Nashville Favorites

History: One of the reasons I wanted to move to Nashville was because it’s so good at preserving its history. I wanted to see the plantations, the Civil War battlefields, all the little meat-and-threes that are still going strong. What I hadn’t betted on was that I’d fall for its country music history. Walks down Broadway and stops into Ernest Tubb’s has got me listening to all the old country songs I can get my hands on: tuning into Willie’s Roadhouse on SiriusXM, putting on Dolly/Loretta/Johnny Cash stations on Pandora. I still have a lot of catching up to do.

Roadside: The Loveless Cafe sits right at the beginning (or end, depending on which way you’re going) of the Natchez Trace, and for over 50 years it’s been an iconic roadside stop. What once was a modest cafe/motel is now a bustling tourist site, complete with that same cafe, food shops, and a music venue. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the biscuits.  They’re worth the wait. (and there will be a wait)

Food:  Nashville is increasingly gaining notoriety as a foodie’s town, but good vegan meals can be still hard to come by here. That’s why we keep on returning to The Wild Cow. It’s a vegetarian restaurant with plenty of options for vegans, along with a constant supply of cakes and cookies and brownies from Khan’s Desserts.

Sleep:  Disclaimer: I’ve never actually stayed at a Nashville hotel, but if I did I would definitely go to the Hermitage Hotel. At over a hundred years old, it’s easily one of Nashville’s oldest, and you can still eat dinner at the Capitol Grille or grab a drink at the Oak Bar. Both played big roles in Nashville’s social scene in the early part of the last century. Orchestras played and couples danced at the Capitol Grille, while the Oak Bar was something of a men’s club. Today women are welcome at the bar as well, and they can even get a peek into the old men’s bathroom. Which may seem like a strange thing to do until you actually see the bathroom—all black and green tile and art deco lines, it’s like something out of a ’30s musical.

Shop: Hey Rooster General Store is housed in a charming little mid-century building in East Nashville, and it’s a one stop shop for the best in local handmade goods and foods. I’m constantly amazed by all the creative people here in Nashville. Local makers create everything from jewelry to pottery, to cutting boards to candy bars, and you can find a lot of it here.

Museums: When it comes to museums I tend to like house museums best, and Nashville has some good ones. The Hermitage, home of  the controversial president Andrew Jackson, is beautiful and thorough, and doesn’t shy away from some of the darker moments of Jackson’s presidency. And I have a soft spot in my heart for Belle Meade. It’s the first plantation I went to in Tennessee, shortly after my parents moved here, and I have great memories of touring the house and walking around the beautifully kept-up grounds. I couldn’t believe how beautiful those great big magnolia trees were, and I still can’t.

Parks: Our brother-in-law sang Percy Warner Park’s praises long before we moved here, and it only took one hike for us to understand why. Percy Warner, along with the adjacent Edwin Warner Park, covers thousands of acres of hills and forest. There are trails for biking, hiking, and horseback riding, and even though the park is (deservedly) popular and always filled with visitors, it’s still possible to feel completely isolated and so much further from the heart of the of the city than you really are.

Posted in Favorites, Tennessee | 6 Responses

A South Carolina Museum Trapped in Time

The Story of Thornwell Orphanage, a short history written in 1924, portrays the the children’s home in “the beautiful little town of Clinton,” South Carolina as a peaceful spot, with attractive granite buildings and trees with “arms outstretched toward heaven.”  Each building is described in detail, from dormitories to the president’s home, to one located just down the way

Some sixty feet beyond, but farther removed from the street line, stands a two-story building of concrete blocks. The following inscription is seen over the door: ‘Thornwell Museum.  Memorial T. M. Jones.’ . . .  On entering the building numerous cabinets are seen. They are filled with rare specimens, shells from the seashore, rocks from the mountain sides, ores from the bowels of the earth, reptiles from the waste places, antlers from the wild forests, animals from the far away jungles, birds of rare and beautiful plumage, curios from the mission fields of non-Christian lands, and many other interesting and instructive things. And this is the museum.1

William Plumer Jacobs was founding museums long before he founded Thornwell. As a teenager, he made his own “mimic museum,” complete with all the books he could collect, some coins, and “autographs: all of which are valueless.”2 Over time his focus shifted towards the Presbyterian church and to the plight of orphans, especially following the Civil War. He started up Thornwell children’s home in 1875, later going on to found nearby Presbyterian College, both of which are still operating today. With a talent for raising funds, he was able to expand Thornwell fairly quickly. New buildings and cottages started springing up, and soon enough Jacobs was able to give Thornwell its own library and the museum he’d always wanted to create.

In its day the museum was impressive. It was done up in the Victorian style, with glass cases holding the specimens: stuffed birds and taxidermic animals, many of them donated to Jacobs from the Smithsonian. There were souvenirs and artifacts from missions trips to all of those “non-Christian lands.” Wooden sandals from China and woven baskets from Africa. At nearby Nellie Scott Library, Jacobs filled the shelves with theologic works and literary classics alike, along with a large collection of Civil War histories.

After Jacobs’ death in 1917, enthusiasm for the museum faded out. The building was eventually razed to make way for a new dormitory, and Jacobs’ collection was moved to the Nellie Scott Library, where it still can be found today. When my sister (who works for Thornwell) unlocked the building and took us inside we saw Jacobs’ glass cabinets and books under a layer of dust. Animal specimens, tagged by the Smithsonian and dating back to the 19th century, were sometimes rat-chewed and moth-eaten. Some of the books on the upper level were gnawed through by worms, and some, done in by age, would fall apart in your hands if you took them off the old shelves.

Some of Jacobs’ collection has been lost to time, but there are still plenty of things that have managed to survive in good condition. When I was there I wished that I had the permission (and all the time in the world) to sit and read the Civil War volumes and the local history books, because I know I’ll probably never come across anything like them again. William Plumer Jacobs had been collecting for most of his life, and his eye was good.

Posted in History, Museums, South Carolina | 5 Responses

Detour: Ulysses S. Grant Home

This blog may be called The Southerly, but from the moment we started it I knew we’d be posting about a few of the places we travel to outside the South. And from the start I knew I had to post about Galena, the tiny town in Illinois where my family comes from and where I first began to love history.

Today, Galena is a tourist town. A lovingly preserved (85% of the city is located within the regulated historic district), postcard-perfect town, with a bustling red brick main street, a winding river, and Italianate mansions and church steeples terraced up into the hills above. Most people go to Galena to escape from the city or to immerse themselves in 19th century history, but my family always went to visit my grandparents, who still live in the same house they’ve lived in since my mom was young.

Galena was–and is–a small town, and my sisters and I were always free to explore on our own. We’d walk down Franklin Street, turning up the alley by the Catholic church and peering into the windows of the abandoned brick building behind it.  It was hard to believe that our mom had once gone to school there.  It looked ancient and gothic, like something out of a Dickens novel.

From there, we’d continue up the steep hill, walking along streets that curved around ridges, with brick Victorian houses to our right and abrupt drop-offs and crumbling staircases to our left. We’d go to the school at the top of the hill where our grandpa had gone to kindergarten in the ’30s  We’d walk down the Green Street stairs to Main Street—mainly to hit Kandy Kitchen, of course, but also to window shop. Sometimes we’d sneak into the Desoto House to see if it looked at all like it did when Lincoln gave a speech there.  It didn’t, but I still liked it.  In those days I thought that history was just a dry, stuffy course we had to take in school,  but it was impossible not to be fascinated by the past while wandering around Galena.  I learned to love history without even realizing it. I loved Galena’s history museum, with its stories of the town’s Civil War connections. It seemed like just about every other one of those brick houses up in the hills had been lived in by a Union General at some point.  The museum celebrated them all, but only its most famous citizen, Ulysses S. Grant, got his own display.

I can’t remember if I ever visited the U.S. Grant Home as a kid. My mom said that I did, but I could never recall what it looked like inside, and when I finally did get the chance to visit recently nothing really seemed all that familiar to me. Which might be for the best. Even though when I was young I had a vague interest in the Civil War (thanks mainly to my parents for taking us on a family vacation to Gettysburg and for watching the Ken Burns series when it first aired on PBS), I wouldn’t have been nearly as interested in Grant’s home as I was when I went a few weeks ago. Standing in the same room where Grant once stood, complete with the family’s original furniture, wouldn’t have meant as much to me when I was a kid. This time, it was one of the highlights of my trip back home to the Midwest.

Posted in Civil War, Detours, History | 3 Responses

Atlanta Favorites

In September we made the move from Atlanta to Nashville. We’d lived in and explored Atlanta for years, so after Drew left his design company to go freelance we jumped at the chance to move to a new city. We just needed a change in scenery. Nashville has been great so far; we’re still settling in and discovering what the city has to offer and all the new day-trips we’ll be able to take now. We’re happy to be here, but there are a few things in Atlanta that we’ll miss:

History: Many historic buildings around Atlanta may have been overtaken by development, but the Eastside still has culturally and historically important neighborhoods as well as plenty of local flavor. During the Civil War, the Battle of Atlanta took place around what is now East Atlanta, and while you can’t see a preserved battlefield you can check out a (revolving!) painted depiction of the battle at the Atlanta Cyclorama. Oakland Cemetery in Cabbagetown is a beautifully well-kept garden cemetery from the Victorian era. Nearby, Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn district is filled with African-American history. Visitors can tour the home where Martin Luther King, Jr. was born and can see the church where he preached.

Roadside: The Big Chicken isn’t technically in Atlanta. It’s in nearby Marietta, but it’s been a roadside landmark ever since it went up in the ’60s to promote a restaurant called Johnny Reb’s. The building now is home to a KFC.

Food: While there are all sorts of fancy, Bon Appetit-approved restaurants going up around town, we love the simple ones best. Our favorite, hands down, is Atlanta’s Mexican chain restaurant La Fonda. Before we went vegan we were regulars at Antico Pizza. After we went vegan we discovered Revolution Doughnuts in Decatur and have been craving their vegan dark chocolate cake-style doughnuts ever since.

Sleep: Serenbe, down by Palmetto, Georgia, is the only place we’ve stayed at around town, and since we happened to get married there we’re probably a little biased. Customer service can be hit-or-miss (our last stay there was kind of a disaster, to be honest), but you still can’t beat the quiet country atmosphere and rustic cottages. It’s beautiful.

Shop: Westside Provisions is Midtown’s answer to Buckhead. Housed in a century-old former meatpacking factory, the complex is a little less flashy and a little more of-the-moment than Buckhead’s ’80s modernist sprawl, and the shopping is better too. We especially miss going to Steven Alan and getting late night desserts at Star Provisions.

Museums: The Atlanta History Center has so many good exhibits, both permanent and traveling, that I broke down and bought a membership pass. The Civil War exhibit is one of the best in the country and deserves at least a few visits. There are always new collections to see, and once you’re through inside you can head out to the museum grounds to tour the modest, 19th century-era Tullie Smith Farm as well as the not-so-modest 1920s Swan House.

Parks: Piedmont Park sometimes gets compared to New York’s Central Park, and for good reason. It’s not nearly as big, of course, but it still is sprawling, complete with lakes and stone pathways and a can’t-be-beat view of the city. Much of the park was designed by the sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect behind Central Park. On warm, sunny days, the park is usually packed. For something a little less crowded and completely different, take a drive out east to Arabia Mountain. It’s really a monadnock—one of the few rock mountains that sit randomly around the suburbs. Almost lunar and slightly eerie, Arabia has to be one of the strangest–and most beautiful—sites in Atlanta.

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