History & Heritage
The land that Tennesseans claimed by blood, survey and deed of ownership, they also made theirs by song, story and an unsinkable Volunteer State spirit. Their varied geography and their role as a border people brought forth a diversity of voices and a wealth of history.
Three presidents, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, James K. Polk, called Tennessee home, and pioneers in science, technology and the arts catapulted Tennessee from frontier to forefront. The 16th state has a diverse wealth of historic architecture, landmarks and cities across its varied landscape.
Historic Places and Landmarks
Visit the restored Rutherford cabin of larger-than-life American folk hero David Crockett, frontiersman, soldier and politician. Take in the murals and portraits of the Tennessee State Capitol. Honor an American hero at Alvin York State Park in Pall Mall. School yourself in the history of the Scopes Trial at the Rhea County Courthouse. Explore Native American heritage, Revolutionary War sites and the battlefields of the Civil War.
See why beautiful Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the nation's most visited, with 78 preserved structures that reflect Southern Appalachian heritage. The park is also a World Heritage UNESCO site and International Biosphere Reserve.
West Tennessee's Alex Haley House Museum attracts scholars and visitors from around the world. On a front porch in Henning, young Haley heard stories that inspired his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Roots: The Saga of an American Family. In Memphis, tour Elvis Presley's Graceland and the "Birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll," the legendary Sun Studio, where blues met country music and exploded in the big bang of rock 'n' roll.
In Nashville, visit the state's largest house museum, Belmont Mansion, whose history revolves around the glamorous Adelicia Acklen. Her Grand Salon is considered the most elaborate room in antebellum Tennessee. Don't miss Ryman Auditorium, the "mother church" of country music, still one of the country's leading concert halls. Artists who have graced National Historic Landmark stage run the gamut from Charlie Chaplin to Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and Vince Gill.
Learn about East Tennessee history at Knoxville's Blount Mansion, called "the most important historical spot in Tennessee." George Washington appointed William Blount, a signer of the United States Constitution, to be governor of the territory, and his Knoxville home served as both territorial capitol and family home.
For a complete list of historic landmarks in Tennessee, please visit http://www.tnvacation.com/history-heritage/landmarks/.
A cradle of creativity, Tennessee is known for its contributions to arts, science, technology and social justice. Words and music have interpreted our rich culture: Sequoyah's writing system, books by remarkable authors, such as James Agee and Alex Haley, the voice of Mary Costa, W. C. Handy's blues, and the King of rock and roll, Elvis Presley.
West Tennessee produced Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas; Estelle Axton and her brother, Jim Stewart, founders of Memphis' Stax Records, which set the music world on fire with acts like Sam and Dave, Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes; and Fred Smith of Memphis, founder of FedEx. Ida B. Wells, a Memphis journalist and early leader in the Civil Rights and suffragist movements, is famous for documenting lynching.
Middle Tennessee natives have made names for themselves in politics, entertainment and sports. Senator Albert Gore Jr. served two terms as vice president and won a Nobel Prize for his environmental work. Cordell Hull was the longest-serving Secretary of State and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945 for his role in establishing the United Nations. Visit his law office in Celina or the Cordell Hull State Park in Byrdstown. Oprah Winfrey, best known for her iconic talk show, is one of the most powerful figures in American culture. Visit Clarksville, hometown of Wilma Rudolph, once the fastest woman in the world and the first American woman to win three gold medals in track during a single Olympics (1960). She became a pioneer in women's rights and civil rights.
Dolly Parton is a Hall of Fame singer-songwriter, two-time Academy Award nominee, actress and philanthropist. After the fun of Dollywood, stop by the Dolly statue in Sevierville. Statesman Howard Baker Jr., the "Great Conciliator," served as Senate Majority Leader and White House Chief of Staff. Also known as a photographer, he is a major supporter of the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Pat Summitt of the University of Tennessee is the all-time winningest coach in college basketball history, men or women, with more than 1000 wins and eight national titles. Learn about the greats of the game at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville.
Historic Sam Houston Schoolhouse in Maryville, the state's oldest, is named for the only person to serve as governor of two states (Tennessee and Texas). Best known for her historic novel The Tall Woman, Wilma Dykeman won a Guggenheim Fellowship and the 1957 Sidney Hillman Award for Neither Black Nor White. Learn more about regional history at the East Tennessee History Center in Knoxville.
For more on remarkable Tennesseeans, visit http://www.tnvacation.com/history-heritage/tennesseans/.
Monuments & Museums
Weave through Tennessee's historic tapestry with a visit to one of its fascinating monuments or museums. Journey through our legendary past at the massive Tennessee State Museum. Survey all scopes of preservation: Casey Jones Railroad Museum, Jackson; Chucalissa Archaeological Museum and the Rock 'n Soul Museum in Memphis; and the Beck Cultural Exchange Center in Knoxville.
In Memphis, study natural history at Pink Palace or 17 acres of gardens and works by Monet, Degas and Renoir at Dixon Gallery and Gardens. Follow the flow of our rivers at the Mississippi River Museum at Memphis' Mud Island or the Tennessee River Museum in Savannah.
An elegant national historic landmark, Oaklands Historic House Museum, Murfreesboro, was caught in the crossfire of the Civil War, reflecting both prosperity and hardships of the times. Follow an influential 19th- century character, Judge Overton, at Nashville's Travellers Rest Plantation. Among the sites along the Natchez Trace Parkway lies the grave of explorer Meriwether Lewis, of Lewis and Clark fame.
Crescent Bend in Knoxville boasts fine antiques, art and a formal garden beside the Tennessee River. Frank H. McClung Museum entertains with archaeology, decorative arts, fossils, human origins, Civil War artifacts and temporary exhibits. Listen with your eyes as you explore Norris' Museum of Appalachia, a living history wonderwork. Discover the Secret City of Oak Ridge. Wing your way to the Tennessee Museum of Aviation in Sevierville. The submerged town of Butler still teaches about the old mountain ways, and the Ducktown Basin Museum is a tribute to the area's mining communities.
For a list of historic monuments and museums throughout the state, please visit http://www.tnvacation.com/history-heritage/landmarks/monuments-museums.
Heritage Towns and Historic Districts
Tennessee's heritage towns ring with robust tradition, character and charm, each town offering its unique influence. Bolivar's Historic District is blessed with classic architecture that hearkens back to a day when nearly fanatical attention to detail could be seen. The Savannah Historic District and Trail includes a two-mile drive and a stroll past 18 historical buildings.
Stroll along Franklin's Main Street to enjoy a snapshot in history. Hit the Autumn Street Fair in downtown McMinnville and savor crafts, delicacies, activities and en-tertainment. Browse the shops and landmarks of Collierville, or head for bustling historic Murfreesboro. Discover the natural and cultural heritage of Coker Creek, a perfectly preserved mountain town. Meet up with friends in a historical tavern in Dandridge, or stroll the brick sidewalks of Greeneville's historic district.
The Clarksville Downtown Historic Architectural District is a collection of 1870s architecture and home to unique restaurants, breweries, shopping and entertainment. The Roxy Regional Theatre and Customs House Museum are both nearby. Printer's Alley takes its name from its early connection to Nashville's publishing industry but today is the center of nightlife.
Chattanooga's Bluff View Art District, within walking distance of downtown, is a neighborhood of restaurants, gardens, an art gallery, a sculpture garden and more, all with spectacular views of the Tennessee River. Historic Jonesborough's natural beauty, charming architecture and story-telling heritage lies nestled along the well-preserved Main Street.
For more information on Tennessee's heritage towns and historic districts, visit http://www.tnvacation.com/history-heritage/towns/.
Historic Roads and Trails
Follow a curving road through historic battlefields, notable farms and legendary landscapes. Set out for the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 444-mile drive through spectacular scenery and 10,000 years of North American history. Or, opt for a shorter but equally splendid drive along the Cades Cove Loop in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Take the Tullahoma Campaign Driving Tour through the heart of some of the Civil War's most important engagements.
Explore the Cherokee Heritage Trail and discover unique wares by Cherokee artists or visit the Sam Davis Trail to pay tribute to the "Boy Hero of the Confederacy." Tennessee trails offer something for every age and interest.
The winding Tennessee River Trail shows how the Tennessee River runs through the very heart of Tennessee culture. Stop in Waverly, a historic railroad town featuring a museum and Civil War Fort. For the truly unique, take a guided tour of the Freshwater Pearl Farm in Camden. Try your hand at fishing at Paris Landing State Park where deer and wild turkey roam free. Your drive is peppered with quaint historic towns like Parsons, Linden and Clifton along with the homes of some of country music's most legendary stars. From prehistoric river life to the Golden Age of steamboats, learn about the Tennessee River at the Tennessee River Museum in Savannah. Originally a riverboat stop in the 1800s, Pickwick Landing is now a state park with forested hiking trails, fishing, boating and camping.
The Natchez Trace Parkway commemorates the ancient trail that connected portions of the Mississippi River to central Tennessee. "Kaintucks" walked the Trace to the river, carrying goods to sell in New Orleans. Numerous short hiking trails and brilliant autumn foliage are highlights. The Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail was blazed by the legendary frontiersman, all the way from Kingsport through the Cumberland Gap and into Kentucky. Gabriel Arthur, an indentured servant, was the first of record to travel the route, sent in 1674 to secure a trade agreement between the Shawnee and settlers.
For more information on historic roads and trails in Tennessee, visit http://www.tnvacation.com/history-heritage/historic-roads/. For a closer look at Tennessee Trails and Byways, go to http://tntrailsandbyways.com/.
Tennessee at War
Delve deep into our state's colorful military history of turbulent times, bloody engagements and courageous soldiers, with inspiring stories and impossible undertakings.
Learn about Revolutionary War hero James White, founder of Knoxville. Visit the home and tavern of frontiersman David Crockett. A visit to Fort Loudoun introduces you to the first British settlement in Tennessee, while Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park represents the last major Confederate victory of the Civil War. At the Hermitage, learn about President Andrew Jackson, hero of the War of 1812. Stand on the hallowed ground of Shiloh and Stones River, where thousands fell in bloody battles. Find out how statesman Cordell Hull influenced the events of World War II and learn about the amazing role that Oak Ridge played. The American Museum of Science and Energy is a center for exploration dedicated to the Manhattan Project history and the science that emerged from Oak Ridge.
The Veterans' Museum in West Tennessee was founded on the site of the Dyersburg Army Air Base, once a World War II training facility for B-17 pilots. Sgt. Alvin C. York State Historic Park, in Pall Mall, pays tribute to a famous World War I hero and Medal of Honor recipient. See his statue on the grounds of the State Capitol in Nashville and his medals and trophies at the Tennessee State Museum.
For more information on Tennessee's military history, please see http://www.tnvacation.com/history-heritage/military/. If you'd like to know more about Tennessee's unique Civil War history, go to http://www.tnvacation.com/civil-war/.
With Hernando De Soto's first steps in Tennessee, the lives of native people were changed forever. In the years to follow, Tennessee's native tribes met with disease, weapons, rum and greed. During these turbulent times, courageous war heroes such as Tsiyu Gansini, or Dragging Canoe, emerged to lead their people.
Tribes represented in the state were the independent, warlike Chickasaw, who had a large settlement at Chickasaw Bluffs of Memphis; the Shawnee, who were known for their wandering habits and connections with other tribes; and the Yuchi, excellent potters who lived in permanent villages with cultivated fields near the Tennessee River and in the Hiwassee Valley.
The Cherokee silversmith Sequoyah is the only person in history known to have singlehandedly developed an alphabet, the first written language for a Native American people. The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore tells his story.
John Ross, first elected chief of the Eastern Cherokee, was highly regarded for his work as an intermediary with white settlers. For a look at his last home, Lewis Ross House/Barrett Hotel and Henegar House, start in Cleveland with a Passport to Cherokee Heritage and follow the trail through Bradley, Polk, McMinn and Meigs Counties. Sites include the Nancy Ward gravesite and museum in Benton. At age 18, Ward, or Nanye-hi, led the Cherokee to victory after her husband was killed. Later, she became an ambassador to white settlers and earned the title Beloved Woman.
Red Clay State Park marks the site of former Cherokee tribal council meetings. The annual Cherokee Days of Recognition are held there each August. The Cherokee Indian Removal Memorial, on the banks of the Tennessee River in Birchwood, was a main staging area for the Trail Of Tears. The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail commemorates the paths that 17 Cherokee detachments followed west. Today the trail includes about 2,200 miles of land and water routes through nine states.
Chattanooga area sites include Ross's Landing, the Chattanooga History Center, the Brainerd Mission Cemetery, Moccasin Bend National Archeological District.
Warrior's Path State Park, Kingsport, was named for its proximity to the ancient war and trading path used by the Cherokee and, before them, the ancient Woodland Indians. Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area, Elizabethton, has an annual outdoor drama, "Liberty," in addition to an interpretive center.
The Tennessee State Museum in Nashville includes exhibits on prehistoric people of the state, as well as frontier era artifacts. Until 1816, the land around Minor Hill belonged to the Chickasaw. Visit the city hall to learn more. Old Stone Fort Archeological Park, Manchester, includes a 2,000-year-old ceremonial site in its efforts to preserve ancient culture.
Bledsoe's Fort, Castalian Springs, contains a Native American town site dating to 1000-1450 c.e. Mound Bottom in Burns preserves the site of a prehistoric village with 14 mounds and fortified earthworks.
The Mud Island/Mississippi River Museum in Memphis has a large First People Gallery, with tools, pottery, trade goods, maps and pioneer artifacts. The Tennessee River Museum in Savannah includes exhibits on mound builders and the Trail of Tears. While mostly associated with the Civil War, Shiloh National Military Park also contains historic landmark prehistoric Indian mounds. Pinson Mounds is a special park set aside to preserve prehistoric remains, including habitation remains and earthworks.
For a more complete listing of sites related to Native American culture and heritage, go to http://www.tnvacation.com/history-heritage/culture/native-american-heritage/.
African American Heritage
The story of African Americans in Tennessee is one of struggle, sacrifice, innovation and heroism. From W.C. Handy, father of the blues, to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alex Haley, from the blues riffs of Historic Beale Street to the soaring gospel sounds of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, from Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum to the National Civil Rights Museum, there are vivid and inspiring stories to hear.
Haley is honored in both his hometown of Henning and with a statue and park in Knoxville. Also in Knoxville is the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, a center that collects, conserves and exhibits information on African-American history and achievement. The Green McAdoo Cultural Center, Clinton, is a museum on civil rights and the Clinton 12, the first to integrate a public high school in the South. The East Tennessee History Center houses information on the first families of Tennessee and the heritage of African- Americans. Odd Fellows Cemetery is the resting place of many prominent Knoxville African- Americans, including millionaire businessman Cal Johnson.
The Glenmore Mansion in Jefferson City is a prime example of the work of freed slaves, primary masons on the home. Many of those laborers took the surname of John Branner, the home's owner, and their descendents return periodically to visit the site of their ancestors. The first abolitionist publications, The Manumission Intelligence and the Emancipator, are commemorated with a marker in Tennessee's oldest town, Jonesborough. The Lenoir Museum in Norris exhibits early Americana displays, including an African-American farmer's invention.
The history of Africa and music at the Bessie Smith Hall and the Mary Walker Historical Foundation in Chattanooga contribute to the understanding of the African American experience in Tennessee.
Nashville's Cultural Museum promotes the appreciation of diverse heritage through its educational programs and exhibits. The splendid collection of art at the Aaron Douglas Gallery of Fisk University, the historic structure of Fort Negley and the small complex of Canaan in the Ashwood District of Columbia provide important illustrations of life for African-Americans in early Middle Tennessee.
The Burt Home Infirmary in Clarksville was the first hospital built to care for African-American patients. The Matt Gardener Homestead Museum, Elkton, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a significant farmstead associated with African American heritage, and provides interpretive programs on slavery, emancipation, Reconstruction, education, religion, architecture, and agriculture.
Church Park in Memphis is a testament to the contributions of that city's African-American business community to the quality of life. The Lane College Historic District and its Daniels Library are an excellent resource on African- American heritage.
The Slave Haven Underground Museum, also called the Burkle Estate, includes a small cellar where slaves his while waiting to escape. The modest home near the Mississippi was built by Jacob Burkle, a German immigrant who risked his life to assist slaves on their journey to freedom. The Savannah Cemetery is the resting place of Alex Haley's grandparents, Alex Sr. and Queen, whose story Haley told in the miniseries "Queenie."
To learn more about African-American heritage in Tennessee, visit http://www.tnvacation.com/history-heritage/culture/african-american-heritage/.
Three U.S. presidents hail from Tennessee. One was called "Old Hickory;" one had humble beginnings, early on working as a tailor; one, as a lawyer in his first case, defended his father, winning his release for the fine of one dollar.
Andrew Jackson, 7th U.S. president, 1829-1837
Born in 1767 in South Carolina, Jackson moved to Tennessee and became a lawyer and the first Tennessean in Congress, a Senator and a state Supreme Court judge. His Nashville mansion, the Hermitage, is a popular attraction today. Nicknamed "Old Hickory" for his toughness, he was a hero of the War of 1812, who defeated the British in the Battle Of New Orleans. Jackson's presidency was controversial: he signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, yielding a sad and bitterly contentious situation and the deaths of 4,000 Cherokee on the "Trail of Tears." A polarizing and dominant figure, he helped shape the modern Democratic Party. His legacy is seen as mixed, since he was both protector of popular democracy and individual liberty, and supporter of slavery and Indian removal. Based in developing Tennessee, Jackson was the first president associated with the American frontier.
James Knox Polk, 11th U.S. president, 1845-1849
Polk was born in 1795 in North Carolina and moved to Nashville at age 11. He attended the University of North Carolina and moved back to Tennessee to study law. Polk served in the Tennessee legislature and became a friend of Andrew Jackson. Polk served as Speaker of the House of Representatives before becoming governor. Polk was the surprise candidate for president in 1844, defeating Henry Clay by promising to annex Texas. A leader of Jacksonian Democracy, in 1845, at age 49, he became the youngest president at that time. Polk is remembered for his foreign policy successes, splitting the Pacific Northwest with Britain. Fighting to annex Texas, Polk led to a sweeping victory in the Mexican-American War, then purchased California, Arizona and New Mexico. He secured passage of the Walker tariff of 1846, established a treasury system, and oversaw the opening of the U.S. Naval Academy and the Smithsonian Institution. He kept his promise to serve only one term and died of cholera three months after leaving office.
Andrew Johnson, 17th U.S. president, 1865-1869
Born in 1808, Johnson ran away from home to Greeneville at age 16 and became a tailor. He married Eliza McCardle, who tutored him in arithmetic, algebra, literacy and writing skills.
Participating in debates in Greeneville, Johnson organized a worker's party and became alderman, then mayor. As a state representative, he was a spokesman for farmers and mountaineers against wealthy planters. He became the first Democrat elected to Congress from Tennessee's 1st district, serving five terms, and advocated that farms be given to landless farmers. Johnson served as governor and Senator until President Lincoln made him military governor of Tennessee in 1862.
He became the first vice president to succeed to the presidency upon the assassination of a president. Johnson was also the first president to be impeached, for violation of the Tenure of Office Act. The Senate fell one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict, but the impeachment effectively ended his political career.
For more information on these most famous of Tennesseeans, go to http://www.tnvacation.com/history-heritage/tennesseans/presidents/.