Visitor's Guide to the Sites and Sounds

Historic Downtown Bolivar

Bolivar: A Grand Old Story
With a Brand New Face

Listen closely as you walk in downtown Bolivar and you can hardly help but hear the sounds of the past... the shrill blast of the steamboat whistle as another load of goods makes its way up the Hatchie River... the unrelenting taunts hurled at Union garrison troops by an unabashed Kate Neely... the Gilded Age glamour of Fletcher Sloan homes being decked out in the finery of the day... the tapping of the telegraph as a young Thomas Edison perfects his craft. It is a tapestry of the evolution of a nation, an outline of history colored richly by the celebrated stories of real people in a real place.

Historic downtown Bolivar is actually three separate and distinct parts: the Bills-McNeal district, the Court Square district, and the North Main Street district. Added to the National Historic Register in 1980, all three areas combine to provide the aficionado of historic structures a visual treat they won't soon forget.

Blessed with classic architectural styles running the gamut from Greek Revival to Italianate, Bolivar's historic districts hearken back to a day when nearly fanatical attention to detail could be seen from initial design to the detailed decorative carvings throughout the buildings. The famed Philadelphia-based architect, Fletcher Sloan, has left his mark of genius through a number of post-bellum homes that have survived in large measure through the efforts of the local chapter of the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities (APTA).

The crown jewel of all historic structures, most locals will agree is the famed county courthouse, built (or rather, "rebuilt") in 1868. This elegant structure continues to the present day as the center of county government activity, but whether it's the grand central staircase or the vintage vault in the Recorder's Office, it's impossible not to feel the history when one steps through the high arched doors. Don't forget to stop by the monument to the fallen Civil War soldiers of Hardeman County, believed to be the first monument of its type in west Tennessee.

And as you pass by the Houston Bills House, the forest area across the street often escapes notice, but it remains the last piece of virgin forest in west Tennessee. McAnulty Forest is the only known example of the upland forests of the Mississippi Embayment section of the western mesophytic forest region, featuring some specimens of white oak estimated to be 450 years old.

Every spring, the APTA hosts the famous Bolivar Home Tour where visitors get to walk through a number of these fabulous old structures. Be sure to look for details if you would like to partake of one of the great walking tours of history.

While Bolivar is inseparably bound to its past, but thanks to a dynamic focus on the future, the town is not shackled by that history. As one of six recipients state-wide of a Courthouse Square Revitalization Grant pilot project, Bolivar has successfully embarked on a full-scale renovation of its downtown area, preserving the grandeur of the past while stepping boldly into the 21st century as a rural commercial center of commerce. The site of an old hardware store that sold the materials to build the original town has given way to an ultra-modern cellular telephone store. Near where an opera house used to stand, the up and coming stars of tomorrow ring out country music favorites in the newly crafted courthouse amphitheater. And the one-time way station on a stage coach route is now the largest commercial center between two industrial megasites in Tennessee and Mississippi.

Bolivar's broad, sweeping sidewalks and its delicate accent lighting reflect the design genius of the nationally known architectural firm, Looney Ricks and Kiss. It has been their uncompromising attention to detail that has set the stage for explosive commercial growth where even the most optimistic partisans only three years earlier would have seen little reason for hope. As new enterprises open their doors in painstakingly restored buildings, visitors to southwest Tennessee will be treated to one of the truly delightful shopping experiences of their lives.

Bolivar, Tennessee. In touch with its past, in step with the present, engaged in its future.