Farmsteads and Open-Air Museums of Tennessee

As I mentioned in my recent July post about Johnson City, I have made a concerted effort during my four years of Tennessee residency to take in as much of the state’s natural and political history as possible. For starters, I visit my sister in Memphis once or twice each year, and often stop off in Nashville along the way. The state’s two largest cities have much to offer, and my August, 2016 post on the subject remains one of my most-read entries. Secondly, I hit up the state’s spectacular hiking trails as often as possible. Panther Creek and Seven Islands are two favorite tramping spots close to where I live, while Cummins Falls, further afield, has a short, but tough, hike to a spectacular, watery destination. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the jewels of the national park system, is 90 minutes by car with traffic, and I could write pages upon pages about the joys of hiking in the Smokies. Finally, I commute to Knoxville each day for work, and have gotten to know that city almost as well as places like my original hometown of Chicago or my beloved Mexico City.

Tennessee began as a series of settlements in the late 1700’s, farmsteads usually established on or close to one of Tennessee’s many rivers, and grew from there. Few buildings from that time period remain, although you will find some early 19th-century brick “Federalist” architectural gems in towns like Jonesborough and Rogersville, and several in Johnson City. If it is log cabins, moonshine stills, and one-room schoolhouses that you are looking for, however, you’ll have to look a bit harder; most are preserved at various public parks and open-air museums. Here are just a few:

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Tennessee Main Street Towns

Jonesborough 8

The picture above is of Main Street in Jonesborough, the oldest town in Tennessee. Jonesborough, founded in 1779, during the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, pre-dates Tennessee as a state, and was established as the capital of Washington County, North Carolina.

Tennessee itself finally gained statehood in 1796, with Knoxville, located in the eastern third of the state, serving at the state’s first capital. As Tennessee – and the U.S. – expanded westward, the capital eventually moved to Nashville. But the earliest seeds in what later became known as “The Volunteer State” were sown in and around Knoxville. Nearly all of the state’s pre-Civil War towns still exist. The luckiest thrive as tourism towns for history buffs, day trippers, and antiques collectors. Jonesborough, which I wrote about in more detail last August, is just one of several. Here are four more.

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The Oldest Town in Tennessee

Two paragraphs of my last blog entry, A Potpourri of Updates, referenced a recent day trip to Jonesborough, Tennessee. I finished labeling and uploading my photos from the day, and, after viewing them again, thought I’d write a bit more about the day.

My parents and I had heard good things about Jonesborough, and my parents said that the town was featured on a recent episode of the PBS series “Tennessee Crossroads.” We visited Jonesborough on a sunny, moderately-humid Tuesday. I happened to have the day off, and woke up to sunny skies, which simply beckoned.

Jonesborough 21

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