Tennessee State Museum
Goodlettesville, TN - Events of Saturday, October 19 to Sunday, October, 20, 2013
One of the things we found to do while we were in Nashville this time was the Tennessee State Museum. Since Saturday was the day we wanted to do our sightseeing and it turned out to be dreary, rainy, cold and blustery, we thought going to a museum would be a better option than an outdoor activity. Not only that, but the museum is free. The tolls, high campground fees, high fuel prices and our frequent eating out during our travels around New England this summer really put a dent in our budget, so free admission made the choice of the museum sound even better.
Since it was Saturday, we were even able to find a rare, free, on-street parking space about a block from the museum in spite of the fact the metered parking spaces along both sides of the street in front of the museum had "No Parking" signs on them due to a special event.
The Tennessee State Museum was created in 1937 by the Tennessee General Assembly to house World War I mementos and other collections of historical artifacts from the state. It was moved from the lower level of the War Memorial Building to the new James K. Polk Center in 1981 where it has more than 120,000 square feet of space, about half of which is devoted to exhibits. The remainder of the space is archives, storage and offices. The museum traces the history of Tennessee from the first Native Americans to modern times.
Tennessee was occupied by prehistoric peoples as far back as 15,000 years ago. The early people were nomadic hunter/gatherers. Around 1000 B.C., the people began to stay in one place for longer periods and began farming.
The museum had some of the best stone implements we had ever seen. They were finely crafted, and some were even polished. The next photo shows stone axe heads (left) and stone hoes.
As the native Americans began farming, they needed more permanent dwellings. The houses were constructed from saplings that were placed upright in a trench. The tops of the saplings were then bent inward and intertwined to form the roof. Walls were covered with cane matting and then plastered with mud inside and out. The museum had a display of trowels made from baked clay that were used to smooth the mud covering. We had never seen implements like that before. The use of trowels instead of hands to smooth the mud demonstrates a high degree of sophistication.
The Spanish were the first Europeans to reach Tennessee in 1540 followed by the French and the British in 1673. Although the French claimed the entire Mississippi River Valley, the territory went to the British following the French and Indian War.
Some of the earliest frontiersmen who crossed the Appalachian Mountains into Tennessee from Virginia and the Carolinas were hunters and trappers in the early 1760s. The most famous of these frontiersmen was Daniel Boone.
By the way, back in the days of the early frontiersmen-hunters, deerskin was a common medium of exchange. Since one skin sold for $1, the terms buck and dollar became synonymous.
Later in the 1760s, permanent settlers began to arrive. Conestoga wagons were frequently used in the migration from Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas. Conestoga wagons are characterized by an upward curved floor and sloped ends that helped keep the cargo from shifting on rough terrain. Thay are named for Conestoga Township in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where the wagons were first built by German Mennonite immigrants in the early 1700s.
There was a display of some of the tools used by the settlers for building cabins. Shown in the next photo are a broad axe, axe, maul, froe and auger.
Tennessee has its share of famous, historical figures. Andrew Jackson, who became a hero by defeating the British in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, also represented Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives (1796-1797) and the U.S. Senate (1823-1825) and was the 7th president of the United States (1829-1837). He was nicknamed "Old Hickory" because of his assertive, hard-hitting personality. The felt hat worn at his inauguration is shown toward the left in the next photo.
Ather famous Tennessean is Sam Houston. We usually think of Sam Houston in connection with Texas, but he was born in Tennessee. Sam Houston represented Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1823 to 1827 and was governor of Tennessee from 1827 to 1829.
Houston traveled to Texas in 1832 and became involved in politics there. After Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1836, Houston became Commander-in-Chief of the Texas army. He later became president of the independent Republic of Texas, and served as a U.S. Senator from Texas after it became a state.
Tennessee prospered during the antebellum period primarily because of cotton. The patenting of the cotton gin in 1794 boosted the demand for cotton and increased wealth all over the South. As we learned when we visited Lowell, MA this past summer, the Industrial Revolution in the early part of the 1800s greatly reduced the cost of fabrics that were manufactured in the North. This increased the demand for cotton even further. To read what we learned during our visit to Lowell about the Industrial Revlution and how it reduced fabric prices, click here for our stop at the Boott Cotton Mills Museum, and click here for the American Textile History Museum.
The wealth in the South meant the plantation owners could afford the finest. The museum had a parlor set up with the plush furnishings of the time.
There were numerous silversmiths in Nashville before the Civil War. The museum has a collection of flatware, tea service sets and trays that line three walls of a good-sized room.
Early in 1861, Tennesseans voted down a referendum to secede from the Union. In fact, opposition to secession was so strong in eastern Tennessee, they wanted to form a separate, Union-aligned state. However, after the Confederates fired on Fort Sumpter in Charleston Harbor in April, 1861, Tennessee passed a referendum in June to become the last southern state to secede.
There were over 400 battles and skirmishes fought in Tennessee during the Civil War, many of which were Union victories. The museum has a large section devoted to the Civil War that includes uniforms, battle flags, weapons and other artifacts.
From the Civil War and reconstruction era, the museum moves into more modern times. On display was a steam pumper built in 1900 and used to fight fires in Nashville. Steam from the boiler drove the pump to pressurize the fire hose.
A history of Tennessee would not be complete without mentioning music for which Nashville is so famous. The museum has a temporary exhibit of dulcimers, which are stringed instruments that are part of the zither family. The earliest zither-like instrument was found in China and dates back to around 400 B.C. Other stringed instruments like guitars, violins and cellos have necks, but the strings of the zither/dulcimer family of instruments do not extend beyond the sound box. The sound box is the hollow box that gives the instrument its tone and resonance.
The exhibit includes several early forms of the zither including the ones in the photo below. On the left is a modern zither from the 1900s. The next one is a one-stringed Norewgian psalmodikon from 1859. The third instrument is a multi-stringed Hungarian citera from the early 1800s, and the one on the right is a three-stringed German scheitholt from the early 1800s.
Another temporary exhibit features portraits of dozens of country singers. The singers shown in the photo below are (left to right) cross-over pop/country artist Darius Rucker, Chris Cagle and three portraits of Reba McEntyre along with the outfit she was wearing in the large portrait.
As we were finishing up at the museum, we saw hoards of kids in Halloween costumes arriving. We saw signs for a "Haunted Museum" event when we first arrived, and we saw the Halloween decorations that had been put up in the museum (fake cobwebs, a few manikins dressed up like zombies and mummies, and pretend RIP gravestones here and there); but we didn't realize the event was that day since Halloween was still almost two weeks away. We suddenly realized the reason there was no parking on the street in front of the museum was because the Haunted Museum event was that day. Fortunately, we had gone early enough that we were leaving just as everyone else was arriving.
On Sunday, we hung around the campground, watched the NASCAR race and watched the weekenders leave the campground. To our surprise, an almost equal number of new RVs arrived throughout the day to take the places of the ones that left.
On Monday, we continued on our trek south. We'll tell you where we ended up in our next post.