nashville mayor Karl Dean. Hear from community members and organizations that took a leading role in Nashville’s recovery, as well as personal stories from the Nashville Public Library’s Special Collections Division to learn how the city came together to respond to this historic event.

On Saturday, May 1, and Sunday, May 2, 2010, a record-breaking rainfall of over thirteen inches caused major flooding throughout Middle Tennessee. The Cumberland River crested almost twelve feet above flood stage, and smaller waterways such as Browns Creek, Mill Creek, Richland Creek, Whites Creek, and the Harpeth River also flooded, wreaking havoc across the city. Thousands of homes and businesses, including the Grand Ole Opry, the Opryland Hotel, and the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, were damaged or destroyed. Twenty-six people in the region died—eleven in Nashville. Despite the intensity of this historic event, it received little national media attention, primarily because of other compelling news stories and because—unlike some natural disasters—the recovery process was remarkably organized and smooth.

This exhibition features photographs and excerpts of oral histories from ten different neighborhoods—including Antioch, Belle Meade, Bellevue, Bordeaux, and others, in addition to downtown—to present a broad picture of both the destruction and the relief efforts. Parts of the story may be unfamiliar to Nashville newcomers, while some residents who were here in 2010 may have been too preoccupied with their own situations to follow what was happening in other areas.

The items in this exhibition come largely from the Nashville Public Library’s extensive flood archive and The Tennessean newspaper. An interactive monitor illustrates the long-term impact of the flood by pairing photographs from 2010 with ones from 2020. In downtown Nashville, the recovery marked the beginning of a rapid construction boom that has transformed the city’s skyline. In some areas, though, less progress is evident, signifying inequities in rebuilding. Many people, however, recall the heroic rescue efforts and the spirit of volunteerism from this event, which forever changed Music City.

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