Clarksville: 1984 

Amid an exciting world awash in Day-Glo clothes, new technology, and iconic pop songs, the city of Clarksville turned 200 years old. When John Montgomery built his fort near a spring on a hill in 1784, there’s no way he could have pictured how sprawling Clarksville would become. In 1984, Clarksville citizens could think of no more fitting way to commemorate a bicentennial than to open a museum. The Clarksville-Montgomery Historical Museum was the beginning of a wonderful vision to remember the past, while providing opportunities for a new generation to learn and grow from history.  

A Thrilling Year 

1984 was a dynamic year to make big moves. Luckily, the often-referenced dystopian novel 1984 didn’t accurately predict the reality of life in the year 1984. However, the year turned out to be a wild ride that started with a bang.  

In January, tech company Apple promised the year would be as different from the setting of 1984 as possible with their game-changing Super Bowl ad directed by Ridley Scott of recent Blade Runner fame. The ad foretold the coming of their new product, the Macintosh computer.  At a time when few people dreamed of owning their own computer, the Macintosh changed the conversation by offering an easy-to-use graphic screen with clickable icons and a built-in mouse.  

1984 was a presidential election year.  Ronald Reagan ran for re-election against Walter Mondale, winning in a landslide that November.  

The 1984 Winter Olympics were held in Sarajevo, the first time the games were hosted by a Slavic-speaking country. The Los Angeles Summer Olympics later that year were boycotted by the Eastern Bloc countries, as the world was still in the throes of the Cold War. Mary Lou Retton earned a perfect score in women’s gymnastics and won gold for the US. 

Papa John’s pizza opened its doors in 1984. 

The average gas price was $1.20, the federal minimum wage was $2.30, and a gallon of milk was $1.89.  

Michael Jackson’s Thriller was still out-selling everyone else, but the fresh new music on the radio included Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” and Prince’s “When Doves Cry.”  

The biggest movie of the year was Ghostbusters, but Gremlins, Karate Kid, and Terminator also came out in 1984. 

Babies born in 1984 include athlete LeBron James, comedian Trevor Noah, singer Katey Perry, and famous royal Prince Harry – not to mention the writer of this article.  

Clarksville Celebrates 200 

So, what was going on in Clarksville in 1984? Well, the citizens of Clarksville were busy celebrating their bicentennial. A huge part of that celebration was opening a new historical museum for the city and county, both of which contributed funds to set up the new community institution. The growing city with several generations of history under its belt certainly needed one.   

After years of planning and fundraising, in June 1984 the ribbon was cut in front of the 1898 building. Current Executive Director Frank Lott was present that day, so how fitting for him to be at the helm to watch the Museum turn 40! 

The Museum wasn’t the only way Clarksville celebrated the bicentennial. The local Coca-Cola bottling facility on North Second Street printed a special edition bottle with a list of planned events throughout the year. The bottle celebrates Clarksville as simply “a great place to be.” 

Clarksville was certainly in touch with its history in 1984. November 11 of that year also saw the commemoration of the historical site Sevier Station, one of the earliest settlements in Clarksville.  

While some tiny pockets of Clarksville haven’t changed much since 1984, the city as a whole is remarkably different. Governor’s Square Mall had yet to be built for a couple more years. No one shopped out there in the fields. Instead, they went to Two Rivers Mall on Riverside Drive for Sears and Parks-Belk. Wilma Rudolph Boulevard was still called Guthrie Highway and was not the thoroughfare of food and shopping that exists today.  

People also shopped at Montgomery Ward on Madison Street, but they didn’t shop at the Publix – in 1984, that was the site of the local hospital. A handful of high schools existed: Clarksville High, Montgomery Central, Northwest, and the newest Northeast High. The areas around Exit 1, 4, 8, and 11 were mostly farm fields and not the high-traffic commercial areas we experience now. Small family farms existed where now there are sprawling neighborhoods. 

Do you remember 1984?  What’s your favorite memory from that year? 

Don’t forget to check out the latest edition of Second & Commerce to read more about the Museum’s history! 


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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