Crowd-pleasing attractions pave the way to Music City, USA,
on the Natchez Trace Parkway from the Shoals to Nashville.
Heart-breaking history, heart-stopping natural beauty, small cities with big hearts and a big city for big dreams—the 112-mile stretch of Natchez Trace Parkway from the Shoals of Alabama to Nashville builds to a brilliant finale with just the right combination of gorgeous views, human drama and unmatched hospitality.
It begins, naturally enough, with Nature, and a relaxing drive that takes travelers across the Alabama-Tennessee state line, and further still into a world of outdoor wonders. But first it’s a stop at the Wayne County Welcome Center in Collinwood, for a friendly fill-up on information. With picturesque attractions like the Old Depot Library and the Dragonfly Emporium, Collinwood makes for a charming “base camp” for canoeing and boating on the Buffalo River, Shoal Creek or the Tennessee River. Or if you like your water in smaller packages, a walk along the banks of the free flowing stream at Sweetwater Branch is a refreshing alternative. Further along, the Old Trace Drive allows travelers to follow the Old Trace route for a 2.5-mile leisurely spin interspersed with scenic overlooks.
From there, it’s a short drive to the grave of early American explorer Meriwether Lewis, who met his mysterious death, possibly by suicide, on this spot in 1809. It was Lewis, along with his partner William Clark, who first documented vast areas of the Louisiana Purchase. You may want to stay awhile at the gravesite to take advantage of campsite facilities, picnic area, and self-guided walking trails. Then you’ll definitely want to head into nearby Hohenwald to the Lewis County Museum of Natural History, where you’ll learn more about the famous explorer, and where you’ll encounter one of the largest collections of wild game trophies in the western hemisphere.
The Hohenwald community is itself an interesting collection, not just of inviting shops and restaurants (although there are plenty of those). But where else would you find everything from an Amish and Mennonite settlement to alpaca farms to wineries to a 1960s style commune?
From Hohenwald, head for the Tennessee Valley Divide, the 1796 boundary created when Tennessee joined the Union, delineating the United States to the north and the Chickasaw Nation to the south. To keep watch on the border, the U.S. Army set up the Garrison Creek post in 1801; today the long-vanished post lends it name to the trailhead for hikers and horseback riders.
Leiper’s Fork was also settled around the time of statehood, by colorful characters like Thomas Hart Benton, who went on to become a U.S. Senator (and duelist against Andrew Jackson!) The name Thomas Hart Benton may also be familiar as the namesake for the noted American artist who was Benton’s great nephew. Leiper’s Fork is becoming known as Nashville’s #1 art destination. Today, there’s plenty of artistry in the way this small historic village welcomes visitors at local establishments like Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant where delicious food is served up with delightful music, or art galleries like David Arms, the Copper Fox and Leiper’s Creek Gallery. Visitors also enjoy a regular schedule of events at charming venues like the Lawnchair Theatre. Don’t forget to try out two of our famous restaurants, Country Boy and Joe Natural’s.
In nearby Franklin, the road leads to the site of a dramatic and decisive Civil War battle called the “bloodiest hours” of the entire war. The Carter House, which served as Union headquarters, was also the scene of a family tragedy as one of the Carter sons was mortally wounded within yards of the house—the home he’d just seen for the first time in three years. Today, the house, a Registered Historic Landmark, with over 100 bullet holes in its sides, is open as a museum and interpretive center with a video presentation and a battlerama.
At the Carnton Plantation, only a few miles away, the scene was equally brutal, as wounded Confederates filled every available inch of the house, outbuildings and finally the lawn. After the war, when a neighbor’s field containing the remains of some 1500 soldiers was going to be plowed under, Carnton owners John and Carrie McGavock offered the services of their beloved Carnton once again, this time as a final resting place, making Carnton the largest privately held Confederate cemetery in the nation. In her “Book of the Dead,” Carrie McGavock recorded the name and rank of each soldier, and took such devoted care of her charges she became known as the Widow of the South.
A century and a half later, Carrie McGavock’s story would intertwine with the renaissance of the historic town of Franklin. History has always run deep here, through the quaint and charming downtown served by a trolley, with sites like the Carter House and museums like the McLemore House, chronicling African American life in the area. But today Franklin has reenergized through new ideas and new outlooks, best exemplified by the town’s conversion of its old stoveworks into The Factory, now a picturesque venue for dining, shopping, galleries and even theatre.
As for the Carnton Plantation, it has been meticulously restored, and has been drawing visitors from all over the nation since the publication of The Widow of the South, Robert Hicks’ New York Times best-selling novel about Carrie McGavock’s life. Today, “Widow of the South” tours cover the 48-acre estate, including the beautifully appointed mansion, ornamental garden and, of course, the famed resting place of Carrie McGavock’s precious charges. If you are interested in live music, check in at the Visitor Center to find out about the local scene. When you are planning your itinerary, the Franklin Theatre is a must! This Great American Main Street offers 150 options for shopping, dining and entertainment.
Leaving behind Franklin’s delightful bridge of old and new, the Parkway points to the bright lights of Nashville, and travelers cross over an even more remarkable bridge, an innovative double-arch structure that rises 155 feet without the aid of spandrels, an architectural and engineering marvel that has earned the Presidential Award for Design Excellence.
Although the Parkway ends near the campus of the world-respected Vanderbilt University, for delighted visitors the Nashville experience has only just begun. At Vanderbilt’s Centennial Park, the replica of the Greek Parthenon inspires with its Athena Parthenos, at nearly 42 feet tall, the tallest indoor sculpture in the Western world.
Nashville’s other attractions come in all sizes. With its most famous title as Music City, U.S.A., Nashville is the world’s mecca for country music, where stars come to make their mark and fans come to see their idols and to hear some of the best live music in the world. From intimate and exclusive venues like the Blue Bird Café to the Ryman Auditorium, regarded as the “Mother Church of Country Music,” to that Nashville institution, the Grand Ole Opry continuing its more than 80-year tradition, Nashville hums and strums with excitement. The County Music Hall of Fame and Museum is only one of the many unbeatable attractions on Music Row.
From hot country to high art, Nashville has it all, including world-class rotating collections of fine art at the Frist Center for Visual Arts, a premiere museum created from Art Deco post office. At Cheekwood Botanical Gardens, 55 acres of botanical gardens, a sculpture trail and museum of art make for a captivating excursion.
But no trip up (or down) the Natchez Trace would be complete without a visit to the Hermitage, Andrew and Rachel Jackson’s Nashville home. Perhaps no other single individual has been as closely associated with the history of the Trace as the man who was U.S. President as well as the namesake for Mississippi’s capital. Jackson negotiated treaties with Native tribes on the Trace; he also showed one of his finest hours as a leader there. It was on the Trace that he earned his nickname “Old Hickory” when, after the Battle of New Orleans and after the government had cut off his army’s funds, he led his men on a hard scrabble march homeward.
Today, the Hermitage looks very much as it did when Jackson returned to it after his second term as president. Costumed interpreters are stationed throughout the house to guide visitors and to provide context—though some of the best context a visitor might find would be on that road, the historic Natchez Trace Parkway, where Andrew Jackson, along with so many other Americans, found his way.
FOR VISITOR INFORMATION: 866-TRACE 56
Posted on January 17, 2019
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