New Book Chronicles How The Histories of The Hermitage Hotel and Nashville Are Intertwined

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"The Hermitage at 100 - Nashville's First Million Dollar Hotel" by Ridley Wills II was released on Oct. 14 as part of the centennial celebration of The Hermitage Hotel, Tennessee's only Mobil 5-Star hotel. The lushly illustrated 258-book contains stories about political bosses, civic institutions, Nashville's first gold record, changing the U.S. Constitution, the escapades of gangsters and more. A must-read for anyone interested in luxury hotels and Southern history.

Author Ridley Wills II signs copies of his new history of The Hermitage Hotel during an Oct. 14 book launch party at the hotel.

The Hermitage at 100--Nashville's First Million Dollar Hotel.

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Imagine that a movie camera had been set up in the lobby of The Hermitage Hotel in 1910 and continuously photographed the goings on there. When you ran this time-lapse show, you'd see the history of Nashville unfold before your eyes. With the exception of the state capitol, there may be no other place in town where so much of Nashville's history is concentrated.

And thanks to the diligent research of local historian Ridley Wills II, Nashvillians can now follow this history in a new book released on Wednesday, "The Hermitage at 100--Nashville's First Million Dollar Hotel." Over 100 Nashvillians attended a book launch party at the hotel last night, where the author talked about his book and signed the first copies to arrive in Nashville. Over 50 copies were sold within an hour.

Beautifully illustrated throughout, the 258-page coffeetable-style book traces the significant role The Hermitage Hotel has played in shaping the history of the city, the state and the nation. It will be available for purchase in the hotel's gift shop and local bookstores for $59.99. Wills will also be at two book-signing events on Saturday, Nov. 21: at Davis Kidd Bookstore in The Mall at Green Hills at 2:00 p.m. and at Borders in Brentwood at 330 Franklin Rd.

"We knew that The Hermitage had been the site for many important events throughout Nashville's history, but we had no idea how large this role was," said Greg Sligh, managing director of the hotel. "Thanks to Ridley's work, we now know that virtually every important person who came through Nashville since 1910 - presidents, governors, movie stars, gangsters, titans of business, musicians and more - passed through The Hermitage Hotel. And the stories they left behind are fascinating."

Since the beginning, the hotel has been tied to Nashville's hopes and dreams, Wills says.

"Around the turn of the century, businessmen in Nashville were miffed that Atlanta and Memphis had passed Nashville in population, according to the 1900 U.S. Census. They wanted to make a big splash - and they were willing to spend a considerable amount of money to do so. As a result, they alighted on the idea of building a magnificent hotel that would lift Nashville back to the very top of Southern cities," Wills said.

Thus The Hermitage Hotel was born, opening on Sept. 17, 1910.

Though it is lushly illustrated, "The Hermitage at 100--Nashville's First Million Dollar Hotel" is far from the typical glorified photo scrapbooks that often pass for histories of civic institutions. It is a very complete and detailed history that scholars will find most useful - but that the rest of us will find fascinating, thanks to its very accessible writing style.

Among the things readers will learn:

  • Nashville's first gold record has connections to The Hermitage Hotel. The song, "Near You," was written by Francis Craig, whose orchestra played in The Hermitage Hotel's Grille Room and Ballroom from 1925-1945.
  • Edward Hull "Boss" Crump, the notorious Memphis powerbroker who heavily influenced Tennessee politics in the early and middle decades of the 20th Century, ran his Nashville operations from The Hermitage Hotel.
  • The Hermitage was one of three sites for the opening night broadcast on Oct. 25, 1925 of ,WSM radio - home of the Grand Ole Opry.
  • American Airlines first Nashville ticket office was located in The Hermitage Hotel - and it was a replica of the airline's Hollywood ticket office.
  • The first office of The Nashville Symphony was at The Hermitage Hotel.
  • Two of Nashville's leading civic clubs were founded at The Hermitage: The Rotary Club in 1914 and The Exchange Club in 1920.
  • The Country Music Association (CMA) was formed in connection with a convention at The Hermitage Hotel.
  • Tennessee was the final state to ratify women's right to vote in 1920, and both sides of the issue had their headquarters at the hotel.

In addition to important history, the book is full of entertaining anecdotes about famous, and infamous, people who have stayed at the hotel. We learn that Al Capone, traveling in his armor-plated car, used to stop by on the way to Maimi, for example. And Wills tells the story about the time gangster John Dillinger stayed at the hotel:

"When Dillinger was wanted by the FBI, he checked in at the hotel one day with his girlfriend, Billie Frechette, and John "Three Fingers" Hamilton. After checking in, Hamilton went for a walk and reportedly didn't return for hours. Having forgotten both his room number and the alias he used when he registered, Hamilton spent the day trying to remember either one. Desperate to find either Dillinger or Billie, he stood for a long time outside the hotel keeping watch. Hamilton finally described Dillinger to a bellboy, who helped him reconnect with his party at 9 p.m.," Wills said. "If not for that bellboy, the police might have become curious about what this fellow was doing prowling around the hotel and Dillinger's ending might have been in Nashville instead of Chicago."

If you want to know about the 'real' history of Nashville, pick up a copy of this incredible book.

About The Hermitage Hotel
Opened in 1910, The Hermitage Hotel is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 2000, it was purchased by its current owner, Historic Hotels Nashville Inc., which invested $20 million in restoring the property. When the restored hotel was re-opened on Valentine's Day 2003, its grand public spaces had been completely restored, 122 luxurious guest rooms and suites had been created and many luxury guest services and amenities new to Nashville were introduced. Today, The Hermitage Hotel is the only Mobil Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond hotel in Tennessee and five contiguous states - Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri and Arkansas. The Hermitage Hotel is also a member of Historic Hotels of America and Preferred Hotel Group. More information is available online at http://www.thehermitagehotel.com.

The Hermitage Hotel is also home to the historic Capitol Grille and Oak Bar, Nashville's only Mobil Four-Star and AAA Four-Diamond restaurant. The Hermitage Hotel's sister properties include The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Va., The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in Charleston, S.C., and Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island, S.C.

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