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Many places in Tennessee have interesting stories to tell but none as poignant as that of the city of Clarksville. You may have heard of Clarksville, situated on the Cumberland River, forty miles northwest of Nashville. It's famous for a number things. One of the most devastating will live in the hearts of city's more than one hundred and ten thousand residents for many years. On January 22, 1999, at 4:15 a.m. a tornado ripped through the centre of the historic city, leaving blocks of devastation in its wake. Many fine examples of heritage architecture, including the County Court House were damaged beyond repair.
The Renaissance of Clarksville is wonderful to behold. With massive rebuilding underway, a favourite past-time is watching the re-construction. During our visit, a massive piece of construction machinery was working in the middle of the ruined brick court house preparing the property for reconstruction. Original brick walls are going to be utilized where possible.
Franklin Street, within walking distance of Court House Square, escaped extensive damage and is now the centerpiece of a re-emerging vital central retail core. Riverview Inn, within walking distance of both Franklin Street and the Cumberland River, makes a great home-base for area exploration. Plan to spend several days taking in all the city's attractions, and another four in the outlying areas.
To fully understand the important roll of the Cumberland River in Clarksville history, drop into "As the River Flows" at Cumberland River Center in MacGregor Park. MacGregor Park forms part of Clarksville's unique River Walk. A number of annual festivals are held along the River Walk with its performance stages, overlook plazas, picnic and play areas.. To see Clarksville from the river, enjoy a one hour cruise on the Queen of Clarksville paddle-wheeler that docks right next to the Center.
Next stop should be c1898 Customs House Museum & Cultural Center. The building, an excellent example of commercial architecture, houses local artifacts. Several new galleries are devoted to displaying the work of area artists and there's a great children's discovery area. Dunbar Cave State Natural Area is a 110 acre park within the city limits. The cave is unique in that Big Bands entertained in a dance pavilion built at its entrance, c1930 through the 40's. The cave was also, at one time, owned by Roy Acuff who hosted some of the largest names in country music. Today, a Park Ranger conducts one hour tours of the cave. Tours are illuminated by flashlight as there is no artificial lighting in the cavern.
Thirsty? A small side trip to Beachaven Vineyards & Winery should quench your thirst.
Beachhaven is known for their "Summer on the Lawn" Jazz Series. The winery also offers a tour, tasting room and unique gift shop.
Collinsville, a little south of Clarksville, is the brainchild of Joanne Weakley. Joanne, realizing that children learn by hands-on, visually stimulating experiences, spent at least twenty years collecting buildings and antiques. Today, this living-history pioneer museum does a great job of interpreting the area's heritage, 1830 through 1870.
Other attractions include the Smith-Trahern House, a "Life Skills Learning Center"; The Mill, an historic grist mill now converted to a craft, antique and artisans outlet and the c1947 Roxy Regional Theater that produces ten major stage performances annually.
If you have the opportunity to meet Phila Hach, do so. Phila is a wonderful, witty individual. She is a renowned cookbook author and noted chef. Dignitaries from around the world have been feted at her establishment. Phila records among her many accomplishments, being an airline stewardess during the 1940's; hosting a popular Nashville Television cooking show in the 1950's and authoring eight cookbooks. Phila can be found at her famous Bed and Breakfast, Hachland Hills Dining Inn. You do have to phone ahead as meals are served by reservation only and her rooms are booked months in advance. Cracker Barrel has several of Phila's cookbooks for sale in their country stores.
For a truly unique experience, drive one-half hour east of Clarksville to the little community of Adams and the Bell Witch Cave. Adams, at one time, was a thriving railroad village. Today, one block back from Highway #41, the old main street lies in ruins. The closed, collapsed and wrecked buildings are starkly beautiful and wonderful to photograph. They tell of a time when the village prospered, before an Interstate highway bypassed the community. Although sad to see old Adam's in such a state of decay, there's always a positive side. As one local said - "Thems that stayed, like it that way. That's why they're hanging around. We ain't no big city folk".
Today, Adams has a fire department, Amoco Station & convenience store, church and a large two-storey red brick school, all along Highway #41. The former school is now an antique & memorabilia shop. If you're around on a Saturday night be sure to take in the foot-stompin' Bell Witch Opry.
A plaque on the highway in front of the old school, commemorates the Bell Witch mystery. To fully understand the phenomenon, read M.V. Ingram's "Authenticated History of the Bell Witch", first published in 1894. You can tour Bell Witch Cave. It's a wet cave, and not too large but one of its most interesting features is a child-sized stone-lined tomb.
For Civil War history buffs, Fort Donelson National Battlefield , on the Cumberland River in Dover, lies three-quarters of an hour west and a bit north of Clarksville. After a good introduction to the Battlefield at the Visitor Center, take a comprehensive tour of the area. Fort Donelson's place in Civil War history was guaranteed with the surrender of General Buckner to General U.S. Grant in February 1862. Battlefield Park includes the Dover Hotel, known as the Surrender House. At this unassuming building, the terms for surrender were worked out.
Do you remember the song " Last Train to Clarksville," a 1966 hit by the group "The Monkees"? The song pertained to young men, under the U.S. draft, heading by train to Fort Campbell Military Base. For many, it was the last train they ever took. Fort Campbell, the home of the 101st Airborne Division known as the "Screaming Eagles", is located just north of Clarksville. Don F. Pratt Memorial Museum is located on the Base and has excellent indoor and outdoor exhibits. Be prepared to show your Driver's License, and possibly other ID at the gate to access the museum building.
The town of Dickson, is an easy three-quarter of an hour drive south of Clarksville. As soon as you drive into Dickson, you know you're in for a treat. Historic Main Street reminds you of the early part of the twentieth century. First stop, Nick's Hardware Store. Out of 100% for good old-time hardware stores, Nick's gets 99.9%. What a place! Be sure to say hello to Clay and Erlene while you're browsing. If you can't find what you're looking for, ask. The second floor was once used as a roller rink. Clay says he's not sure "what's up there now", but he sure knows where everything else is in his store. Check out his mule and horse harness area.
Try to visit Dickson during Old Timer's Day Festival, held over the
first weekend in May. Along with a quilt show, pancake breakfast, bluegrass
and gospel music, parade, art and craft show, there's the popular Liars
Contest. One of the rules states that, due to the amateur nature of
the contest, lawyers, preachers and politicians are not eligible!
East Hills Inn Bed & Breakfast is a great place to call home while touring Dickson and environs. John and Anita Luther are your hosts and very knowledgeable about the area. It's fun to watch the birds, rabbits and squirrels while sitting in a rocker on one of their porches. Breakfast is plentiful and scrumptious.
Dickson's best kept secret is the Renaissance Center, a multi-million dollar, hands-on, state-of-the art, learning facility dedicated to science and the arts. The architectural style of the building has won several prestigious awards. The complex is a sweeping statement to technology in 21st century. Take in a show at CyberSphere, a 3-D, domed theater with a screen that is 4 storeys high and 60 feet wide. The complex has a huge bookstore, visual arts gallery performing arts theatre & Faraday Science Theatre and cafeteria. Classes, for all ages, are held in art, music, drama, animation, multi-media, computer technology. You need a few hours, four hands and two sets of eyes to take in all that the Renaissance Center has to offer.
Montgomery Bell State Park, with its excellent hiking trails, lies seven miles east of downtown Dickson. Wildlife thrives in the park so you have to be careful driving through the area at dawn and dusk. Lunch or dinner at the restaurant in the lodge, is pleasant as the dining room overlooks Acorn Lake.
The Tunnel at the Narrows at Harpeth, is located on the Harpeth State Scenic River south of Ashland City. The tunnel is a man-made wonder. Montgomery Bell engineered the cut through solid rock at a horseshoe curve, to allow for a fall of water to power a mill. Take the gorgeous river-bottom walk through magnificent trees to view the Tunnel.
A short drive to Ashland City, brings you to Strattons, a great diner experience, for their 20 oz shakes and malts. We ended up having, along with a malt, their famous banana split made with real whipped cream and scoop ice cream.
Want to stay in a log cabin, albeit it a large and beautifully maintained home. Chigger Ridge Bed & Breakfast is the place to spend a night or two. Chigger Ridge is located a short drive west of Nashville, and very close to the Natchez Trace. You can't visit the area without taking a drive along the Natchez Trace then stopping at the famous Loveless Café for a country ham & biscuits dinner. Oh, those southern biscuits.
Other Dickson and area attractions include canoe rentals to paddle the Scenic Harpeth River, the unique village of Cumberland Furnace, Jewel Cave, Charlotte Historic District, Loretta Lynn's Family Campground at Hurricane Mills. The Lynn complex includes a museum, gift shop, plantation home, entertainment pavilion and lots of special events.
IF YOU GO:
312 Madison Street
Clarksville, TN 37041
Southside, TN 37171
Clarksville, TN 37043
Clarksville, TN 37043
Dover, TN 37058
Fort Campbell, Kentucky
P.O. Box 608
Dickson, TN 37035
Dickson TN 37055
P.O. Box 349
Pegram, TN, 37143
Dickson, TN, 37055
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