Tennessee is a veritable wonderland for lovers of history and heritage. The region’s rich past lives on in the form of carefully preserved, historic attractions around the state. The best way to experience all these layers of time and culture? A road trip with your family, of course.
Depending on where in the state you’ll be starting from, take your pick from the following historic homes, Civil War sites, museums and landmarks. Treat this list like a choose-your-own-adventure guide, piecing together the stops on your ultimate road trip back in time.
Listen for the lessons in the historic homes across Tennessee. Andrew Jackson's Hermitage reveals the fearlessness of the seventh president. The Hermitage has a golf cart to transport visitors needing assistance to the Visitor Center and to the mansion. Free wheelchairs are available and assistance animals, motorized and non-motorized wheelchairs are welcome. To learn more about the 11th president, tour the James K. Polk Home and Museum in Columbia. Tickets are $5 for adults/seniors and $3 for children/youth, making this trip fun for the whole family. You can discover more about author Alex Haley and his “roots” at his Museum and Interpretive Center in Henning (ADA accessible). Take a tour of country star Loretta Lynn's plantation home and Butcher Holler homeplace at Loretta Lynn's Ranch in Hurricane Mills. Visit Andrew Johnson’s Homestead in Greeneville for a day that the whole family will enjoy. The Visitor Center, Museum, Memorial Building and restrooms are ADA accessible. Johnson’s Early Home has an elevator for access to the first floor. Service animals are allowed in all areas of the park. Stop by Graceland for a reminder of the ongoing legacy of Elvis in Memphis. Tickets start at $39.75 for adults, $35.80 for seniors 62-years-old and older and children 13-18 years old, $19 for children 7-12 years old and children under 6 years old are admitted free.
Civil War Sites
The spirits of the battle-wounded permeate battlefields, telling stories of the war that tore the country apart. Overlooking the Battle of Franklin sits Carnton in Franklin, a private home-turned-field hospital providing land for the Confederate cemetery, a witness to the casualties of 14 Confederate generals, and adjacent to Eastern Flank Battlefield Park. Carnton’s Fleming Center and the first floor of the mansion are wheelchair accessible. There are free non-motorized wheelchairs on a first-come, first-serve basis. Certified service animals are welcome. Explore a Civil War era preserved fort at Fort Pillow State Historic Park in Henning. Trace the movements of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga campaigns from the unforgettable vantage of Lookout Mountain at the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park in Chattanooga to better understand these battles.
The Blues and Grays faced each other across fields smoky with gunpowder and cannon blasts. Places where you can discover more about the battles include Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro; Shiloh National Military Park in Shiloh, where cannons blast at the re-enactment every April; Fort Donelson National Battlefield in Dover near the Surrender House; Hartsville Battlefield in Hartsville; and Parkers Crossroads Civil War Battlefield in Parkers Crossroads.
Enjoy exploring Tennessee’s rich and colorful history at museums where you can uncover pieces of the past. Browse extensive historic collections on display at the family-friendly, ADA accessible Tennessee State Museum in Nashville (the museum opens in its new location in Fall 2018 at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park). Tour the Sgt. Alvin C. York State Historic Park in Pall Mall to learn the story of his heroism during WWI. The West Tennessee Agricultural Museum in Milan explores the many challenges settlers faced in establishing homes in the new territory. Admission is free and guided tours are available. The museum is ADA accessible. At the Museum of East Tennessee History in Knoxville, you can learn about the events that shaped the region. Tickets are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors 55-years-old and older and children 16 years-old and younger are admitted free. The first floor of the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis is devoted to the natural history of the Mid-South with a variety of interesting exhibits. Tickets are $12.75 for adults, $12.25 for seniors 60-years-old and older and $7.25 for children 3-12 years old.
Landmarks & Historic Sites
The fertile land full of animals and sulfur licks ensured Tennessee was a popular hunting ground for Native American tribes. Learn their history when visiting The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore; Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park near Jackson; or Red Clay State Historic Park in Cleveland. Wynnewood State Historic Site in Castalian Springs is the largest log structure in Tennessee, at one time a stagecoach inn located at the site of a salt lick and mineral springs. The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail runs east to west across the state of Tennessee, carving a tragic story of the removal of Cherokee Indians from their ancestral homelands. The Trail of Tears film has closed captioning and an audio description version. Those Native Americans are honored at Cherokee Removal Memorial Park (ADA Accessible) in Birchwood, which includes a memorial wall, scenic overlook and interpretive visitor center.