The Marathon Motors Factory is a popular must-visit on any Nashville sightseeing itinerary, located in the heart of downtown Nashville. The four-block complex of cultural offerings, includes an array of music recording studios, numerous shops, a film production company, artist’s and photographer’s studios, a radio station, a distillery, a winery and more. Read on to learn more about this attraction and what you can expect when you visit during your vacation in Nashville.
The year was 1884 when the Southern Engine and Boiler Works company was founded in Jackson, Tennessee. As a manufacturer of gasoline engines and industrial boilers, the company was one of the first of its kind in a growing industry. By 1904, this locally owned and operated organization had grown into the largest plant of its kind in the United States. While there were numerous automobile companies buying components and assembling vehicles in their factories, only a few were actually manufacturing the entire vehicle using their own design and components they’d built onsite. At Southern Engine and Boiler Works, a young engineer William Henry Collier, wanted to be among those creating the entire vehicle and convinced the directors of the company to allow him to build a car he designed.
Collier’s enthusiasm and ingenuity paid off, and in 1907, the company announced their first vehicle with a gasoline engine. It was so successful that excited investors gave $50,000 to be a part of the action.
By 1909, the company released two different models, the A9 and the B9. Each vehicle featured a 35 horsepower, 4-cylinder engine. The A9 was a five-seater touring car, while the B9 was a rumble seat roadster. For just $1,500, people could purchase either, with a top being an optional extra. As the cars gained popularity, the company produced more and more starting with just 20 cars in 1907, increasing to 400 in just two short years.
By 1910, Southern Engine and Boiler Works had been renamed Marathon (as a result of a name dispute with another company in the area) and relocated to a larger facility in Nashville. New models were added to the company’s offering and soon buyers and auto dealers from around the world were coveting their vehicles. The enthusiasm for Marathon Motors continued to grow, causing dealers to flock to Nashville and having a positive impact on the city’s economy.
While business flourished for several years, the company reportedly hit a wall—unable to keep up with demand (at one time producing 10,000 cars in a year). A consistently changing board of directors and a few unwise business decisions later, the dealership stopped production of their vehicles in 1915, marking the end of an era.
After being abandoned and suffering with years of neglect, the Marathon Motors Factory was discovered by Barry Lyle Walker, a real estate visionary who recognized the possibilities of the once booming facility. His vision was to develop a thriving creative community that would serve as a cultural, artistic and performing arts venue. After purchasing the property, he began renovation. A challenging aspect to the refurbish was the fact that each of the buildings on the property had been built in different time periods, and thus were of different architectural styles. The new spaces that evolved are not only unique, they capture the essence, personality and creativity that the founders of Marathon possessed. Walker even scoured the world to find one of the original vehicles, finally obtaining one in 1990.
Today, visitors can see four out of the eight Marathon cars still in existence at Marathon Village—a true treat! There is an eclectic selection of shops to pick up everything from clothing, jewelry, sculptures and hand-made marshmallow treats to souvenirs and antiques.
A must-browse through is Antique Archaeology, the store owned by Mike Wolfe and made famous on the popular TV show, “American Pickers”. For those who seek antiques and one-of-a-kind treasures, this place doesn’t disappoint, boasting an array of extraordinary finds.
Other must-dos include a stop into the Corsair Artisan Distillery, where spirits are being crafted by hand and you can sip a sample of everything from Gin-Head-Style Gin, Vanilla Bean Vodka, Spiced Rum and more. They also have a selection of craft beers from microbreweries all over the globe. For those who prefer wine, Grinder’s Switch Winery is also here, where you can sip a variety of hand-crafted wines, produced at their winery in the heart of middle Tennessee. Guests are invited to enjoy a glass at their 22-foot long barn-wood bar.
Marathon Village is located at 1305 Clinton Street in Nashville. Hours of operation vary are from 10am to 6pm, Monday through Saturday with some shops also open on Sunday from 12pm to 5pm. There are a variety of events and performances throughout the year, including concerts so check the website for details on dates and times.
Things To Do Nearby
Located just a few footsteps away from Marathon Village, this historical distillery offers tours of their facility every day. A unique experience, the tour takes you on a journey through the past and into the present including a walk-through of the production floor where you can learn about the processes that go into making their products. A free sample is also offered to guests 21 years old and older.
Various memorials, including a 200-foot granite map of the state, can be viewed along with a Pathway of History and the Rivers of Tennessee Fountains and 11 planters that show the native plant species from different areas of the state. 19-acres of history and natural beauty entice those vacationing in Nashville to learn about the rich heritage of Tennessee.
Less than a mile from Marathon Village, the Tennessee State Museum is one of the largest museums in the United States. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to view a variety of interpretive exhibits that highlight more than 15,000 years of history. See 17th and 18th Century furniture, sliver, quilts and paintings. A favorite among guests is the collection of Civil War items, including uniforms, battle flags and weapons.
Located about a mile away from Marathon Village and is a must-visit while you’re in the area. This renowned facility, deemed the “Smithsonian of country music” features an amazing collection that showcases the history and sounds of country music. Through artifacts, photographs and vintage video, to the backdrop of some of the most recognizable sounds and songs, the various galleries bring the history of country music to life.
For art enthusiasts, this unique facility offers a fulfilling experience. As one of the most well-known art museums in the state, the Frist Center features a vast collection of artwork by local, region, national and international artists. The center prides itself on their continually changing exhibits, which changes every 6 to 8 weeks, ensuring that no two visits are alike.