Victory Memorial Bridge Park

Victory Memorial Bridge Park

The Victory Memorial Bridge Park blog post was researched, written, and designed by Elizabeth Crimmins, NCDC Design Fellow. Elizabeth has been with NCDC since January 2019, and will be pursuing her Master’s in Landscape Architecture from the University of Georgia this fall

“Treat the Cumberland River as central to Nashville’s identity - an asset to be treasured and enjoyed”
- The Ten Principles of the Plan of Nashville, Nashville Civic Design Center 

With development along the Cumberland Riverfront on the horizon, it is imperative to consider how improvements to connectivity and public space can increase the quality of life in and around downtown Nashville. Throughout Nashville’s history, the Cumberland River has played the role as the epicenter of Nashville’s identity and evolution. It served as a means of transportation and survival in Nashville’s early Native American history, and later European settlements. “It was the river that was the initial lifeline to the rest of the world, connecting Nashville to the Ohio, Tennessee, and Mississippi Rivers—and beyond.” (The Plan of Nashville: Avenues to a Great City). Throughout the early 1800s, the Cumberland continued to act as a key contributor to the economic development of Nashville, connecting the emerging city to major ports like New Orleans by steamboat. By the end of the 19th century, the Cumberland River was at the core of Nashville’s successful industrial economy.


In 1823, Lewis Wernwag, a bridge engineer and designer from Philadelphia, was hired to construct the first bridge spanning the Cumberland in Nashville. His design boasted a toll bridge where the present day Victory Memorial Bridge is located. To the relief of local Nashvillians, the toll bridge was replaced in 1851 in favor of a suspension bridge located one block upstream, where is now the Woodland Street Bridge. Today, the abutments of the Nashville Toll Bridge can still be seen from the bluffs on either side of the Cumberland. During its existence, the bridge acted as a major passageway across the river, including for the infamous Trail of Tears. The remains of the bridge continue to bear testament to the often-unrecognized tragedy. The present-day Victory Memorial Bridge was built in 1956 in honor of fallen World War II soldiers from Davidson County.

Left: Detail of an 1831 map of Nashville showing the 1823 Nashville Toll Bridge crossing the Cumberland River at the northeast corner of Public Square. Right: View of Nashville Toll Bridge in an 1832 birds eye map by Matthew Rhea.
Lasting only 12 years, the original Woodland Street Bridge was erected in 1850 until the evacuating Confederate Army disconnected the suspension cables and the structure collapsed into the river during the Civil War. After being reconstructed multiple times since its destruction, the current Woodland Street Bridge was finally completed in 1966.

Photograph of people crossing the Woodland Street Bridge, 1855.

Site Plan and Analysis

The site for this project is the parallel open space between the Woodland Street and Victory Memorial Bridges – critical connectors between East Nashville and Downtown that stitch together amenities, housing, civic buildings, transportation, and future development. The park will be an extension of Victory Memorial Bridge, highlighting the bridge’s role in commemorating Davidson County’s fallen soldiers from World War II.

The proposed park totals more than 1,000 feet long and 350 feet wide, thereby creating 350,000sq ft of new useable space. Extending west from Public Square, the park would provide for a signature public space connector while promoting more green space in the largely asphalt-covered East Bank. This location also presents an opportunity to continue development of the East Bank Greenway, and connectivity within the Music City Greenway.

The inspiration for park design came from the Cumberland River and its Nashville tributaries. The park has two major pathways on the north and south sides that act as commuter routes. The meandering Cumberland Pathway runs east-west throughout the park allowing for visitors to access all points of interest while following the course of the Cumberland River. The minor pathways named after local tributaries provide north-south connectivity throughout the park. Cyclists will be able to move through the space using the two-way cycle track on the south side of the park, allowing for seamless connectivity to the Music City Bikeway and the East Bank Greenway. By adding parallel parking on either side of the park, pedestrians and cyclists will be protected from heavy traffic on both Woodland Street and Victory Memorial Bridge. The more than 100 parallel parking spots will also allow for food truck parking in addition to cars. 
Two buildings on the east end of the park create opportunities for commercial and residential space. Their presence works to support the park as a destination, but also to begin establishing it as a “neighborhood” park. Other amenities include a sunken amphitheater, a pet-friendly area, and a hammock grove. With a lack of kid-friendly attractions in Downtown Nashville, this park creates much needed creative and educational spaces for children. There is a nature education garden, music garden, and a sculpture that acts as a playground. The park also presents numerous opportunities for new public art installations in alleyways, plaza spaces, and along the pathways. 
With water being a reoccurring theme within the park, a physical connection to the river exists by way of a dock accessible by both the sunken amphitheater or a pathway off of Gay Street. The dock would offer kayak, canoe, and paddle board rentals allowing for people to physically connect with the water. Further, this dock space would support the creation of a blueway network, a concept explored by NCDC in previous publications.
By applying the idea of interstate capping to bridges over water, connectivity between people and their geography is improved while establishing an enhanced sense of place. The goal of this bridge park is to promote connectivity while viewing the Cumberland River as a destination and not a geographic obstacle. Other cities such as DC are beginning to realize this idea by reimagining the role of pedestrian bridge connectivity. The proposed 11th Street Bridge by OLIN Architects and Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) presents an innovative way of thinking about public space over water. By creating rooms throughout the bridge, their design gives patrons an immersive experience with the Anacostia River while creating a new landmark in DC. Taking lessons from this project, Nashville can continue stitching together its neighborhoods while providing vibrant, world-class spaces.


Site Design

The first section of Victory Memorial Bridge Park focuses on developing the East Bank through the creation of two mixed-use buildings with an outdoor plaza space that evokes Nashville’s industrial history and geography. The fountain within this plaza features the topographic lines of Nashville, creating a visual connection to the historical context of the Cumberland River and its reflection upon Nashville’s history. The park itself remains level at two stories tall, allowing the buildings to open up onto the park on the second floor. This area of the park is accessed by either the alleyway in the southeast corner, or a public elevator inside the building near the north end of the park. Cyclists can also enter the two-way cycle track at a nexus of Nashville’s transportation network which could include a BRT route along Dickerson Pike.  A parking garage on this end of the bridge is located below the park, creating more parking than the current surface parking lot at this site. Developing this end of the park to have around 300,000 square feet of commercial and residential space will intend to integrate with future development along the East Bank. The new residential space, anchoring the east side of the park, could be a candidate for affordable and market rate housing. These new buildings can create a significant revenue source for the construction and continued maintenance of the park. 


The second section of the park provides a fun, interactive space by providing a hammock grove, swings, and a lawn. The hammock grove will have some hammocks already in place while keeping several open trees for people who wish to bring their own. The lawn acts as an intentional flex space for community events such as movie nights and yoga classes. This interactive space also provides a transition into the rest of the park’s more playful elements.


The third section presents several kid- and pet-friendly attractions. The pet-friendly space will be programmed specifically for responsible pet ownership and socialization. The music garden generates a space for creativity with permanent outdoor musical instruments such as interactive sound sculptures, drums, a large harp, and even a performance area. Located south of the music garden, the sculpture playground allows for public art to become an immersive experience where climbing on the art is encouraged.


This section of the park emphasizes public art installations and nature education. The nature garden focuses on educating patrons on native Tennessee plants, animals, and water sources while offering a platform for sustainable living education. An outdoor classroom space allows for local schools to have field trips or for a group gathering space. The large light tunnel helps activate the park at night in addition to lighting along the pathways to create safety and strengthen visual appeal.


The final section is one of the more important portions of the park, as it maintains the axis of Public Square from War Memorial Plaza while transitioning from the geometric form of Public Square into the more organic shapes that define Victory Memorial Park. It begins by opening up to Public Square with a structured plaza. Connected to the plaza is an open area for existing tree canopy’s to emerge up from Gay St, and become part of the park. A winding suspended canopy pathway allows for patrons to wander among the treetops. The sunken amphitheater erects a formal performance or gathering space and connects to a dock that grants public access to the water. 


Victory Memorial Bridge Park will not only enhance pedestrian and cyclist connectivity within and around Downtown Nashville but will be a landmark public space for the city. Utilizing the new infill on the Park’s east side also presents the opportunity to create nearly 350 new residential units, of which a substantial portion should be affordable. While literally bridging East Nashville and Downtown, the park responds to the significant proposed development along the East Bank. By reimagining the role of pedestrian connectivity and public space over water, this bridge park reconnects the people of Nashville with the Cumberland River in an innovative and immersive way. 

This image shows work that NCDC has focused on along the East Bank.
This image shows work that NCDC has focused on along the East Bank. 


References and Further Reading

Plan of Nashville: History Past and Present

Nashville History

Native History Association

Historic American Engineering Record