Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Exploration - Marathon Motor Works, Nashville

Google Map
For a long time, it was just a passing affair. I'd be driving down I-40 through Nashville, throw a glance out the passenger side window and catch an eyeful of rusting water tower, crumbling bricks and a painted white phrase: MARATHON MOTOR WORKS.

Finally, one day, I convinced some people to take me out there and solve the mystery.

Actually, the above happened twice. The first time I failed to bring a camera and instead explored with eyes only. The second time I brought along the old Rebel, and now I'm finally telling the tale.

The 1881 main tower is the oldest structure in the complex.

Marathon is the type of place I live to find. It's equal parts mysterious, ancient and ruinous. It speaks of a different age, at once alien and familiar. The toppled bricks and ornate artwork covering the building practically bleeds history.

The logo design expresses an obsession with Greek imagery present in the early 1900s.

I guess I should explain.

Around 1904, one Southern Engine & Boiler Works bought what was then an abandoned cotton mill (the 1881 tower you saw up there). In an attempt to shoulder into a burgeoning new industry, Southern changed its name to "Marathon" and started makin' cars. At the time, Southern was the largest manufacturer of its type in the nation.

At its peak, Marathon manufactured about a dozen different types of automobiles. It was the only automobile manufacturer in Nashville, and demand became ridiculously high.

In 1912, Marathon was pumping out 200 cars a month and was shooting for 10,000 a year.

Somehow, despite having everything going for it, Marathon almost immediately found itself in dire financial straits. The place went through three presidents in four years and it collapsed under its own weight in 1914.

Folks stuck around at the factory for a few more years to provide mechanical services, but by the 1920s there was nothing left of Marathon but an old building next to the railroad, twice abandoned by its users. Now, there are only eight known Marathon automobiles in existence, and Nashville hasn't had another car manufacturer within the city limits since then.

Pictured: Some of my generous Nashville friends
It's not really a sad story, though. So some bureaucrats failed 100 years ago. They left behind a handsome castle to fall into ruin, and nowadays there are actually tenants using the building for some businesses. I saw an antique store, a gym and a radio station holed up in various parts of the complex. Other parts are ruined and crumbling; whether the owners intend to leave them like this or fix them up is a mystery to me. Frankly I think whichever option they pick, I win. Here's some more photos from our trip:

The north side of the complex is falling down. There are bricks everywhere.

I love old vault alarms like this.


Trains still visit the factory, and these ones are carrying cars. But not Marathons.

I don't know what "READ UP!!!" means.

Rail ruins. Strategically placed highway overpass for dramatic effect.
So that's Marathon Motor Works. I love it. It goes down in my top 10 with places like Hot Springs and Bald Knob and the old Grayville High School. There's not much info on Marathon I could immediately Google, but in any case here are my works cited.

Oh, and here's me. Peace out y'all ;)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Saw this on American Pickers today. Knew I recognized the building from this blog. Hope you had a great time at BotCon. Stacey