Friday, November 22, 2013

The Andrew Johnson Homes, Greeneville, TN

Any historic trail through north-eastern Tennessee should include Greeneville.  This could easily be an all day adventure with the first stop being the Museum and Visitor's Center for the National Historic Site memorializing our seventeenth President of the United States, Andrew Johnson.

The Visitor's Center was built around the Johnson Tailor Shop (below) which was the focal point for local politics in it's day.

After touring the museum, visit this accurate reproduction of the house in which the man who served as Military Governor of Occupied Tennessee was born.

Note the bounty on their table.  Greene County's rolling hills provide some of the best farmland in the area.

Just across College Street from the Visitor's Center is Johnson's early home, purchased in the 1830's.

Three blocks away, on Main Street is "The Homestead", where he and his family moved in 1851 while he served as U.S. Representative of Tennessee's First Congressional District.  This home is open for tours on the half-hour, so some advanced planning is advised.  I arrived shortly after the 2:30 tour was to start only to be greeted by the departing Park Ranger.  He apparently does not hang around if there is no one waiting at the appointed time.

I did, however, enjoy a stroll around the property and caught this lovely East Tennessee fall scene from his back porch, looking across Main Street.

To get a glimpse into the interior of this stately homestead and plan your own visit, go to  Don't let your stay in historic downtown Greeneville end here!  I had to return the following day for my personal favorite,  the Dickson-Williams Mansion, but there are a few more stops between here and there, so you'll have to be patient.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fort Dickerson, Knoxville, TN

After finally seizing Knoxville, the Federal Army under General Ambrose Burnside began building a number of defensive positions on the hills across the river to the southeast of the city, the Confederate Army having concentrated on Chattanooga.  Burnside was thus guarding the back door of Knoxville from attack.  His plan worked and the Confederates failed in their attempt led by General Longstreet to recapture the city in mid-November of 1863.

Little more than an earthen fortification for gun emplacements, Fort Dickerson alone among these embattlements survives to this day, providing a great overlook towards the city and the University of Tennessee campus.  It's a great place to stop and appreciate our history.  Plan your picnic for two or group outing at

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sam Houston Schoolhouse, Maryville, TN

When travelling through or near Maryville, Tennessee, I recommend a brief detour off Tenn.33 or U.S.411 to visit this historic location.  Just a few miles off the beaten track is this small but impressive tribute to the only President Texas ever had, Sam Houston.

As a young man, Sam found himself encumbered to the sum of nearly $100.00 and, having no desire to work on his family's farm just south of town nor clerk in their store in downtown Maryville, he opened this one room schoolhouse in May of 1812.  Tuition for the term was $8.00 payable as 1/3 cash, 1/3 corn (at 33.3 cents/bushel) and 1/3 in calico.  His school was filled, the term commencing just after the corn was planted.

As is the case with most of these smaller historic sites, the true treasure is to be found in spending some time with the local historians and caretakers.  A brief tour through their collection of artifacts can take as long as an hour or more and at that, you'll only scratch the surface of the folklore surrounding this fascinating American (and Texan).

I also recommend saving a few minutes to watch the horses at play in the neighboring pasture.  They were especially energetic and not at all shy on the day I stopped by for a visit.

Immediately upon pulling in to the driveway, you are met with the a presentation of the colors for The United States, Texas and Tennessee.  Mr. Houston served as the seventh governor of both states as well as representing each in Congress.  He also served the Republic of Texas as General of the Army and President.

His Masonic brothers have erected this monument to his honor.

At least his schoolhouse had a warm fireplace.

To discover these and many other interesting facts about this great early pioneer , please visit 
Historic Sam Houston Schoolhouse to plan your trip, or just drop by and say hello during their scheduled hours, like I did.  Bob and Mary Lynne, the Resident Managers will be happy to teach you about Sam Houston.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Falcon Rest Gardens, McMinnville, TN

Regrettably, no photographs were allowed inside the mansion during the tour.  You'll just have to take my word for it, the furnishings and personal history provided by the guide were well worth the expenditure of time and money.  To get a glimpse of the interior and plan your visit, see their website at

Once outside the tour continued through the gardens and adjacent buildings where special events are held.  I will let these pictures speak for themselves.

Falcon Rest Mansion, McMinnville, TN

If living history is your cup of tea, you should plan a visit to McMinnville, Tennessee.  The current owners of Falcon Rest Mansion and Gardens enthusiastically encourage your participation through their numerous special events, group tours and bed and breakfast accommodations.  On-site entertainment ranges from variety shows to murder mystery weekends and, of course, the obligatory Ghost Tour.  This would also be a fantastic place to stay when visiting the nearby Cumberland Caverns, possibly catching a live recording of the hit PBS television series Bluegrass Underground.

The home, itself, was built in the 1890's by Clay Faulkner who owned the nearby mill where his very popular "Gorilla Pants" were made.  After the home was completed, he built a health spa and lake across the road, selling the curative powers of his natural mineral spring water.

Enjoy these views of the elevation.. Do you see a ghost in the upstairs window?

Perhaps he was somewhere else in the mansion.

He may have been sitting on the veranda.

One of the chairs seamed to be gently rocking, but I attributed that to the cool breeze filtering through the trees.

This mansion is open seven days a week year round for historic home tours, variety shows, catered dinners, weddings and other events.  To schedule your visit, contact via email ( or voice communications (931-668-4444).

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Upstairs at Elm Springs, Columbia, TN (3 of 3)

Some of the furniture originally given to Sarah by her brother Nathaniel in 1838 still resides in the home. Additionally,  "The house retains its original interior features, including original mantels, the broad main staircase, rear service stairs, pocket doors and other trim.  Most of the floors in the house are original. made of poplar.  Other pieces of the furniture in the house today are original to the Looney family....", this according to, the organization's website.

These features are especially impressive in the upstairs living quarters of the house.  At the top of the grand staircase, you are welcomed into the sitting parlor...

...with an exterior doorway leading to the upstairs balcony, looking across Mooresville Pike to the Fairmount estate.  The families "...were close friends and it is said that on still evenings they could call across to each other by only slightly raising their voices."  This, also according to

The interior doorways leading from this parlor provide access to the bedrooms.

These poplar floors are unequaled by any modern specimen and we owe General Armstrong a debt of gratitude for saving them from the ravages of war.

Don't forget to make Elm Springs a historic destination on your next visit to Middle Tennessee.

Downstairs Tour of Elm Springs, Columbia, TN (2 of 3)

When other large buildings and many fine homes in Maury County were being destroyed by the Union Army prior to the Battle of Franklin (1864), this fantastic home was saved by an alert and loyal female slave and the timely arrival of General Frank Armstrong (CSA).  He and his men were traveling along Mooresville Pike just as the Union soldiers were attempting to set fire to the home.  He sent some troops to drive off the Yankee arsonists and later, after the Battle of Franklin, returned with a wounded comrade (General Brown) who was allowed to recover here.  Upon their departure, Susan Looney gave General Armstrong a decanter to thank him for saving their home.  That decanter has since been returned to the collection at Elm Springs. *

The home is currently a showcase of period furnishings as well as some original pieces surviving the Todd and Looney families' occupancy.  This collection is kept safe under the protective gaze of several notable Southern Generals such as Robert E. Lee and Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Like most homes of the Southern elite at the time, the downstairs was frequently used for dining...

...and entertaining guests.

The gentlemen could retire to this well-appointed study after dinner for drinks and cigars as they discussed the issues of the day.

The design of Elm Springs is said to have been copied from an Italian Villa that the builders, James and Nathaniel Dick, had admired while touring Europe.  The brothers, who operated a successful New Orleans brokerage firm, built this home as a gift for their sister Sarah.  The influence of New Orleans architecture can be seen in these "pocket doors", which are variant of a French design.

A picture is said to be worth a thousand words, but cannot compare to the experience of being there.
To plan your visit and see what the Union soldiers almost destroyed when they attempted to raze the Looney's home in 1864, see the organization's website at

*  Cynthia White, personal communication, 2013.

Elm Springs, Columbia, TN (1 of 3)

When visiting Maury County, Tennessee, this historic home is second only to the Polk House as a "Don't Miss" destination.  More than just a beautifully preserved two-story, pre-war Greek Revival home with an intriguing history, this privately owned southern mansion also serves as the International Headquarters for the Sons of Confederate Veterans and houses their collection of Civil War artifacts.

Although they were kind enough to admit me shortly before closing, I suggest arriving early and allowing at least one hour for the full tour.  For more information on this site, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, I refer the reader to Wikipedia or, better yet, the owner's website at .

Just outside of Columbia, Tennessee on Mooresville Pike, stands this venerable  mansion.

Upon entering, your attention is immediately drawn to this enormous, hand-carved mirror on the left.

Reflected in the mirror is the grand staircase rising graciously to the bedrooms and upstairs parlor.  Seen to the right are the back stairs used by household servants as well as the family's children.  In the closet underneath this back stairway you may yet see the signs of smoke damage where a Union soldier once placed a burning broom in an effort to raze the building prior to the Battle of Franklin.  A trusted female slave is credited with removing the flaming broom before much damage occurred.

To learn more about the history of this fine home, visit

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Kitchen at the Home of James K. Polk, Columbia, TN (4 of 5)

Leaving the main house through the dining room server's door, you come to the last stop on the guided tour, the kitchen.  In the early 1800's the kitchen was always detached from the main house because of the risk of fire.  The Polk's kitchen has not been modernized , as is the case with so many historic homes.

Looking to the right, as you traverse the worn brick walkway that connects the kitchen to the dining room, you get a glimpse of the classical garden that graces the rear of the property.  This fountain near the two houses provides a focal point, with brick pathways radiating in all directions.

You are welcomed into the kitchen by the "prep table" which, at mealtime, might bear food waiting to be served in the dining room.

A cluttered work area to the right gives evidence of the activity normally found here.

The adjacent room contains relics from the period including an early American round table with a large "lazy susan", some herbs from the garden and a spinning wheel.

To arrange for your group's nineteenth century cooking class, contact

Upstairs at the Polk Home, Columbia, TN (3 of 5)

The downstairs of this mid-nineteenth century home was obviously designed for entertaining,  the upstairs suitably apportioned for the family's private life.

At the top of the stairs is a small study with this rustic secretary and an enclosed bookcase containing Mr. Polk's law books.

From the study, you step into a re-creation of Sarah Polk's bedroom from the era of her husband's public service, displaying the accouterments of the modern political wife.  Note her travel jewel chest on the left juxtaposed to the folding travel desk in the center of the room.  Sarah had been encouraged in her education since childhood, so  her good looks and Southern charm were not all this forward thinking woman brought to the table.

Next, we step forward in time to Sarah's bedroom as it would have been fitted for the grieving widow, aged by her four years in the White House and mourning her husband's premature death from cholera.  Her mother-in-law's portrait hangs over the mantle and the fire screen stands ready to protect her wax-based makeup from the comforting warmth of the fire place.

Sarah's bed stands in the corner, with her walking stick handy.  Her mourning shawl and lace gloves, which she wore the rest of her life,  are laid out on the traditional bedspread.

As you prepare to descend the stairway back into the home's public space, you are struck by this portrait  of Sarah Childress Polk's mother.  It was she who encouraged Sarah's education and her own wisdom seems to be captured in her enigmatic smile.

Don't miss seeing this and the other fine portraits collected in the home of James K. Polk.  Plan your experience by first visiting