We love exploring America’s back roads and small towns and finding overlooked gems that the tourist brochures never cover. In a series of weekly blog posts we will be sharing some of America’s lesser-known small town museums, historic sites, and oddball attractions, on a state-by-state basis. We don’t have room to cover each and every attraction in every state, but hope to give you some ideas for places to see in your travels.
Adamsville: At the Buford Pusser Home and Museum you can see furnishings and memorabilia of the late Buford Pusser, the battling Tennessee sheriff made famous in the Walking Tall movies of the 1970s.
Athens: The Swift Museum displays Swift aircraft and memorabilia.
Byrdstown: Cordell Hull, appointed Secretary of State by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, served until 1944, longer than any other secretary. Called the “Father of the United Nations” by Roosevelt, in 1945 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in establishing the United Nations. The Cordell Hull Birthplace and Museum in Cordell Hull State Park is filled with memorabilia of Hull’s life and times.
Camden: At the Tennessee River Freshwater Pearl Farm and Museum, visitors can tour the only freshwater pearl-culturing farm operation in North America and learn about the history of the freshwater pearl industry.
Chattanooga: Located on Lookout Mountain at the entrance to historic Point Park, the Battles for Chattanooga Electric Map & Museum is the perfect starting point for a tour of the area’s Civil War battle sites. The impressive three-dimensional electronic battle map presentation of Chattanooga’s Civil War history features 5,000 miniature soldiers, 650 lights, sound effects, and details of the major battles which were fought here in November of 1863. The museum includes an excellent collection of relics and weapons.
Chattanooga: You can learn everything you ever wanted to know about tow trucks and see some beautifully restored tow vehicles at the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum in Chattanooga.
Chattanooga: With a grade of over 72 percent, the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, built in 1895 to link the city with the top of Lookout Mountain, is the world’s steepest passenger railway.
Chattanooga: The National Medal of Honor Museum honors the servicemen who have been awarded our nation’s highest military decoration.
Chattanooga: The Dragon Dreams Museum houses a unique collection of thousands of dragons on display in eight rooms, ranging from unusual one-of-a-kind antiques, delicate porcelains, hand-crafted figurines and furniture made of wood, silver, jade, ivory, pewter, porcelain, and fabric.
Chattanooga: Badly injured in a train accident in 1942, Garrison Siskin made a promise to God that if his life and his injured leg were saved, he would spend the rest of his life helping others. He recovered from his injuries and went on to a lifetime of service to others that led to the Siskin Children’s Institute. Over his lifetime Siskin and his wife amassed a huge collection of religious items, now the Siskin Museum of Religious Artifacts.
Chattanooga: Located in a century-old Victorian house, the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts displays one of the world’s finest collections of antique glass and ceramics, as well as antique furniture, music boxes, coverlets, and the world’s largest collection of pitchers.
Clinton: The Museum of Appalachia showcases the history and culture of the mountain people of this region with restored buildings, a huge collection of artifacts, old time crafts demonstrations, and performances by local musicians.
Columbia: James K. Polk, America’s 11th President, lived in a house here at 301 W. 7th Street. The home is now a museum, with family furnishings and memorabilia on display.
Cowan: Located in a century-old train depot, the Cowan Railroad Museum displays a locomotive, flatcar, and caboose, along with model railroad layouts, photos, artifacts, and memorabilia from the grand age of rail travel.
Dayton: At the Scopes Trial Museum and Rhea County Courthouse you can see the courtroom where famed attorney Clarence Darrow faced off with prosecutor William Jennings Bryan in the famous Scopes Monkey Trial.
Dover: Fort Donnelson National Battlefield preserves the Civil War battlefield where Confederate general Simon B. Buckner surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant.
Elizabethton: Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park was the location of the first permanent American settlement outside the original 13 colonies. The park includes a reconstruction of Fort Watauga, the site of a two week siege by Indians in 1776.
Goodslettsville: Historic Mansker’s Station Frontier Life Center is a living history site which represents the station built by Kasper Mansker in the late 18th century. Reproduced very near the original site, Mansker’s Station is approximately one-third the size of the original, lacking only the full number of individual cabins which would have been in the original station.
Grand Junction: The National Bird Dog Museum displays art, photography, and memorabilia reflecting a variety of pointing dog and retriever breeds, hunting, field trial activities, and shooting sports as part of more than 100 years of sporting tradition. Many works of notable sporting dog artists and sculptors are displayed.
Greeneville: President Andrew Johnson is buried here in Andrew Johnson National Cemetery. The President Andrew Johnson Museum and Library is the official presidential library. The museum’s collection includes original Johnson family papers, books, and artifacts. Andrew Johnson National Historic Site includes a Visitor Center and the home Johnson owned before becoming president and to which he returned after he left office.
Halls: At the Veterans Museum, housed on a World War II B-17 training base, visitors can see exhibits on America’s wars, military equipment, and a field hospital.
Harrogate: The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum boasts one of the nation’s top five collections of Lincoln and Civil War artifacts. The collection includes over 20,000 artifacts, 6,000 rare books, and 1,000 sheets of Civil War music.
Henning: Alex Haley, author of Roots, is buried here at the home his grandfather owned, where he spent much of his childhood. The home is now a museum filled with family artifacts.
Jackson: Jonathan Luther “Casey” Jones, famous engineer, is buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery on Hardee Street in East Jackson. His former home is now part of the Casey Jones Village and is open for tours.
Jackson: The Nashville, Chattanooga & Saint Louis Depot & Railroad Museum is housed in the restored 1907 depot, and exhibits railroad memorabilia, an Amtrak dining car, two cabooses, and a model railroad reflecting the community’s rich railroad history.
Jackson: The International Rock-a-Billy Hall of Fame and Museum is a resource center dedicated to preserving and promoting Rockabilly Music. The Hall of Fame recognizes the pioneers of Rockabilly music, and the museum displays memorabilia reflecting its heritage.
Knoxville: The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture on the University of Tennessee campus has an excellent range of exhibits, from the ancient people who lived here, geology, the Civil War, and the freshwater mussel industry in the region.
Knoxville: The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame honors the greatest female players of all time.
Knoxville: Built in 1786, James White Fort was the first pioneer structure in Knoxville. Today costumed guides take visitors on a tour of the old fort and explain life in frontier Tennessee.
Lynchburg: Visitors can tour the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg and watch whiskey being made.
Lynnville: The Lynnville Railroad Museum, housed in the old depot, displays railroad memorabilia and a model train layout, along with a 1927 Baldwin steam locomotive.
Manchester: The Old Stone Fort State Park preserves a prehistoric Indian ceremonial site from 2,000 years ago. It consists of mounds and walls that combine with cliffs and rivers to form an enclosure measuring over a mile around.
Manchester: Exhibits at the Arrowheads to Aerospace Museum include antique furniture, Native American artifacts, military items, quilts, teapots, and toys.
Memphis: The Mississippi River Museum chronicles 10,000 years of river history and the people whose lives the mighty river impacted.
Memphis: The Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum, once the Burkle Estate, was a stop on the Underground Railroad for runaway slaves. A tour of the house includes a visit to a small cellar and tunnel where slaves were hidden until it was safe to travel further north.
Memphis: The National Civil Rights Museum includes the site where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, and tells the story of the Civil Rights movement with displays, videos, and artifacts.
Memphis: The legendary Sun Studio, at 706 Union Avenue, has housed such performers as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. Tours of the studio are available every hour.
Memphis: If you enjoy music, be sure to tour the Gibson Guitar Factory, where you can watch guitars being built and learn about the company’s 100 year history and contributions to the music scene.
Memphis: The Pink Palace Museum was built by Piggly Wiggly grocery store founder Clarence Saunders. Visitors can walk through a replica of the first self-service grocery store in the country, explore the cultural and natural history of the Mid-South through exhibits, dioramas, and audio-visuals, trace Memphis’ development from the time of Spanish explorers through the Civil War and the yellow fever epidemics, and learn how health care grew to be the city’s largest industry.
Memphis: The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum tells the story of musical pioneers who overcame racial and socio-economic barriers to create the music that shook the entire world. Exhibits at the museum trace regional music history from the sharecroppers’ songs of the 1930s, through Memphis’ impact on the music scene in the 1970s. The museum has seven galleries featuring audio visual programs, more than 30 instruments, 40 costumes and other musical treasures.
Memphis: The Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the only soul music museum in the world, is located at the original site of Stax Records. The museum pays tribute to the artists who recorded there with a collection of more than 2,000 interactive exhibits, films, artifacts, items of memorabilia, and galleries.
Memphis: For the best in tacky opulence, be sure to stop at Elvis Presley’s Graceland estate, where memorabilia form the singer’s life and career are on display.
Memphis: The interactive Fire Museum of Memphis, located in the renovated Fire Engine House #1, traces the history of fire fighting in the Memphis area with educational exhibitions and fire safety information. Exhibits include the Fire Room, Ol’ Billy (the talking horse), an 1897 Hale water tower, 1910 horse-drawn steam engine, the Historic Fires exhibit, a black firefighters exhibit, EMS exhibit Fire Safety House, an Escape Maze, and a memorial wall dedicated to Memphis firefighters who died in the line of duty.
Memphis: Visitors can tour the tiny house that was the home of legendary musician W.C. Handy, known as the “Father of the Blues.” The home has exhibits on Handy’s career that trace the history of the blues in Memphis.
Memphis: The Memphis Music Hall of Fame tells the story of local music, from the birth of the blues to Elvis Presley. The museum includes a timeline of music in Memphis, along with a variety of entertaining and educational exhibits. Audio, film footage, and memorabilia celebrate the careers Memphis performers, from W.C. Handy to Elvis Presley.
Murfreesboro: Cannonsburgh Pioneer Village is a reconstructed southern pioneer village of the 1800s, complete with gristmill, one room school, working blacksmith shop, frontier church, town hall, and a collection of old farm machinery.
Murfreesboro: Union and Confederate troops clashed here in the bloody battle of Stones River in 1862. Over 23,000 casualties were left when the fighting stopped. In one charge alone, over 1,800 Rebel soldiers were cut down. Today Stones River National Battlefield includes a small museum about the battle, with a video and displays of military equipment, and trails take visitors through the old battlefield.
New Johnsonville: Johnsonville State Park is the site of the November 4, 1864 Battle of Johnsonville and is near the now flooded town of Johnsonville.
Nashville: The Tennessee State Museum traces the history of the state from ancient Indians to pioneers like Davy Crockett, the antebellum plantation days, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the new South.
Nashville: Historic Travelers Rest started out as an Indian burial ground, became the plantation of the Overton family, served as headquarters for Confederate general John Bell Hood on the eve of the Battle of Nashville, and is now a museum of early day life in the region.
Nashville: The longest continuously running live radio program in the world is Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, which has brought music to the airwaves every Friday and Saturday night since 1925.
Nashville: The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum honors the superstars of country music and the history of the country music industry.
Nashville: No, you’re not in ancient Greece. That is only a replica of the Parthenon you will see in Nashville’s Centennial Park.
Nashville: The Lane Motor Museum is one of the few museums in the country specializing in European cars. The museum displays over 150 rare automobiles and motorcycles, including amphibians, military vehicles, alternative fuel vehicles, and microcars.
Nashville: The Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame honors the state’s sports heroes.
Nashville: The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s home, is now a museum about Jackson’s life and contributions to America. Jackson and his wife Rachel are buried in a tomb on the grounds.
Nashville: The Tennessee Central Railway Museum is dedicated to the preservation of Tennessee’s railroad heritage. The museum has a fine collection of locomotives and railroad cars, and operates excursion train rides.
Nashville: Displays at the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum include musical instruments used by some of the most famous entertainers in the industry.
Oak Ridge: During World War II, this was the headquarters for the top secret Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb. The American Museum of Science and Energy here tells the story of America’s Atomic City.
Piney Flats: The Rocky Mount State Historic Site preserves the Territorial Capital of the region from 1790-1792. Visitors can watch as costumed interpreters reenact a day in the life of a typical frontier family, tour a log house, barn, slave cabin, blacksmith shop, and smokehouse.
Rogersville: Tennessee’s first newspaper, the Knoxville Gazette, was printed in Rogersville in November, 1791. Since then Rogersville has enjoyed a history rich with printing and publishing. The Tennessee Newspaper and Printing Museum exhibits include a 19th century print shop and originals or photocopies of the more than two dozen newspapers which have been printed here.
Savannah: Visitors to the Tennessee River Museum will learn about the river’s history and impact on the region from Paducah to Muscle Shoals.
Sevierville: The Tennessee Museum of Aviation has an impressive collection of vintage aircraft, ranging from two P-47 Thunderbolts to a Grumann Albatross, a PBY-5A Catalina, and Soviet Migs.
Sevierville: Floyd Garrett’s Muscle Car Museum displays nearly 100 muscle cars packed with horsepower.
Shiloh: The bloody Battle of Shiloh, fought in April, 1862, resulted in 23,000 casualties. Today Shiloh National Military Park preserves the old Civil War battlefield.
Southside: Historic Collinsville Living History Museum features authentic log houses and outbuildings from the mid-19th century. Costumed tour guides are on hand to explain 19th century life to visitors with activities and demonstrations.
Trenton: At the Trenton Teapot Museum, you will see the world’s largest collection of teapots, over 500 rare and unusual designs.
Tullahoma: The Beechcraft Heritage Museum honors Beech Aircraft’s Model 17 Staggerwing, a milestone in aviation development. Several models of Beech aircraft are on display, including Travel Airs, Beech 18s, and Bonanzas.
Vonore: Fort Loudon State Historic Park includes a reconstruction of a 1756 British fortification, one of the earliest fortifications on the western frontier
Vonore: The Vonore Heritage Museum displays items from the 1800 to the 1950s, including Civil War pieces; World War I uniforms; trophies; and other regional history items.
Thought For The Day – A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner.