This last weekend we decided to spend some time at the Tennessee State Museum. This museum is part of the Capital State Park and sits on the very end of the capital mall from the capital building. And this museum is free to enjoy and offers an incredible look at Tennessee through the ages from the prehistoric to the present day.
The main museum area is upstairs where a series of connected rooms lead you through the history. Visitors can see a visual time line along the walls of the rooms giving the dates and what was happening at that time. We started in the prehistoric and first peoples area. We loved looking at the fossils and learning about the beginning of agriculture in the area. We were surprised to get face to face with the skeleton of a red panda that use to be very prevalent here.
The next section took us to the colonial time period and those early days of people here in what was considered the new world. The printing press was an important part of this time period and all that it allowed the people to do to share information and ideas.
A lot of the ideas that were shared were those of freedom and of establishing a new country. The Revolutionary War brought the people together to fight against the English. Those that came from the area of what would later be Tennessee were mostly farmers and frontiersmen. Tennessee’s tag line is being ‘The Volunteer State’ and that comes from the long standing number of people who volunteered for service to their country beginning with the Revolutionary War and continuing to the present day.
But it was not long after the Revolution that war again came to the states, but this time it would be a war against their own. The people of the south felt that the government were abusing their power and dictating laws and enacting policies that were unfair to the agricultural communities of the south. This feeling became so charged that the south declared their intent to secede from the union and create their own government. But the north sought to preserve the union of the newly formed states. There formed the spark of what would be the most devastating event in the country’s history. Tennessee was right on the forefront of the war as it was the gateway to the rest of the south. At such a high cost, the north won the war and the union was preserved.
We continued through to the time of industry and invention. With grain mills, sock weaving machines, motorcars, and other inventions that marked the time of the late 1800s and into the early 1900s.
And what would a museum about Tennessee be without talking about the whiskey and the prohibition. Tennessee is whiskey country and at that time everyone made whiskey. From lawyers to ministers, to the farmer down the street- everyone had a side gig of making whiskey. When prohibition came in force, the whiskey making went undercover and was made and distributed at night giving it the name Moonshine. The museum featured one of the early whiskey stills that were used. It also had an entire section dedicated to Jack Daniels and how he took his whiskey business and made it successful even through prohibition.
Another key element of Tennessee history is the music industry. From the blues in Memphis, the folk music of the Smoky Mountains, and the country legends of Nashville- Tennessee is known for music. As a tribute to this musical history the museum featured the original sign of the Ernest Tubb Record Shop that has been an icon of Nashville since 1947. This was the place to come for music and is still considered the best place in town for live music and hard to find albums.
The next section of the museum brought us to the the World Wars. Tennessee had one of the highest enlistment numbers in the country in both wars as they upheld the history of volunteering for service.
The Civil Rights movement came bringing with it a new age of inclusion. The Civil Rights movement was the beginning of many other movements that focused on gaining equal rights for other groups such as women, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ.
With a look at the sports teams that have made a name for themselves here in the state we ended the museum with the present day. It was so interesting to see Tennessee in this timeline throughout history. A security guard there told us that in order to read the timeline through the museum you would need at least 4 hours. It was a fascinating look at the state and all that has influenced and will continue to influence it in the future.
Our last stop in the museum was the kids area which was a brightly colored area highlighting all the icons and influences of this state. It was a great way to play and to learn more about this place we call home.
Driving home from the museum, I happened to take this great picture of the Nashville skyline in the setting sun. This city is so beautiful and it has so much to see and do that we haven’t even scratched the surface yet. Can’t wait to see what else we discover here in Music City.
For more places to visit in the Music City of Nashville try out these:
Thanks for coming along with me today to explore the Tennessee State Museum!