With a history that spans 225 years and a location pivotal to so many Civil War battles, Tennessee has plenty of stories to tell. For those looking to experience a bit of living history firsthand, check out the below sites, beloved by visitors and residents alike.
What first started as a 19th century tabernacle morphed into the pride of Nashville, and 125 years after her inception, Ryman Auditorium, the "Mother Church of Country Music," continues to be one of Tennessee's brightest stars. In addition to nightly concerts- the Ryman regularly lends its storied stage to musicians from Garth Brooks to the Foo Fighters - this 2,362-seat, seven-time Pollstar Theatre of the Year also hosts a number of series throughout the year, including Bluegrass Nights in the summer, Sam's Place in winter months, and Amy Grant & Vince Gill's Christmas at the Ryman each holiday season. In 2015, the Ryman debuted a significant upgrade, encompassing an expanded gift shop and box office area, enhanced Soul of Nashville experience, and the unveiling of Café Lula, in honor of Lula Naff who ran the building for 50 years.
One of the most celebrated plantations in the state, Carnton in Franklin was a crucial player during the Battle of Franklin in 1864, a monumental occasion that shaped the city's history and identity (see the Carter House entry for more information on the battle itself). The 1,400-acre house and farm were originally built with slave labor in 1815 by Virginia-born Randal McGavock, who moved his family onto the land in the 1820s. After he died, his son John took over, and the McGavock estate thrived as a horse-breeding farm and a lucrative producer of crops. During the Battle of Franklin, Carnton became a hospital, thanks to its proximity to the battlefield. After the war ended, it was turned into a burial place for the many Confederate soldiers who had died there. The house remained in the family's possession until 1911, when it was sold. In 1977 the house and 10 acres were donated to the Carnton Association, and today, after much repair and renovation, it's on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can reconnect with the past during the annual living history event, Blue & Gray Days which features demonstrations, historians and Civil War era campsites at The Carnton and The Carter House in Franklin.
As the Bell Witch legend goes, John Bell purchased a large expanse of land for his family to occupy in the 19th century, and they'd barely unpacked when strange things started happening. They became accustomed to mysterious sounds, but never could find the source. The kids reported such incidents as scratching on their bedposts, assaults in the middle of the night, and bed covers being pulled right off of them. Others began experiencing it, too, and over time, a voice started audibly quoting scripture, singing hymns and leading sermons. The legend became so widespread that Andrew Jackson even paid the farm a visit to check out what was going on, but quickly was deterred himself by the creepy occurrences. John Bell suffered facial seizures with age and fell into a coma; after he died, a vial of liquid that he was said to have ingested was found near his body. No one knew where it came from, but it was force-fed to the family cat, too, who also perished. The Bell Witch continued to haunt the family until they were all gone. People in Adams still say they hear rumblings of the Bell Witch from time to time, so keep your ears alert and see if she speaks to you. You can get into the spirit by paying a visit to Adams and sitting in on one of the many special lectures, exhibits, presentations and other events that surround her legacy.
Known for its Italianate design, Oaklands Mansion was the plantation home for the Maney family and is the only historic house museum in Murfreesboro. During the Civil War, both the Union and Confederate armies stayed at the mansion. The Confederate president Jefferson Davis is said to have stayed at the mansion December 1862 while accompanied by Robert E. Lee's son George Washington Custis Lee. In July 1862, Confederates defeated Union forces who were camped on the plantation grounds. It's said the children of the Maney family watched the fighting from the second floor hallway window. The town remained under Confederate control until January 1863 during the Battle of Stones River when the Union army regained control of the whole region. Today, you can tour the mansion, gardens and surrounding natural wetlands on the property.
Spread out over 30 acres, Belle Meade Historic Site & Winery - meaning "Beautiful Pasture"- once occupied 5,400 acres (it was so big, in fact, that it operated as its own city). What began as a working farm in 1807 has seen its share of history in the past 110 years. The original owner, John Harding, boarded stallions at the estate before later jumping head first into the world of Thoroughbred racing. His son, William Giles Harding took over Belle Meade when John aged out of the gig. William wound up having a bit of a lucky streak: When the Civil War decimated, the surrounding area and most other horse farmers were forced to give up their prized livestock to the armies, the Hardings got to keep theirs. After the war, William became a hot commodity in the field of racing, racking up the purses left and right and eventually becoming the first person in Tennessee to auction off Thoroughbreds. Today, Belle Meade Historic Site & Winery is a popular special events venue, but tours of the plantation are still offered daily. Be sure and poke around the well-curated store, as well as stop in at the Belle Meade Winery for tastings (free with the cost of grounds admission).
Take a tour through Andrew Jackson's Hermitage, the home of the 7th U.S. president. You'll see the beautifully printed scenic wallpaper in the foyer, the finery in the front and back parlors, historic books, furniture and more. There are several tours to choose from such as the grounds pass that leads you to the historic garden, hiking trail and historic buildings other than the Hermitage mansion. The Commander-in-Chief Tour is a 90-minute walking tour that takes a deep dive into President Andrew Jackson. Tours about the enslaved are also available via a wagon tour or walking tour.
Tennessee's most famous son, David Crockett, is celebrated at the David Crockett State Park in Lawrenceburg, about 82 miles south of Nashville. Learn about the pioneer, soldier, industrialist and politician at the museum which has a replica gristmill and walks you through Crockett's life. Then, embark on one of the hiking trails that lead you to scenic vistas of Shoal Creek and Crockett Falls. Boating and fishing on the 35-acre Lake Lindsey, cabin rentals, camper and campground facilities and paved biking trails can also be enjoyed.
Wynnewood State Historic Site in Castalian Springs is perhaps one of the largest 19th-century log structure ever built in Tennessee. It served as a mineral springs resort and hosted prominent guests like Sam Houston, Andrew Jackson and even outlaw Jesse James. Guided home tours are offered seasonally April through October and reservations should be made by phone.
Built in 1855, Rippavilla in Spring Hill was one of the premier farms in Middle Tennessee. The home was center stage for the Battle of Spring Hill during the Civil War, the clash unfolding across the property on Nov. 29, 1864. The Greek Revival home was built by Nat Cheairs and his wife Susan, one of the wealthiest families in the region. There are a variety of tours to choose from including the Tennessee Campaign Ticket which includes tours of Rippavilla and nearby Carter House and Carnton. The Battlefield Tour is perfect for those interested in learning even more about the Battle of Spring Hill. The Slavery & the Enslaved Tour is a 90-minute tour that tells the story of the specific people enslaved at Rippavilla.
Learn about the prominent McGavock families while touring the Two Rivers Mansion in Donelson. Open seasonally, Two Rivers Mansion was built in 1802 and now serves as an event venue. Guided tours are available Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays June through August; the Spirit Legends Tour incorporates the history of the mansion as well as paranormal occurrences Oct. 15 and 17, 2021; and the Christmas Tour showcases how the McGavock's decorated for and celebrated Christmas Dec. 10-12, 2021.