Ryman Auditorium was home to the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 through 1974, but it was originally built in 1891 as the Union Gospel Tabernacle by wealthy riverboat captain Thomas Ryman. Upon his death in 1904, it was renamed in his honor.
In addition to country music, the Ryman hosted opera singers, orators, politicians, and television shows, but when the Opry moved to its new home in the Opryland theme park, the building fell into disrepair. It was fully restored in 1994 as a concert venue, and it retains all of its original church-style pew seating, balcony, and stage.
The new entrance holds a statue entitled "Oh, Roy!" of two of the Opry's most famous personalities, Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl. It also houses a number of displays and memorabilia from its Opry days, including a collection from Johnny and June Carter Cash, and one of the intricately embroidered stage costumes of another Opry legend, Porter Wagoner.
In 2001, the Ryman was designated as a National Historic Landmark, and it's easy to imagine it both as a church and a social venue, with hundreds of hand fans swatting the humid air, as Nashville residents listened to a preacher or musicians in the pre-air conditioned days of yore, with the summer afternoon sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows . . .