Although barely literate, Captain Thomas Ryman was a shrewd and industrious businessman, building the Ryman Line, a fleet of 35 riverboats, by 1885. “That same year, legend has it that he had become fed up with the immensely popular Reverend Sam Jones preaching against the evils of alcohol and gambling—two of the very things that made him money in his saloons and on his riverboats. So on May 10, at age 44, Ryman and some friends went to one of Rev. Jones’ famous tent revivals to ‘raise a ruckus’. But something in Jones’ sermon spoke to Ryman, and he was so deeply affected that his life was changed forever. He pledged to construct a building large enough to hold all who wanted to hear Sam Jones and others preach. He wanted to ensure the citizens of Nashville would never have to attend a revival under a tent again.
“The Union Gospel Tabernacle took seven years and approximately $100,000 to complete. On June 1, 1892, Rev. Jones preached in the newly completed building he inspired.
In 1925, the National Life and Accident Insurance Company built a radio station as a public service to the local community. Crowds soon clogged fifth floor hallways within the National Life building in downtown Nashville where the WSM studios were located. As more and more people showed up to watch the broadcasts, National Life built an auditorium capable of holding 500 fans. Three more moves would follow before the Opry moved in 1943 to its most famous former home, the Ryman Auditorium where it stayed for the next 31 years.
The Ryman is also known as the Birthplace of Bluegrass, thanks to the night in December 1945 when twenty-one year old Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt on stage for the first time.
In the summer of 1949, a 25-year old Hank Williams took the stage for the first time to perform “Lovesick Blues.” The crowd gave him such an enthusiastic reception; he was called back for six encores--a house record.
Honky-tonk angel, Patsy Cline, became an Opry member at the Ryman 1960. Cline’s biggest hit “Crazy” was written by a young up and coming songwriter, Willie Nelson.
"The Ryman’s 120-year history, as Ryman/Grand Ole Opry curator Brenda Colladay pointed out, has been filled with its share of changes. 'Even things like the stained-glass windows that people think are so integral to the building, because it used to be a tabernacle--those were installed in 1966,' Colladay said" (blogs.tennessean.com/tunein/2012/01/30/ryman-auditorium-to-get-new-stage/).