Dominated by The Appalachian Mountains in the east and the Mississippi River in the west, Tennessee is the 36th largest state in the south-eastern in the United States of America. The 16th most populous state in the nation, Tennessee is surrounded by eight other states namely Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri.
The state’s capital, Nashville, is not only the largest city (as of 2017) but also the world’s ‘country music capital’. On the other hand, Memphis, a city in the south-western Tennessee is regarded as the birthplace of Rock n’ Roll and home of the Blues.
Tennessee is home to one of the most visited attractions in America – The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The highest summit on the Appalachian Trail, Clingmans Dome, is also the utmost point in the state.
Also known as the Volunteer State, perhaps because of its significant participation during the Battle of New Orleans, Tennessee has a rich history as well as cultural background.
Let us now take a moment to step away from the usual, take a trip down the roads less traveled, and explore some of the hidden gems in Tennessee.
1. Fireflies of the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg
One of the earliest known records of synchronized flashing of fireflies were recorded in 1680 in Thailand (then Siam). Philip Laurent, in 1917, described the process as a scientific mystery. In 1992, a report on Asian firefly synchronicity made an American reader wonder if the writers, claiming the occurrence to be an exclusively South Asian concept, knew about the events that took place in their own backyard – the existence of Photinus carolinus within the depths of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
It wasn’t until 1995 that the presence of the synchronous flashing fireflies was confirmed in the region.
As a result of ‘couple oscillation’, the Fireflies of the Great Smoky Mountain come out to play only for two weeks, starting mid-June. Unless you are a registered camper at the National park, your only way in and out is trolley service between Sugarlands Visitor Center and Little River Trailhead.
2. The Bell Witch Cave, Adams
Whether you are a believer in the supernatural or not, a visit to dark, eerie caves of the Bell Farm in Tennessee is definitely going to give you shiver.
As the legend goes, the farm was owned by John Bell and his family who lived there happily until the summer of 1817 when a nasty, torturous witch (perhaps Kate Batts) decided to possess and terrorize the entire family. Strange activities and noises led to violent attacks on the residents of the farm and finally led to John Bell’s demise, who was poisoned to death by the witch.
However, it is also said that the ‘Bell Witch’ once saved the life of a lost child who became stuck in a hole and cried for help. Not only did the witch help him, she apparently also gave him lessons on safely exploring the caves. (Huh!)
The Bell Witch Cave and the farm grounds that it is located are considered as one of the scariest of their kind in the world and have inspired several horror stories and movies, the most popular one being An American Haunting.
3. The Evil Dead Cabin, Morristown
If you like horror, there is no way you could have missed the original classic Evil Dead, and if you are a fan, there is nothing more you would like than visiting the cabin where ‘the five Michigan State University students’ met their fate!
The Evil Dead Cabin, tucked away in the woods in Morristown, is the location where Director Sam Raimi shot one of the most iconic horror movies of all times. Most of the construction was destroyed during the movie production, however, what’s left highly speaks of the character and significance it had once – at least to the crew and admirers of the movie.
Supposedly, the young actors almost killed each other at the cabin while shooting for the movie (but, it’s just a rumor so far).
The only notable structures that still remain are the fireplace where the ‘evil’ met his fiery fate and a hole-in-the-ground where the witch who tried to lure Young Linda to her doom.
4. The Body Farm, Knoxville
The farm’s name in itself is a little strange, if not downright terrifying, isn’t it? But, if you could chalk out the slightest idea of what this ‘Body Farm’ bred, then perhaps you are right.
Unlike any other usual farm in the United States or the World, the Body Farm at Knoxville, Tennessee is an open-air research facility used by forensic experts and scientists.
The University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility aka the Body Farm focuses on how the human cadavers decompose given the various situations they are kept in – covered, naked, underwater, etc.
The first of its kind, this research facility was established by William K. Bass in 1981 with one dead body and a sixteen square-foot cage. The farm now occupies 2.5 acres and has over 15 bodies, mostly donated to science by volunteers. Additionally, the facility is also home to one of the largest skeletal residues in the world.
5. Lost Cove Settlement, Erwin
There is something fascinating about the history of lost civilization – lost towns, lost cities, lost tribes, lost cultures. Among the many ‘lost in time’ communities around the world, the Lost Cove Settlement in Erwin, Tennessee is one that has a long history of being a contested territory. The lack of proper jurisdiction and the town’s remote location allowed for a considerable moonshiner community to inhabit the lands during the 1900s.
It wasn’t until the emergence of the lumber industry that the Lost Cove Settlement was considered a proper dot on the globe. In 1912, the town got its first railroad. Even though the population of the town was probably 100 even at its best, civilization prospered and it became a decent, operational habitat.
However, the township fell apart as fast as it had gained popularity. As the lumber ran out, so did the civilization. By 1957, the town was deserted.
All that stands today are the ruins of a short-lived past, a couple of structures, and the Lost Cove graveyard with a few century-old tombs.
6. Oak Ridge “The Secret City”, Oak Ridge
An initiative of the US Government, “The Secret City” of Oak city was established in 1942 as a base for the Manhattan project during the World War II. Chosen as the center for its isolated location, the city was built to offer residence to employees and their families working on the project. In no time, the number increased from 3,000 to 75,000.
Like any usual township, The Secret City was equipped with modern facilities such as a library, a swimming pool, a swing dancing arena, over 10 grocery stores, and orchestra. However, the city was completely guarded and detached from normal civilization.
Only after a couple of years from when WWII ended was it made open to civilians. Now, for $5 and a valid identification you could get a tour of the Oak Ridge “The Secret City” hosted by the American Museum of Science and Energy.
7. The Crystal Shrine Grotto, Memphis
Created by artist Dionicio Rodriguez in the 1930s, the Crystal Shrine Grotto sits amidst the landscape of Memphis Memorial Park Cemetery and houses an interesting collection of strange stones, brilliant craftsmanship, and a variety of biblical tableaux.
Rodriguez, as the story goes, was commissioned to beautify the landscape around the cemetery. The artist dug a 60 feet deep cave that opened into a hill and decorated the interiors with structures made of cement and quartz crystal.
It is said that the artist was so paranoid about his work being duplicated that he destroyed the evidence of his craftsmanship after he completed the pieces so no one could create a replica using his methods.
8. Rugby Colony, Rugby
A failed attempt at uniting the best of both worlds, Rugby Colony was built in 1880 to harbor British expats in the United States of America.
Even though a huge success at first, the town suffered a major typhoid outbreak, and killed a lot of Rugby residents. A town which once flourished with modern amenities such as literary clubs, theatres, free libraries, and croquet, could not recover from the loss even though the town founder, Thomas Hughes made attempts to rebuild the town.
Sixty years since then, Brian Stagg discovered the community and made the town into a historic landmark by restoring some of the original buildings and creating the Rugby Foundation.
9. Spaceship House, Signal Mountain
At $250,000, the Spaceship House, in a remote corner in the woods at Signal Mountain, is a creation of Curtis King, who built the alien house for his son in 1972. Inspired mostly from Star Trek, the house is mainly made of steel and concrete, and offers 2,000 acres of living area.
Among other features and facilities, the Spaceship House is equipped with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full bar, an entertainment area, and a drop-down staircase to enter and exit the ‘spaceship’.
The Spaceship House has been sold several times but is now owned by a Signal Mountain local who is happy to rent it out for a night (or two) of extra-terrestrial living experience.
10. Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum, Gatlinburg
Historical and geographical museums are a thing of the past. Gatlinburg welcomes you at its part crazy, part wonderful Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum which stores over 20,000 sets of salt and pepper shakers, some as old as the 15oos.
Put together by owner and caregivers, Andrea and Rolf, the Museum has been a result of 25 years of hard work and determination. Andrea is a shaker expert and a former archaeologist while Rolf maintains the collection.
Claiming itself to be the only one of its kind, the Salt & Pepper Shaker Museum offers interesting tours informing you about the history and development of shakers.
11. Montgomery Bell Tunnel, Kingston Springs
Regarded as the first successful water-diversion passageway in the United States of America, Montgomery Bell Tunnel aka Patterson Forge Tunnel is located in Kingston Springs, Tennessee, and was created in the early 19th century.
The tunnel was carved out of natural limestone using gunpowder. Once a popular hiking and canoeing spot in the area, the Montgomery Bell Tunnel suffered a major loss during a fire which grew so massive that it destabilized the cave and the roads surrounding it.
As of 2017, walking through the tunnel is still impossible but you could hike the designated trails.
12. Backyard Terrors Dinosaur Park, Bluff City
A natural park tucked away in the rural settings of Bluff City, Tennessee, Backyard Terrors Dinosaur Park is a free amusement destination with a huge collection of homemade replicas of dinosaurs.
Every dinosaur in the park is labeled with its name, classification, traits, and unique facts. Aside from the giant creatures, the park also features a fossil dig site, a Mesozoic nature trail, different exhibits, and quite a few surprising elements.
Some sections of the park are under construction; however, the rest of the area is free to explore.
Donations are welcome and highly appreciated if you liked the park (which we are certain you will).
13. Hermitage Hotel Men’s Bathroom, Nashville
It is no secret that Hermitage Hotel is one of the most iconic and sought-after luxury properties in Nashville, Tennessee, however, what you may not know is that the men’s bathroom at this historic hotel is regarded as a ‘hidden gem’ by many.
The art-deco style restroom in the lobby of the Hermitage Hotel and a recipient of several ‘Restrooms of the Year’ award. Complemented by lime green and black glass tiles, a terrazzo floor, matching lime-green fixtures, and a lustrous shoeshine station, the Men’s Bathroom gladly invites women guests to appreciate the finest structure in one of the state’s most prominent hotel property.
While at it, why not enjoy an elegant high tea at the grand lobby or perhaps a stay at the 2,000 square feet presidential suite.
14. Billy Tripp’s Mindfield, Brownsville
In Brownsville, Tennessee, you will find the largest outdoor sculpture of the state – a creation by Billy Tripp known as the ‘Mindfield’. Tripp began working on the structure in 1989 and aimed for it to represent his emotions, life events, and his personal growth as experienced by him throughout his life.
The Mindfield is spread over an acre and is 125 feet high at its tallest point. After his father passed away in 2002, Tripp added a water tower which is by far one of the largest pieces in his canvas.
The artist still continues to portray his innermost feelings and significant parts of his life through his amicable creation and is highly supported by the community.
15. Timothy Demonbreun’s Cave, Nashville
Would you believe that the first resident of Tennessee lived in a hole by the Cumberland River and operated his fur-trading business from his makeshift residence?
Timothy Demonbreun, a French Canadian by birth, gave up his flashy titles and came to settle in Nashville as a modest fur-trader. The area that was once known as the Chickasaw Land had no man-made shelter which let Demonbreun live inside the cave and work from there.
Later a successful businessman and tavern manager, Demonbreun still has several descendants in the area. The cave, seeming more like a large crack in a rock, is actually regarded and preserved as a national landmark and has a steel bar entrance door.
16. Patsy Cline Crash Site Memorial, Camden
Patsy Cline, an American singer who was admired all around the world for her brilliant country music, was also an influential, celebrated, and loved vocalist in the 2oth century. A significant part of the late 50s and early 60s Nashville Sound, Cline was most noted for her emotionally expressive music and a rich tone.
Cline, along with Kitty Wells, was believed to have helped pave the way for female lead singers in the selected genre of music. An inspiration to many new and established artists of various generations, Cline is known to have overcome a lot of difficult situations in her life – a troubled, poverty-stricken childhood, a failed marriage, a terrible automobile accident, and several professional challenges.
She struggled and won her way through all but one challenge – the one which claimed her life.
On the evening of March 5th, 1963, Patsy Cline, along with co-passengers and fellow musicians Hawkshaw Hawkins, Randy Hughes, and Cowboy Copas met her treacherous fate when their private airplane crashed into the Tennessee wilderness and resulted in her death.
Though her body was sent home for a proper burial and the leftover items from her body were donated, a large meditative boulder at the site acts as a remembrance to the great singer.
17. House of Mews, Memphis
If you are a cat lover and it has been your dream to live in a house filled with feline love, House of Mews is your dream spot in the entire world. Founded by Elaine Harvey as a branch of Puddy Tat Protectors, House of Mews is an unpretentious studio-apartment (filled with over 50 cats) is the heart of Memphis.
Though Harvey is the only full-time worker here and permanent employee, volunteers from everywhere come to visit and cuddle with the little cuties. Be careful when you enter. You don’t want to let the cats out!
A separate section for kitties is blocked off and entrance is allowed only if you are clean and properly sanitized.
As opposed to many government-operated shelters, House of Mews doesn’t buy or sell cats. Instead, it caters to the homeless and abused ones, and are happy to give them away to a loving, caring family who wishes to adopt.
18. United Record Pressing, Nashville
Berry Gordy, known most prominently for his work as a songwriter from Detroit who ruled the charts in the 1960s, was the creator of Motown records, Universal Music Group. Despite his fame and contribution as a successful artist and the creator of one of the most prominent African-American owned businesses in the world, Gordy couldn’t find a place to stay in several southern cities such as Nashville.
Heartbroken and raged, Gordy decided to build himself and his recording artists a suite of rooms which catered to their accommodation needs whenever they visited the towns for business.
Among famous artists that were associated with Gordy and his Motown records, some of the most notable ones are Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Jay-Z, and Justin Timberlake.
A ‘Motown tour” of the rooms unveil the interiors that have been managed to resonate with the 1960s theme with a dash of mid-century décor.
19. International Rock-A-Billy Hall of Fame, Jackson
Henry Harrison, an ardent fan of Rock-A-Billy genre of music, has been dedicating his life towards the accidental child of rock n’ roll and hillbilly music since 2000. Located in the town of Jackson, between Memphis and Nashville, the International Rock-A-Billy Hall of Fame and Museum showcases life-size paintings of Rock-A-Billy artists, an exclusive assembly of historical videos, and the Rockers Dance Team.
The one of a kind Hall of Fame and Museum also hosts a Rock-A-Billy festival every year to honor new entrees to the Hall of Fame.
A 28×70 mural exhibits a visual display of the beginning and expansion of the Rock-A-Billy genre of music around the globe.
20. E.T. Wickham Sculpture Trail, Palmyra
More of a cement trail than a sculpture trail, this section of road in the town of Palmyra, Tennessee, is a collection of several cement-built sculptures that were built by Enoch Tanner Wickham in the early 1950s. A tobacco farmer during his early life, Wickham started his project at the age of 67 by crafting his first ever statue of Virgin Mary crushing a snake.
Among his creations were notable figures such as Daniel Boone, Bobby and Jack Kennedy, Andrew Jackson, and Tecumseh. Additionally, he also crafted sculptures to depict people and subjects personal to him, like his son who lost his life in World War II.
Wickham continued to build until his death at the age of 87. By the end of his life, he managed to build over 30 structures that lined either side of the street.
Though the artist’s passion project depleted with his life, some of the remnants can still be found bordering the streets of Palmyra.
21. The Grave of Meriwether Lewis, Hohenwald
Though nobody knows what happened and why, Meriwether Lewis, one half of Lewis and Clark, and one of America’s most prominent explorers, one strange day in 1809, October 10th to be precise, Lewis was found shot twice and dead at the ground. Either a suicide or a murder, Lewis’ body now rests under the Memorial at Hohenwald, Tennessee.
Despite the explorer’s reputation, the Memorial and the grave are rather unpretentious. A simple circular column with a chipped top and a quote from Thomas Jefferson showing Lewis’ contribution are the only stand-out features.
A small and modest museum nearby the Grave of Meriwether Lewis displays a significant collection of the explorer’s life.
22. Isaac Hayes’ Gold-Plated Cadillac, Memphis
Stax Museum of American Soul Music is one of the most distinguished structures in Memphis, especially due to the huge collection of memorabilia it has stored as a remembrance to artists of the music genre. But, what stands out the most under the roof here is the gold-plated Cadillac which once belonged to the famous soul singer, Isaac Hayes.
Custom built for Hayes in 1972, the Cadillac featured a fur-lined interior, a 24-plated gold exterior, a minibar and a TV!
Looking at it, you would think it never saw the dust, but Hayes proudly cruised it along the streets of Memphis until he went bankrupt and lost the car. The Museum itself was closed in 1976 but when it reopened in 2003, Stax and the Cadillac were one again.
23. Tina Turner Museum, Brownsville
Anna Mae Bullock, or Tina Turner to most of us, one of the most notable personalities in the history of Music, went to school in the one-room Flagg Grove School in Brownsville, Tennessee. Built around the 1880s, the school was one of the first of its kind to educated African-Americans in the South.
The school that operated until the 1960s remained a desolate barn until 2012 when it was renovated into the Tina Turner Museum and moved to its current location. Under the guidance of Turner and her admirers, the museum was set up to host memorabilia that depicted the life journey of Tina Turner.
Exhibits include a collection of photographs, her dresses and costumes from prominent concerts and performances, gold and platinum records, and her old yearbooks.
Although small and not-so-gaudy, the Museum is worth a stop for music lovers on the Nashville to Memphis music trail.
24. International Towing and Recovery Museum, Chattanooga
Just when you thought you have seen or heard of every possible kind of museum in the world, the International Towing and Recovery Museum appears to blast your senses. As you may or may not have guessed, this museum is dedicated towards TOWING and vehicle recovery along with those who have given up their lives to save others during a recovery process.
As the museum records state, the first tow truck was built in 1916 in the city and later went on to create a whole business industry based on this. The Museum started as a humble traveling exhibition in the 80s that displayed artifacts, tow trucks, and history of towing.
Among the collections now are salvage trucks, cranes, and an interesting installation, the Wall of the Fallen, that is an unusual dedication to all those brave men and women who helped save others’ lives.
25. King Tut Grill, Knoxville
There is no dearth of luxury restaurants, themed eateries, and high-rated bars in America, but, the King Tut Grill in Knoxville, Tennessee stands out as one with a quirky décor and an entertaining owner.
Expect to drink beer out of a flower vase or perhaps wearing an Egyptian headdress that the restaurant owner whooshes out of the wind. But, mind you, the food here is as good as the entertainment. Try the Greek salad or the Egyptian sampler (you will definitely need to wear the headdress for this).
Moe, the owner, is always smiling and pulling new tricks out of his hat.
Don’t be surprised if you see a Santa Claus in June.