Tennessee - History and Heritage

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smithsonian.com

With a rich tapestry of American heritage, Tennessee’s historical stomping grounds are sure to enlighten visitors while educating them on the state’s legendary past.

  • Three U.S. Presidents called Tennessee home: Andrew Johnson, James K. Polk and Andrew Jackson.
  • Sequyouh (a Cherokee Indian born in Vonore) created the Cherokee alphabet.
  • In 1960, Wilma Rudolph became the first American woman to earn three gold Olympic medals.
  • Memphian Clarence Saunders created the first grocery store chain: Piggly Wiggly.
  • Tennessean Jack Massey is the only person in American history to take three companies to the New York Stock Exchange: Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hospital Corporation of America and Winners, Corp.
  • The legendary David "Davy" Crockett was a Tennessean.
  • Carnton Plantation is home to McGavock Confederate Cemetery, the largest privately owned military cemetery in the nation and is the setting for the New York Times bestselling book, Widow of the South.
  • The Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville celebrated its bicentennial in 2007. A 30-acre historic site representing 200 years of Tennessee history, the Belle Meade Plantation features an antebellum mansion, frontier log cabin and seven outbuildings.

Museum and Monuments
Tennessee offers an abundance of cultural and historical museums and monuments.

Bicentennial Mall State Park
In the middle of the state, experience the 19-acre park that gives visitors a taste of Tennessee’s history and natural wonder: Bicentennial Mall State Park. Designed to serve as a lasting monument to Tennessee’s bicentennial celebration, the park includes a 200-foot granite state map that highlights the major roads, 95 counties, rivers and details of each county. The park also includes information on Tennessee’s railroading history and 31 vertical water fountains—reflective of each of the predominant waterways throughout the state.

The Cotton Museum (Memphis)
Further west, experience the business of one of the state’s keen crops: cotton. The Cotton Museum tells the story of the cotton industry, including its many influences on daily life. Located in the city that remains the epicenter of worldwide cotton trading—Memphis—the museum offers a variety of interpretive exhibits, educational programs and research archives.

American Museum of Science & Energy (Oak Ridge)
Science and history meet at the American Museum of Science & Energy in Oak Ridge in East Tennessee. A center for exploration dedicated to the World War II Manhattan Project history and the science that emerged from Oak Ridge, features live demonstrations, interactive exhibits and presentations.

Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art (Nashville)
Within its 55 acres, Nashville’s Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art offers a complex institution rich in history, beautiful gardens and fine art. Each summer an outdoor life-size exhibit is on display in the gardens. The museum presents American and European art and is recognized as a center for contemporary art in the Southeast. Named to the National Register of Historic Places, the mansion and the original boxwood gardens are amazing works of architecture and design and the ideal setting for the gardens and art museum.

African American History
Throughout the state, there are dozens of attractions and festivals that showcase the impact African Americans have had on music, art and events that helped shape the world.

National Civil Rights Museum
The National Civil Rights Museum offers a comprehensive overview of the civil rights movement in thorough interpretive exhibits and profound audio visual displays. Housed at the site of the Lorraine Hotel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the $8.8 million center serves as an educational institution designed to help visitors understand the civil rights movement and how it impacted other movements for social rights worldwide.

Beck Cultural Exchange Center (Knoxville)
Knoxville offers the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, which features the history of African Americans in Knoxville and East Tennessee from the late 1800s to the present. The historic information is displayed through photographs, newspapers, biographies, audio and video recordings, books and artwork.

Alex Haley Museum
Just 35 miles south of Memphis, African American history buffs will be fascinated by the ten-room bungalow that has been transformed into the Alex Haley Museum, the boyhood home of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Roots. In Henning, the house, which Haley proclaimed as the "birthplace of Roots," contains some of the 1919 furniture that belonged to Haley’s family. The museum includes memorabilia, family artifacts, a small gift shop and stands as Haley’s final resting place.

In Knoxville, there’s the magnificent statue honoring Haley. Designed for interaction, the statue is surrounded by a playground and city park. Created by internationally acclaimed sculptor Tina Allen, the statue depicts Haley, who spent the last 14 years of his life in East Tennessee, gazing toward the Smoky Mountains.

Hadley Park
Middle Tennessee celebrates its African American heritage with such attractions as Hadley Park, established in 1912 and believed to be the first park for African Americans in the United States. The 34-acre park stands on part of the antebellum plantation of John L. Hadley, a European American slave-owner committed to helping post civil war freed men and women adjust to their new status. At Hadley’s invitation Frederick Douglass spoke to former slaves in 1873 from the porch of the Hadley house, which stood in this park until 1948.

Fisk University
Fisk University was founded in 1866 as one of the first private educational institutions offering a secondary liberal arts curriculum to freed slaves. Fisk University features the world famous Fisk Jubilee Singers—the original nine of whom introduced slave songs to the world in 1871 and were instrumental in preserving the American musical tradition known today as Negro spirituals. During an international tour, the singers collected enough funds to construct the first permanent structure in the country solely built for the education of newly freed slaves, Jubilee Hall, which is the oldest and most distinctive building on the school’s campus. The historically black college in Nashville is currently under the leadership of its 14th president, Hazel O’Leary, former Secretary of Energy under President Clinton.

Civil War
Tennessee’s Civil War history is rich, as the state ranks number one in the total number of soldiers who fought in the War Between the States. After the war began, Tennessee became the last of 11 states to secede from the Union. The bloodiest two-day battle of the entire Civil War was fought in Chattanooga, with a staggering 37,000 casualties. More Civil War battles were fought in Tennessee than in any other state except Virginia.

Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park
In Chattanooga, take a walk in the shoes of 124,000 Civil War soldiers through the Chickamauga Battlefield. The Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park is still the largest of its kind in the nation, with districts at the Chickamauga Battlefield, Point Park and Lookout Mountain Battlefield, Missionary Ridge, Orchard Knob and Signal Point.

Fort Negley
Fort Negley, originally built in 1862, is one of the largest fortifications built by Union troops residing in Nashville during the Civil War. Black laborers assisted the Union Army in building Fort Negley, which reopened to the public in December 2004 after a $1 million restoration. The unique, star-designed Union fort from the Civil War is located between Greer Stadium and the Adventure Science Center near downtown Nashville.

Shiloh National Military Park
Established in 1894 to commemorate the scene of the first major battle in the Western theater of the Civil War, Shiloh National Military Park is considered one of the best preserved battlefields in the nation. The two-day battle, which involved about 65,000 Union and 44,000 Confederate troops, resulted in nearly 24,000 killed, wounded and missing. The park has within its boundaries the Shiloh National Cemetery along with the well-preserved prehistoric Indian mounds that are listed as a historic landmark.

Carter House
The Carter House, built in 1830 by Fountain Branch Carter, was the stage of the Second Battle of Franklin—one of the worst disasters of the Civil War for the Confederate Army. This Registered Historic Landmark was used as a Federal Command Post while the 23 members of the Carter family hid in the cellar during the five-hour battle.

Carnton Plantation
Just down the road, John and Carrie McGavock opened the doors of their Carnton Plantation as a field hospital for the wounded Confederates during the Battle of Franklin. In 1866, the McGavock’s, concerned about the conditions of the Confederate dead who had been buried in shallow graves where they fell, designated land near their family cemetery for the re-interment of nearly 1,500 Confederate soldiers. Today, the McGavock Confederate Cemetery is the largest privately owned military cemetery in the nation. Don’t miss the riveting tale of Carrie McGavock in Robert Hicks’s debut novel, The Widow of the South.

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