There’s no denying that Smyrna is fast becoming one of the most popular places to live in Tennessee. Located a mere 20 minutes outside Nashville – known the world over as the center of country music – Smyrna has grown from an agrarian community to a vibrant, bustling town with a personality all its own. Lest you need proof, between 2000 and 2016, the population has grown a whopping 39.37%!
There are tons of fun facts and interesting tidbits that give Smyrna its unique character. Here are three little-known secrets about this picturesque town:
1. It’s a Transportation Mecca.
Smyrna has served as home to some transportation giants. RegionsAir f/k/a Corporate Airlines and Capitol Air were headquartered here prior to their dissolution. In 1983, the Nissan Smyrna Vehicle Assembly Plant opened its doors. This brought automobile production to Tennessee for the first time. The plant has created thousands of well-paying jobs and inspired other automotive companies to set up shop in the state.
The Nissan Smyrna battery plant remains the largest lithium-ion battery plant in the United States. Currently, Nissan manufactures six automobile models in Smyrna: the Altima, the Maxima, the LEAF, the Pathfinder, the Rogue, and the Infiniti QX60.
Nissan also holds the title as the largest employer in Smyrna, with 4,400 employees. Here are some other contenders:
- Asurion (communications): 1,165 employees
- Vi-Jon (personal care products): 737 employees
- Stonecrest Medical Center (hospital): 550 employees
- Taylor Farms (produce): 550 employees
- Square D/Schneider Electric (electrical products): 474 employees
2. Two Major League Baseball Greats Hail From Smyrna.
Tennessee Sports Hall of Famer John (Johnny) Gooch was born in Smyrna in 1897. Gooch kicked off his professional baseball career at the age of 18 with the Talladega Tigers of the Georgia-Alabama League and made his major league debut in 1921 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Gooch helped the Pirates win the National League pennant in 1925, then cruise on to defeat the Washington Senators in the 1925 World Series.
After being hired by the Cincinnati Reds to be a player-manager for the Durham Bulls of the Piedmont League in December 1935, Gooch began working with young pitcher Johnny Vander Meer. With Gooch’s help, Vander Meer went on to become the only pitcher in MLB history to pitch two consecutive no-hitters. When Gooch finally retired from baseball management several years later, he opened a baseball bat factory in Nashville.
Pro baseball player Sonny Gray was born in Nashville, but moved to Smyrna before entering eighth grade. Gray played baseball at Smyrna High School where, as a junior in 2007, he led his team to the State Tournament with an 11-2 win-loss record. Gray earned nominations for both AFLAC All-American High School Baseball Classic and National Player of the Year. From 2008 to 2011, Gray played for the Vanderbilt Commodores, helping the team land their first ever College World Series spot.
The Oakland Athletics selected Gray in the 2011 MLB Draft, at which point he chose to forego his senior year and sign with Oakland for a $1.54 million bonus. Ultimately Gray made his MLB debut in 2013, won the American League Pitcher of the Month Award twice in 2014, and was dubbed an MLB All-Star in 2015.
3. It’s Home to a Civil War Hero.
By far one of Smyrna’s most-recognized denizens, Samuel Davis is known as the man who died to protect a secret. Like many other young men during the Civil War era, Davis joined the army in 1861 before Tennessee officially seceded from the Union. Two years later, Davis became a member of the so-called “Coleman’s Scouts.” Once the Union Army occupied much of Middle Tennessee, Davis and his comrades worked behind enemy lines to disrupt communications and amass information on the troops’ movements, which they would then transmit to the Confederate Army.
In November 1863, Davis was captured by Federal troops while carrying papers that contained essential information on troop movements, along with 11 newspapers and various personal items for Confederate General Braxton Bragg. Among the materials in Davis’s possession were papers that could only have come from Union General Grenville Dodge’s desk. Dodge, who believed that one of his own officers was spying on him, decided to flush that information out of Davis.
Although Dodge offered Davis his freedom in exchange for selling out the source of the information, Davis bravely refused. Dodge promptly summoned a court martial, which charged and ultimately convicted Davis of being a courier of the mails and a spy. When Davis was on the gallows awaiting death, Dodge offered him one final chance to save himself by revealing the source of the stolen papers. Davis was hanged after uttering the words, “I would die a thousand deaths before I would betray a friend.”
The Sam Davis Home remains one of the most historic locations in Smyrna to this day. The home is today largely as it was when Davis lived there, and it contains more than 100 original family pieces. The home sits on a 160-acre farm where cotton is grown. The State of Tennessee purchased the building and grounds itself in 1927 and opened it to the public for tours in 1930.