Tennessee: Waltzing through the Volunteer State

Located in the valley of the Great Smoky Mountains, this was the hunting grounds for Cherokee Indians before the town’s founder, James White, established his home here in 1786. Knoxville became one of the leading distribution centers in the south because of its river access, railroad connections and geographic location. Present-day Knoxville remains a center for eastern Tennessee’s economy, culture and history.

James White was given a large portion of land for fighting in the Revolutionary War. White built a fort and gave land grants for much of downtown Knoxville. Today visitors at James White’s Fort can tour seven log houses that each contain Spartan pioneer furnishings. The impressive stone Ramsey House with outstanding architectural details was built in 1783 for Col. Francis Alexander Ramsey, a surveyor. Visitors today can see 18th-century furnishings in the home and enjoy scenic gardens on the 100-acre site. Built in 1792, the Blount Mansion was one of the first frame houses erected west of the Allegheny Mountains. It served as home of Gov. William Blount, signer of the U.S. Constitution. His home served as the Southwest Territory Capitol Office before Tennessee was a state. Guided tours of this National Historic Landmark show 18th-century antiques and the workings of frontier government. The Armstrong-Lockett House was built by merchant, farmer and county official Drury Paine Armstrong in 1834 as the main house for his 600-acre estate. Its original name was Crescent Bend; its current name comes from the first and last families to use it as their residence. Completely renovated and restored in 1977, the house now showcases museum-quality English and American furnishings. Of special interest is an outstanding collection of circa 1610 to 1820 English silver. Terraced gardens lead to the edge of the Tennessee River. The two-story Mabry-Hazen House was built in 1858 and housed three generations of the same family until 1987. It served as headquarters for both Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War and still has original furnishings. Confederate Memorial Hall is a Tuscan-style villa built in 1858 for newlyweds Robert and Louisa Armstrong, who originally named their home Bleak House after Dickens’ novel. In 1863 during the Siege of Knoxville it was the headquarters of Confederate General James Longstreet. In addition to period furnishings, visitors today can see Civil War bullet holes in the walls and there’s a Civil War museum and library on the second floor. Housed in a three-story pink marble and glass building, the Knoxville Museum of Art emphasizes contemporary works.  Located on the campus of the University of Tennessee, the Frank H. McClung Museum has displays of fine arts and natural history with the emphasis on anthropological exhibits. Daisy’s Place Girl Scout Museum displays memorabilia representing 80 years of Girl Scouting in Tennessee.

The brightly colored walls, draperies, carpets and American Classical furniture that visitors see when they tour The Hermitage mansion are what Andrew Jackson saw when he returned home in 1837 after serving two terms as President of the United States. (Unfortunately, his beloved wife, Rachel, didn’t live to retire with him; she died suddenly in 1828 just as he was returning to Washington, D.C., for his second term.) When the Ladies’ Hermitage Association purchased the home in 1887, they had the foresight to begin purchasing furnishings from Jackson’s descendants. Today visitors can see Jackson’s four-poster mahogany bed, a leather chair that was a gift from a Supreme Court justice, and the piano his granddaughter played. The Hermitage has the most extensive collection of intact historic wallpapers in America; six rooms retain their original 1836 wallpaper. Visitors can also visit the tomb of Rachel and Andrew Jackson, see the log home that was the first Hermitage from 1804 to 1823, tour a smokehouse, church and kitchen, plus check out a collection of political memorabilia at the Andrew Jackson Visitor Center. During December, guides in period costumes showcase decorations and holiday trimmings used in the early 1800s

Built in 1799 on a hilltop Native-American village site, Travellers Rest Plantation is Nashville’s oldest home that is open to the public. It was built for Judge John Overton, law partner and adviser to President Andrew Jackson. During the Civil War, the Battle of Nashville was fought on this plantation. Today, 11 acres of the original 2,300-acre plantation remain. Of special interest is the impressive collection of pre-1840 Tennessee-made furniture.

Known as the “Queen of Tennessee Plantations,” the two-story Greek Revival Belle Meade Plantation was home to the Harding family from 1807 to the early 1900s. After the Civil War, the 5,400-acre site became a world-renowned thoroughbred farm. It has an entry hall with a massive cantilevered staircase lined with portraits of families who lived here and paintings of horses who were raised on this farm. Furnishings, some of which are original to the home, date from 1830 to 1900.  In addition to taking the home tour, visitors can see antique carriages in a huge 1890 carriage house, a 1790 log cabin, an 1820 smokehouse and an 1884 creamery.

Located in Centennial Park, the Parthenon is the world’s only full-size replica of the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.  Go inside to see a 42-foot sculpture of Athena, goddess of wisdom, and a comprehensive art collection.

The Tennessee Agricultural Museum has an extensive collection of home and farm artifacts from the 19th and early 20th centuries. There are also exhibits of prints and folk art sculptures by Tennessee artists. Check out the buggies, wagons and vintage farm equipment in a restored plantation barn. Log cabins, a small farm house and gardens are part of this free self-guided tour.

Remodeled in 2002, the state-of-the-art Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is located in downtown Nashville. There’s more than 40,000 square feet of exhibit space, live music, film theaters, plus a wide variety of interactive features. Musicians, costume designers, dancers, and songwriters regularly share their techniques with tourists. Don’t miss displays of original costumes that include a Dolly Parton wig.