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History of Nashville’s Fire of the Century

One of Nashville’s most famous events happened in 1916 with only three ingredients. There was a lot of wind that day, a boy outside playing, and a burning ball of yarn.

The Fire of the Century started at the corner of First and Oldham. As the story of the event goes, the boy’s yarn ball landed on a hot stove. Like most children, he desperately tried to save his toy.

He grabbed it from the grate, threw it out the door, and that action ignited the dry and overgrown grass in the yard. As the flames grew, wind gusts whipped them into a frenzy. The entire east bank of the Cumberland was darkened as a result, and the first would change the identity and composition of the city.

East Nashville Used to Be Where Everything Happened

East Nashville’s neighborhoods were a hopping place in 1916. It was the trendy part of town, which meant you’d made it if you could live there.

After the fire, everything changed. The neighborhoods were isolated, abandoned, and ignored. The entire community went almost entirely dormant.

It would take almost a century for the rebuilding work to help the area come back from the ashes.

The fire went through Edgefield quickly, consuming about 35 blocks of residential property. One of the schools had to be brought down by dynamite after the flames were extinguished to prevent the walls from toppling over onto someone.

It took two days for the Nashville fire department to put out the last embers. They ate ham sandwiches and drank coffee to keep going, while residents came out the day after to witness the tragic events.


Despite all the damage that happened during the Fire of the Century, only one person was killed in the massive blaze. The newspapers would publish where the displaced families were living for several months after.