Nashville is a thriving, bustling city with abundant history. Our stay here has been a busy one as we have attempted to sample all that the area has to offer. Only one factor somewhat inhibited my enjoyment — the weather. After spending the summer in cooler climes, Nashville’s heat wave slapped me up the side of the head. The unseasonable mid-90’s temperatures coupled with Florida-like stickiness sent me scurrying for air conditioning during the hottest hours.
Before the Civil War, Tennessee was a slave state and that history can be explored at both Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage as well as the nearby Belle Meade Plantation. The Hermitage is Jackson’s final home, and 3rd farm. Both he and his beloved wife rest here. Admission includes a guided tour of the mansion, and self guided tour (with free audio guide) of the grounds and outbuildings. The visitor’s building includes a movie and interesting exhibit detailing Jackson’s life and times. Andrew Jackson has long been one of Jeff’s favorite historical figures, and we spent a good half-day exploring everything. Jackson’s legacy is mixed – he was a victorious general and a President that advocated for the common man. Yet he also was responsible for driving the mass re-settling of First Peoples (i.e., the Trail of Tears) and was a slave owner during his lifetime. The exhibits did not gloss over the controversies, but laid them bare for all to ponder.
Belle Meade Plantation is a smaller, glossier example of an antebellum farm. It’s claim to fame is thoroughbred horse breeding. Most of the Kentucky Derby horses racing today can trace its bloodline back to Bonnie Scotland, a Belle Mead Plantation stud. In fact, Bonnie Scotland’s descendants include Secretariat, Sea Biscuit, and California Chrome. The tour includes the mansion and grounds, and a free tasting at the Plantation’s winery (mostly sweet, fruity wines). It’s also an interesting tour, but if you only have time for one, I’d do the Hermitage.
The Civil War comes up close and personal at nearby Murfreesboro at the Stones River National Battlefield. We lucked into a ranger-led tour of the site who called it the Rodney Dangerfield of Civil War battlefields – highly significant, but often underrated. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the war with over 30% casualty rate (23,000 men), the highest rate of any single battle. The location was tactically important as key supply line, and the Union needed a victory at that point. Although the battle itself was inconclusive, the Union poured resources into creating a major supply depot that was used for the rest of the war. Ironically, Tennessee was the last State to secede and the first State to be recaptured by the Union forces. The tour guide did a great job of bringing the battle conditions to life in our imaginations … and the horrors. War is awful.
A long-time Jack Daniels fan, Jeff just had to make a pilgrimage to Lynchburg, home of the distinctive Tennessee whiskey. We had visited the distillery way back in 1984, as we moved from Indiana to Florida. Much has changed since then. There is now a polished visitor’s center, and the tours are not free! The tour itself was longer and more extensive than I recall, exploring more of the grounds and family history than previously. Our walk through the production areas, however, was familiar territory with the giant fermentation vats, distillation units, and slow-dripping charcoal mellowing tanks. In 1984, you weren’t allowed to buy alcohol there, as it was a dry county. It’s still a dry county, but now you can purchase a variety of special-issue bottles at the Jack Daniels gift shop and even have them engraved, if you so desire. At least the water and lemonade are still free!
Venturing to downtown Nashville, we stopped in at the Nashville Farmer’s Market to peruse the many offerings. It’s a sizeable market, with a variety of products and is open every day, all year around. Adjacent to the Farmer’s Market is Centennial Park. It’s a huge green space right in the heart of the city, perfect for strolling. An enormously long Tennessee timeline runs along one side, while gardens mirroring Tennessee’s actual topography extend along the other side. Also next to the Farmer’s Market is the Tennessee State Museum, a brand new facility which just opened in October 2018. It’s not completely full yet, but it has gotten off to a great start with modern and engaging exhibits of Tennessee’s history and culture. The market, park and museum are all free by the way, including free parking at the Market.
The same cannot be said of parking closer to the hot sections of downtown Nashville. Parking is quite pricey there, ranging from $30 – 50 per day at the surface lots or garages. There are a few parking meters, quarters only, $2.25/hour with a 2 hour max. Ouch! If you’re staying near town, Uber or Lyft look mighty attractive. We were just far enough out of town to make that not as practical, but we simply limited our downtown excursions to times when meters aren’t enforced – after 6 pm Mon-Sat and all day Sunday.
Another Nashville landmark is the Parthenon reproduction. Yes, the Parthenon. Built for the 1897 Centennial Exposition, it was originally intended to stand for only 6 months, but it was strengthened and maintained by popular demand. An enormous 42 foot statue of Athena is the focus, just as in ancient Greece. The interior also houses a small art collection. Not exactly what you’d expect to see in Nashville, but there you go.
Next up: Nashville’s music scene!