Explore Tennessee History in Sumner County
Sumner County history is full of surprises, tracking not just stories several hundred years old, but dating back to prehistoric times when the area was covered by an inland sea.
Tucked away behind Trousdale Place and within sight of Gallatin’s historic square, the Sumner County Museum is three stories of crammed-in, hands-on history, a virtual walk-through timeline progression of settlement in Sumner County. The museum, one of the area’s hidden treasures, is open Wed-Sun, April 1-Oct. 31.
“We want to teach people what happened in history and why,” explains John Garrott, local historian and co-founder of the museum. “School kids come and learn what it took for a settler to get here across the mountains and survive.”
He pauses at a display of silver Spanish coins cut into small wedges. “Why do you suppose those coins have been cut up?” he asks. He tells the story of the first settlers who came westwards, raised crops and livestock, and floated their bounty of tobacco, animals skins, corn and whisky to New Orleans in flatboats.
“They came back flush with Spanish silver coins,” he relates, “their value being their weight in silver. So they cut them into pieces to pay their debts.”
Garrott the historian is an amazing guide. This is a rare treat, since he is usually squirrelled away in his carpentry workshop creating antique reproduction masterpieces.
The whole museum is a walk through local history, beginning with pre-history Indian artifacts and arrowheads. Treasures excavated from early fort sites, surveying instruments, a fully equipped carpentry shop filled with tools used to clear the land, cut logs, split shingles and make furniture. A basket-woven coffin stands in one corner leaning against an old rain barrel. The blacksmith’s and the tinsmith’s shops display wagon wheels, nails, tools, washtubs, stove pipe.
Garrott points to a long barreled rifle in the gunsmith’s shop. Jonathon Browning was one of two noted gunsmiths who came from Sumner County in the 1820’s. He converted to Mormanism and his second wife produced a son, John Browning, who invented the Browning Automatic Rifle, the first of its kind in the world.
The stories continue. Dusty records sit atop a square piano. Civil War memorabilia. The early soap box derby driven by a young Gallatin boy who went on to become a USAF U-2 pilot traveling faster than the speed of sound. A loud buzzer shatters the silence and a strange traffic light flashes from green to red. Only two colors on this 4-way light. No amber. “They used to say ‘Oh, you come from Gallatin, where the red light rings!’” laughs Garrott.
It’s impossible to tour this museum quickly! Too much to see. En route to Garrott’s favorite treasure we pass an old moonshine still, an apple cider press and Gallatin’s first fire engine. Garrott pats the fender of a 1910 Hupmobile. “When I was 18, a man sold me two tires for $35. I thought it was a lot until he told me this car came with them. I couldn’t believe it! This old Hupmobile is now 103 years old and I bought it for $35!”
Now that you’ve absorbed the entire history of Sumner County, walk across the grass outside the museum to Trousdale Place, the beautifully preserved home of Tennessee’s 16th Governor, William Trousdale (1790-1872). General, War Horse of Sumner County and foreign minister to Brazil, Trousdale enjoyed life in the heart of the county seat. The house was built in 1813 by prominent lawyer John Bowen and purchased by Trousdale in 1822.
Too old for active duty during the Civil War, Trousdale acted as ambassador between the residents of Sumner County and the Union forces that occupied Gallatin, winning favor that exempted his family from having to evacuate their home. It was also home to his two sons who were wounded as Confederate soldiers.
Widowed and grieving daughter-in-law of William Trousdale, Annie Berry Trousdale was the last in the family line to live in the home. She donated the property to the United Daughters of the Confederacy (Clark Ch. 13) in 1899 to preserve it as a museum and especially honor Confederate soldiers.
Trousdale Place is open by appointment only, tours given by hostesses in period dress. Many original pieces of furniture are on display, including a 9ft tall grandfather clock. Call (615) 452-5648 for more info and to make reservations. It is also available to rent for weddings, meetings and family gatherings. Here’s your chance to experience the grandeur of this Governor’s mansion!
Tell us what you most enjoy about the Sumner County Museum – did you find a special treasure that brought back memories?