Tennessee is more popularly known as the “Volunteer State” because of the great number of troops it contributed to the American cause during the War of 1812. But nowadays, it would seem more fitting to call it the “Music State”. Tennessee, after all, has always been and continues to be a state steeped in music of all styles – from the bluegrass and folk music of its Appalachian east, to the jazz, gospel, and rock ’n’ roll of its Mississippi belt, to the Christian and country tunes humming out of Nashville. In this latter metropolis, known as “Music City”, hundreds of major recording studios and music production centers line “Music Row”, including the “Big Four” of Sony BMG, Universal, EMI, and Warner who are joined by hundreds of independent labels. And who can forget about Memphis’ “Graceland”, the home and eternal shrine to the “King of rock ’n’ roll”, Elvis Presley? Tennessee bleeds music so much so that even its cities are referred to by their song nicknames – take Chattanooga Choo Choo for instance, coined by Glenn Miller.
While music is the way of life in Tennessee, it is not all that it offers tourists. You must add to the list southern hospitality, warm weather, and a beautiful landscape of wildflower fields, rolling hills, steep slopes, Highland Rim ridges, Great Smoky Mountains, and vast tracts of forests encompassing wilderness areas and game preserves – all crisscrossed by the mighty Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers. So, if this appeals to your senses – music entertainment and natural southern beauty – then Tennessee is probably a state you should visit.
The history of Tennessee dates back 11,000 years when the first Paleo-Indians settled in the area. When Spanish explorers led by Herrnando de Soto arrived in the early 1540s, the region was inhabited by the Muscogee and Yuchi tribes. Later, the Cherokee moved south from Virginia and into Tennessee, as did the British who were the first Europeans to colonize the area. Settlements expanded during the mid-18th century with the construction of Fort Loudoun, many of the permanent colonies set up along the Watauga River.
During the Revolutionary War, the Watauga settlements were attacked by the Cherokee. In 1780, the Watauga River was used as a training area for the Overmountain Men who prepared for a trek over the Great Smoky Mountains for a battle with the British Army in North Carolina. This Battle of Kings Mountain ended in victory for the Americans.
In 1796, Tennessee became a state whose first representatives in Washington, DC included Andrew Jackson who emerged as a war hero in the War of 1812. This war witnessed a large number of Tennessee riflemen volunteer, earning the state the nickname of “Volunteer State”.
During the Civil War, Tennessee aligned itself with the South and became a stage for some of the war’s bloodiest battles, including Stones River, Shiloh, and the Battle of Franklin. After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Tennessee’s own Andrew Johnson succeeded the office. He was responsible for admitting the Confederate states, including Tennessee, back into the union and for his conciliatory policies towards the south and his veto of Civil Rights bills.
Today, Tennessee’s economy is a stalwart in agricultural production, exporting more than 50 different crops including tobacco, cotton, and livestock. It has a flourishing logging industry and is considered the hardwood producing center of America. It is also heavily involved in mining, yielding marble, zinc, and phosphate rock, among other minerals. And the manufacturing of chemicals, metals, textiles, and apparel remain part of the mix.
Attractions By Region
Tennessee is divided into three tourist regions: the east, central, and west. The east is comprised of many urban areas, among them Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Johnson City. The highlight of the east is the Great Smoky Mountains and the Appalachian Trail, which provide opportunities for climbing, hiking, biking, and camping. You’ll also find thrill rides at amusement parks like Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, zoos like the Knoxville Zoo, and aquariums like the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga or the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg which feature the world’s longest tunnel fittingly infested with 12-foot long sharks. Of interest also is the Lost Sea at Sweetwater. It boasts the largest underground lake in the United States and has been designated a natural landmark. On the historical side, you can visit the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville, which preserves the home and burial site of the former President.
Central Tennessee is home to Nashville where you can visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and enjoy music performances at the Grande Ole Opry, a venue that has defined American country music. Sports enthusiasts might also enjoy Tennessee Titans football games or NASCAR races at the Nashville Superspeedway. Beyond Nashville, you’ll find horse-back riding trails like the Tennessee Walking Horse Trail, as well as famous whiskey distilleries like the George Dickel and Jack Daniel. On the historical side, you’ll find antebellum trails and Civil War sites, including at Waverly where you can visit the Humphreys County Museum & Civil War Fort, Clarksville where you’ll find Fort Defiance, and Wartrace where the Blockade Runner, Sutlery & Civil War Museum is sited.
Western Tennessee is the land of the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers. This is also where you’ll find Memphis and its host of music attractions like Elvis Presley’s Graceland, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and the Sun Studio. If you are looking for music entertainment, you can head down to Beale Street, a designated historic district full of venues where the likes of B.B. King, Isaac Hayes, and others have performed. Beyond Memphis, natural beauty defines western Tennessee. You can visit lakes like the Kentucky Lake in Paris or the Reelfoot in Tiptonville, where you can enjoy boating, fishing, and hunting.