Captain Tom Ryman was born in south Nashville on October 12, 1841, the son of Capt. John Ryman. He was the oldest of six children. Capt. John Ryman moved his family to Chattanooga when Tom was 10 years old. Tom moved back to Nashville when he was 20 years old.
John Ryman died in 1865, when Tom was 24 years old leaving Tom to support his mother and brothers and sisters. Tom's father owned a fleet of fishing boats on the Cumberland River which Tom took over.
At this time the river was full of fish, so the fleet was making good money. The fleet of boats operated out of fish camps on the banks of the Cumberland River. The fish were processed at the camps and prepared for sale at the Nashville market. The fishing boats were large row boats that used nets and trotlines.
Tom Green Ryman bought his first steamboat at age 26 in New Orleans. Uncle Charlie had a pilot's license and Tom didn't have his yet, so his uncle Charlie Ryman had to pilot it to Nashville, Tennessee.
Captain Tom Ryman married Miss Mary Elizabeth Baugh of Franklin, Tennessee on Feb 12, 1869. She lived on the steamboat with Tom and was the hostess. They had seven children, all who survived him.
Captain Tom Ryman was a well known Riverboat Captain on the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers. His fleet of steamboats would make regular trips from Nashville to Burnside, Cairo and Paducah hauling freight and passengers. At this time the river was the main way to travel and transport goods.
By 1885 he had owned as many as 35 steamboats and leased bar space on his steamboats to Alex Longinette and George Jobes. He started in the steamboat trade at the beginning of the steamboat era and died at the end of the era. After that trains began taking a large share of the cargo.
Captain Tom Ryman was making a fortune on riverboat trade. He was at the right place at the right time. This helped to make him one of the most influential men on the river in the Nashville area. With his proceeds, he built a beautiful mansion on a hill in the best neighborhood in Nashville. The address was 514 Market Street, now 2nd Avenue South.
In 1902, Tom Ryman had a large warehouse and grain elevator on the east side of the Cumberland River at the foot of Main Street. The warehouse was spacious, and the grain elevator could hold 300,000 bushels of grain. A track for rail cars carried the cargo from the boats to the warehouse and elevator. On March 30, 1905, after Tom's death, the warehouse burned and was not insured.
Evangelists would come to Nashville and set up tent revivals. The traveling evangelists were doing such a good job that Ryman became a little disturbed because of the bars on his steamboats.
In 1885, a traveling evangelist named Sam Porter Jones from Cartersville, Georgia came to Nashville for the first time to hold a weekly tent revival. The revival had been in town long enough to get the attention of Captain Ryman. On May 10, 1885, Ryman and his wife and six children went down to the revival and was able to get inside seats.
The tent could hold 7,000 people but people had to stand outside because the tent was filled to capacity. Somewhere during the sermon Captain Ryman had a change of heart and by the end of the service was converted. He decided that he would build a building large enough for Sam Jones to hold his revivals in.
This was when Captain Tom Ryman dropped the leases to the bars on his steamboats. He didn't own any wharf side bars.
In Dec 23, 1904, Captain Tom Ryman died and his funeral was held in the tabernacle to an overflowing crowd. During the funeral service evangelist Sam Jones suggested the Union Gospel Tabernacle be named after Captain Ryman.
The swelling crowd rose to its feet in total agreement with that
suggestion. From that day on, the Union Gospel Tabernacle was known as
"The Ryman Auditorium".
Thomas G. Ryman is buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Nashville Tennessee.
There is a statue of Thomas Ryman in front of the Ryman Auditorium.