Then & Now: The Square

Gallatin has something that many towns don’t: a typical American town square.

Like most of Tennessee’s 95 county seats, the city of Gallatin grew up around the site selected for the courthouse when the county was formed in 1786. Legislation creating new counties typically called for establishment of a centrally located county seat. Land was plotted on a grid system with the courthouse in the center, surrounded by the city's main roads and businesses. The appearance of Gallatin’s courthouse square, like most in Tennessee, was modeled after public squares in ancient Greek and Roman cities.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, people went to the nearest courthouse almost daily. Many went to conduct business with the merchants on the square. Even more went to watch the trials at the courthouse, a major form of entertainment in those days. The square was the center of the city’s business and social life.

By the end of the 20th century, thanks to cars, malls, and shifting habits, Gallatin’s public square was no longer the community hub it had once been. Many buildings fell into disrepair. Now, thanks to a renewed interest in the square’s rich history and an infusion of investment dollars by renovators, Gallatin’s historic public square has come back to life.

Historic Downtown Gallatin, Inc. (formerly Greater Gallatin, Inc.) has been at the forefront of this revitalization. Working in partnership with property owners, preservationists, city and county government, local businesses, and merchants in the city’s historic retail district, Historic Downtown Gallatin, Inc. has helped create one of the nation’s best Main Streets. Gallatin’s public square has earned recognition as an authentic, eclectic place that offers something for everyone in an atmosphere that reminds locals and visitors alike of a simpler time in our history – a place where community matters.




Sumner County Courthouse in 1912


Sumner County Courthouse in 2020.


Facing East

The east side of the square in 2020.


South Side


The south side of the square circa 1900.


The south side of the square in 2020.


West Side


The west side of the square as viewed from the corner of North Water Avenue and Franklin Street around 1950.


The west side of the square as viewed from the corner of South Water and Franklin in 2020.