If this blog seems a little disjointed, it is; it took me three months to write in fits and starts. I have no discipline any more.
We spent three weeks in Tennessee this spring, beginning with two weeks in the Nashville area and a week at the 2018 East Coast HDT Rally.
As I recap the first two weeks, it doesn’t seem like we did a lot in Nashville. But we did enough to keep me “busy.” Here are the highlights.
There aren’t a vast number of RV Parks in the immediate vicinity of Nashville. We were told that Nashville is growing at a rate of 150 people PER DAY, or about 50,000 per year. Construction cranes and metal skeletons fill the air downtown, and I imagine that the suburbs are exploding at an even faster rate. So, even this early in the season, finding a park/site was challenging.
I made reservations almost two months in advance at the Grand Ole RV Park in Goodlettesville, about 20 minutes north of the city. While the park is very clean and the staff is friendly and capable, we were not thrilled with the location of the park or our site situation.
The park is sandwiched between a VERY active train track and a busy 4-lane highway, the main thoroughfare through town. The highway actually would not have been an issue, except that a stoplight was immediately adjacent to the park. This meant that every 30 seconds, engines would rev as modified pickups, semi trucks, and commuters vied for first place to the next stoplight.
The site they gave us was a nice long pullthrough – but we had swampy ground on the off-side, and we were literally five feet from our neighbor on the door side! Our campsite was the closest one to the aforementioned highway, so we got the brunt of the noise.
On the plus side, Goodlettesville was a great base from which to explore Nashville. As usual, Shawn worked roughly 8-6 Monday through Friday, so Elvis & I primarily explored the local parks.
Moss-Wright Park in Goodlettesville is a terrific, 146-acre recreation facility just 10 minutes from the RV park. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on the walking trail (first time I’d seen that in a public park!) so we had to walk the internal streets with other dog walkers instead. There is an excellent large, clean dog park which we visited two or three times to play ball.
The best hiking we did was at Fontanel, a large estate outside Nashville formerly owned by Barbara Mandrell. It’s now a pretty large recreation complex, with a winery, restaurant, zip lines, and outdoor concert venue. There’s also a free hiking trail sponsored by Mars brands. We enjoyed our 2-mile walk through the muddy woods, admiring the spring wildflowers and splashing in the creek.
I absolutely had to make a trip to The Hermitage, President Andrew “Stonewall” Jackson’s home.
Jackson is a controversial president for his ownership of slaves and the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1831. However, he is known as “the people’s president” for his championship of the rights of the common man, and refusal to allow corruption in his cabinet. A 10-minute history of this presidency and major accomplishments is on this page of The Hermitage website.
Ownership and custody of the 1,000-acre Hermitage, outbuildings, and contents passed directly from Jackson’s descendants to the Ladies’ Hermitage Association (now the Andrew Jackson Foundation) in 1889. This means that, barring the reproduced floor coverings and draperies, the house and its contents are nearly 100% original and reflect plantation life in the 1800s.
A $20 admission fee allowed me to view a brief movie about Jackson’s life, military career, presidency, family and home. I picked up a nifty hand-held audio tour unit, skimmed through the museum, and launched myself toward the house. After standing in line for 45 minutes (in the off-season! Ugh!), I was allowed into the house. No photography is allowed inside, but a few photos are on the website.
Costumed docents guide visitors through the house, pointing out features and providing a historical reference. The house was dramatically updated and expanded twice before 1850. A major interior restoration was completed in 1997.
My favorite aspect of the house was the wallpaper in the central foyer on both floors. The incredibly detailed wallpaper depicted scenes from a Greek myth which I’ve inconveniently forgotten. Now, this is floor-to-12-foot-ceiling wallpaper, and each scene was about 6 feet across.
I assumed it was hand-painted, but the docent informed me that the wallpaper was commercially produced. I’d like to see the 1800’s-era printing press that it rolled off of! And find out what other buildings might have used the same paper. It’s also amazing that it’s lasted as well as it has into the 21st century. I believe this is in large part due to the “no photography” policy. I really wish I’d been able to photograph it.
Outside, one can tour the sites of former slave quarters and other outbuildings, as well as the family cemetery. I spotted some wild turkey and deer, and generally enjoyed a peaceful stroll.
Nashville is the undisputed home of country music. There are honkytonks, bars, and roadhouses galore in the downtown area and sprinkled throughout the city. (Not to mention the dozens of recording studios and agencies!)
So of course I tried to get tickets for the Grand Ole Opry or the Ryman Theatre (the original home of the Opry). But apparently I left it too late, as there were few tickets left for the nights we had available, and the prices were a bit shocking as well. Shawn & I decided to take a tour of the Ryman to get our dose of music history.
The Ryman has a fascinating past. Originally called the Grand Union Tabernacle, it was built by Captain Tom Ryman and was named the Ryman Auditorium upon his death. Ryman was a riverboat captain who was transformed one evening by the power of a tent revivalist speaker. He pledged to create a tabernacle of great proportions, so that Nashvillians would no longer have to meet under tents to worship God and save souls.
From its origins as an evangelical tabernacle in 1892, the Ryman has hosted tens of thousands of sermons, speeches, concerts, lectures, commencements, ceremonies, boxing matches, meetings, shows, funerals, inaugurations, conventions, and exhibitions. This extensive timeline illustrates some of the momentous events which took place both on and off the Ryman stage. (Trivia night factoid: Johnny Cash met June backstage at the Ryman, as portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon in the 2005 movie Walk the Line.)
The Grand Ole Opry radio show was performed and broadcast from the Ryman from 1943 to 1974, when it was moved to Opryland to the east of the city. The Opry building itself changed hands several times and underwent major renovations in several decades. The building seemed to undergo a resurgence in the 1990s, and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2001.
Exploring the History of Nashville
Another day, I was fortunate to find a friend with whom to explore historical Nashville. Aimee Shirk and her husband have been full-timing with an HDT and 5th wheel for a couple of years now. They are based in the Nashville area for 9 months out of the year because their youngest daughter still has one year of high school left.
Aimee was a great tour companion. Despite her time in the area, she had yet to explore the capitol building or the State Museum, so off we went.
The Tennessee State Capitol was just so-so when compared with the glory of the Arkansas capitol in Little Rock, which was fresh in my mind. The lower level was dimly lit, and made of a brown marble with a dark brown-and-gold painted granite ceiling, which did little to reflect the ambient light. The upper level was bright, but much smaller in scale than Little Rock. Two more levels were below ground and held only 1970’s-era offices and cubicles.
We were told that we could enter any rooms to which the doors were not closed. Amy is braver than I, and I followed her through the massive carved library doors that were cracked open two inches. The architecture and artwork in the library were lovely.
The Tennessee State Museum was a similar let-down, which I think was mostly due to a timing issue. The museum is/was housed in two floors of a tall office building, with an unwelcoming, unobtrusive subterranean entrance. When we walked in, we discovered that many of the exhibits had been “cannibalized” – moved to their NEW building a few blocks away. The grand re-opening, with many new exhibits, was planned for the following month. Timing is everything, eh? I did take a few photos but they’ve mysteriously disappeared…
We wandered around for a while, dutifully reviewing some of the larger exhibits, before emerging back into the sunshine to find some lunch.
Athena and the Parthenon
We weren’t ready to head back home, and the weather was lovely, so a short drive brought us to the expansive Centennial Park and free parking. After wandering around the grounds for a time, we opted to pay the $7 fee and tour the Parthenon with its enormous statue of Athena.
Nashville’s Parthenon is a full-scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens. It was built as part of Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition.
The Tennessee Centennial Exposition was modeled after the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, with nearly 100 buildings, and was open for six months. Over 1.7 million people visited the Expo over those six months. In addition to exhibits displaying Tennessee’s economic, social, and cultural progress, the Expo included a midway with rides and shows featuring artists and performers from around the world.
The Parthenon embodied Nashville’s nickname of “the Athens of the South.” The original building was plaster and wood, and only designed to last the length of the Expo. But the residents of the area loved it so much that they petitioned the state government to reproduce the building in stone after it deteriorated. About 800,000 tourists still visit the Parthenon every year.
I found the various photographic displays about the 1897 Expo much more fascinating than the statue of Athena. The statue is remarkable for its size, yes, but garish and ugly to me. The statue is 32 feet tall, and she holds a 6-foot statue of a man in her right hand. It’s covered in 8 pounds (nearly $150,000-worth in today’s prices) of 24-karat gold leaf.
If you’d like to further appreciate the history and architecture of the event, the Tennessee State Library & Archives has a great article with photos about the Expo. This article from Americas Best History includes some great statistics and photos of some of the buildings.
Meeting Up with Friends
We’ve had a decent track record in meeting up with old and new friends on the road. In Nashville, not only did I make a new friend in Aimee, but we met up with my friend and former coworker Darren and we made new friends Kat and Akira who blog at LifeInsideJack.
Next Up: I’m going to do a quick recap of the 2018 East Coast Heavy Duty Truck Rally, and a Jeeping photojournal.