4 Downtown Clarksville Buildings and Their Past Lives

By Meghan E. Gattignolo   

Local artist David Smith and his wife came back from vacation one day inspired by something they encountered in the town they’d visited: signs posted on buildings with a photograph from a previous time, providing a little window into the past.  

A member of Clarksville’s Arts and Heritage Council, David decided to bring the idea to the group. Clarksville’s Arts and Heritage Council is a non-profit organization headed by Ellen Kanervo that participates in projects that support or showcase Clarksville’s history. If you’ve ever come across an aluminum mockingbird while walking around downtown, or found a copy of the picture book C is for Clarksville, then you are already familiar with their work. Their latest project, Clarksville Then & Now, gives everyone a chance to peek into the past lives of several downtown buildings.  

The Roxy Regional Theatre = The Lillian 

If you’re a fan of live theatre, surely you’ve enjoyed a night at the Roxy. Long-time Clarksville residents will remember a school trip or two to catch some Shakespeare or a Steinbeck adaptation for English class. Roxy staff have worked hard to make the Roxy Regional Theatre a special place. Thanks in great part to them and the high-quality actors that perform here, The Roxy remains a staple of Clarksville’s culture.  

While this theatre has operated as the Roxy since 1941, a theatre has stood at this address since the turn of the 20th century. The Lillian, named for the daughter of its owner, was built at 100 Franklin Street in 1912 as a movie theatre. Considered the finest movie house in the South, The Lillian burned down in 1914 along with some other buildings downtown. It was rebuilt the next year, though, and continued operation until 1936. It was sold and reopened in 1941 as The Roxy.   

City Market = Woolworth’s 5 & 10 Cent Store 

Look down at your feet next time you walk into City Market, and you’ll see remnants of the building’s past life still clinging to the sidewalk. Today, the casual shopper can grab a sandwich at Fanelli’s Deli after a stroll down the hall to check out the several interesting boutique shops inside City Market. You can find a custom 3D printing studio, a few unique clothing stores, and even a shop dedicated to Pop! figures.  

Woolworth’s opened at this address in 1917. An amazing 4,000 people came to the grand opening, with the store only growing in popularity as the years continued. During the 1940s, the lunch counter was a busy place. The owner employed many military wives from the new Army post down the road. Woolworth’s closed for good in 1969 to make way for new businesses.   

Blackhorse Pub & Brewery = William MacCormac’s Photography Studio 

Since the mid-90s, Blackhorse Pub & Brewery has been a downtown Clarksville destination spot. It’s hard to imagine Clarksville without it, though we all were faced with the possibility of losing the landmark restaurant in March 2021, when a disastrous fire almost took it out. Luckily, it was able to reopen a year later, and Blackhorse is just as busy as ever.   

In 1872, Scottish immigrant William J. MacCormac bought the property where Blackhorse stands today. He turned the upstairs into his own photography studio. Fire also wreaked havoc in his life during Clarksville’s Great Fire of 1878. MacCormac renovated his studio after the fire, including a unique skylight to meet his photographic needs.   

&Vinyl Records = Joy’s Jewelers 

For nearly five years, a cozy little record shop has occupied the spot at 139 Franklin Street. &Vinyl Records is Clarksville’s best place for browsing old records and soaking up good vibes, the antidote to a stressful day. Owner Tony Shrum provides Clarksville with a place to chat and enjoy good music, as well as a source for harder-to-find vintage gems. If you’ve lived in Clarksville long enough, though, you might remember the past resident of this corner – Joy’s Jewelers.    

A well-known shop for diamonds, watches and watch repair during an amazing 69-year run, Joy’s Jeweler’s finally closed for good in 2008. For most of that time, owners Wilson and Alice Goodrich ran the store. They loved their store so much, they named their own daughter Joy after the store (not the other way around).  

Learn more about Clarksville’s downtown history and the amazing backstories of each building down and around Franklin Street. Look for the plaques posted by the Arts and Heritage Council. Each one has a QR code that will take you to where you can find the story behind each address. Make an afternoon out of following the list, and take a moment to imagine downtown in its former life. Clarksville is a deep well of fascinating history, so enjoy it! But remember – a trip downtown isn’t complete without a visit to the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center

Historic photos courtesy of the Clarksville Arts & Heritage Council

Meghan E. Gattignolo is a freelance writer and longtime Clarksville, TN resident. She loves to obsess about historical subjects and annoy her family daily with unsolicited random facts. Meghan holds a History B.A. from Austin Peay State University and lives in town with her husband and two daughters. 

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