If you’re itching for a road trip to a state drenched in beauty, history, and antebellum architecture, you need to point your car in the direction of Tennessee. From a long list of museum and historical sites, to the beautiful old plantation homes that dot the state’s countryside, you couldn’t pick a more lovely place to visit.
Belmont Mansion, Nashville
The grande dame of Nashville, the Belmont Mansion is the epitome of grace and elegance. From the gilt frame mirrors to the original carved marble mantels to the ornate gasoliers, one could spend hours in its halls. Any student or lover of architecture will pay rapt attention to the Grand Salon, the most elaborate antebellum interior in Tennessee. The original gardens are now part of the college campus, but the landscaping is still maintained, including the paths lined with marble statues. Tour Belmont Mansion’s garden—complete with the largest 19th century cast iron collection of garden ornaments in the country—and stop by one of the five gazebos fashioned in cast iron.
The Carter House, Franklin
Franklin’s greatest historic landmark is the Carter House. This brick home is now a museum which serves as a memorial to the soldiers of the Battle of Franklin, and to the Carter family, who let the soldiers use their home as the Federal Command Post. Throughout the battle, the family hid in the basement as the soldiers fought off opposing troops. Visitors can see the vestiges of the more than 1,000 bullet holes that peppered the home and other buildings, including the Franklin building that received the most damage during the Civil War.
If you want to see a vintage Tennessee hamlet, you simply must visit Historic Rugby. Initially formed by Thomas Hughes, a British author and promoter of social reform, this quaint little village was the setting for his novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays. It was started in 1880 as a cooperative agricultural community free of British class distinctions, while maintaining a cultured Christian lifestyle. Drawing inhabitants from America and Britain alike, the town grew to over 300 residents housed in 65 to 70 elegant Victorian buildings.
The town flourished for a time, until a run of bad luck—a typhoid epidemic, financial problems, land issues, and the burning (twice) of the town’s inn to the ground—led to its decline and eventual demise. By 1900 the village was a virtual ghost town, though a smattering of original residents stuck around, their descendants struggling to keep the utopian dream of Rugby alive. The original town plan and many buildings still survive, lovingly cared for through great effort, for the benefit of our generation and many future generations to visit, and revel in this little slice of antiquity.
These three historic sites are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to soaking up the culture and history of Tennessee. For those who eschew the typical tourist hotspots in favor of quaint towns, historic plantations, and tales from the past that are steeped in history and tradition, make your way to the beautiful mountains, meadows and valleys of Tennessee.