Last Christmas morning, before the sun rose, a giant ball of flame erupted from an RV parked on Nashville’s Second Avenue. Betsy Williams watched it from her car, having just evacuated from her home across the street.
Williams lived and worked on Second Avenue, managing a building that included restaurants and vacation rentals. In the year since the explosion, she’s become a prominent voice in the discussion of how to rebuild — a process that is likely to take more than another year.
Looking back as the anniversary of the bombing approaches, Williams remembers the overwhelming feeling from the first days and weeks: shell-shock and concern about the immediate tasks of securing her life. After all, everything she owned had been, quite literally, blown up.
“It was consuming. It was all consuming,” Williams says. “I would lay in bed at night trying to figure out – what am I going to do about this? And how can I get help from this?”
But as the months went on, the focus shifted to figuring out how to make Second Avenue whole again. It became clear that a lot of people consider themselves stakeholders in her neighborhood: historic preservationists, urban design experts, insurance companies and the community at large.
“It’s been a little surprising to me at just how invested Nashville in general is in Second Avenue,” Williams says, “because I know a lot of people don’t ever come downtown…but they still care about it.”
Amidst the multitude of voices weighing in, Williams says she does feel like there has been ample opportunity for residents like herself to have a say.
She’s encouraged by the importance placed on retaining the street’s historic character. She also feels that rebuilding provides an unparalleled opportunity to create a connection between the neighborhood and the riverfront that she feels will bring another level of vibrancy to the area.
As for herself, Williams says this year has been a difficult one, coming on the heels of a string of other challenges including a bout with cancer and the pandemic. But she’s thankful for the help of her friends, her family and the community.
She says she hopes this experience has made her a stronger person. And she says it has reminded her this is a city that can come through trying times to flourish once again.
“The resilience of Nashville has been tested again and again,” she says, “through floods, through tornadoes, through fires that have happened over two centuries.”
That resilience, Williams says, defines Nashville.