Day Trip from Nashville to Port Royal State Historic Park, Dunbar Caverns, Clarksville

In early summer 2017, Aleksi and I took a great day trip from Nashville, TN, up to Clarksville, a cute little town an hour north of Nashville, right on the border with Kentucky. Our first stop was the nearby Port Royal State Historic Park. This is a really neat park. Not only was it lush and gorgeous and filled with wildflowers, it has some fascinating history. Settled in the 1780’s, it was one of the earliest colonial communities and trading posts in Middle Tennessee. In the 19th Century, the town of Port Royal became a trading hub, thanks to its strategic location at the head of the Red River. Eventually, bigger trading towns rose up in the region and the town slowly disappeared. Today, all that’s left is one historic general store building, but there’s some great signage around to let you know what was once there.

The area is also significant because it sits right on the infamous Trail of Tears, the horrific forced march of thousands of Native Americans westward by the US government so that white colonists could take their ancestral lands. It was moving to stand on the old road where they would have walked, and a sober reminder of the foundation of cruelty and theft so much of American society is built on. The town of Clarksville itself is really cute. The star of the little historic downtown is a stunning Victorian building from the late 19th Century that once served as a customs office and now holds the local history and art museum (which is worth a visit, especially when you need to get out of the Tennessee summer heat). I had to a do a double take when I first saw the building because it’s not the kind of thing you expect to see in a little Tennessee town.  After wandering around downtown Clarksville, we ate an incredible lunch at Silke’s Old World Breads, a killer German-style bakery and lunch spot run by a German woman and her family. It was so fun to be in the middle of a small town in Tennessee and hear people behind the counter and in line speaking German! And their bread basket definitely satisfied some of my cravings for German bakeries that had plagued me since coming back from Berlin a few months earlier.

After lunch we checked out another nearby TN State Park, Dunbar Cave. There’s not too much to see there except the opening to the cave and the old concession area built in the 60’s. However, it’s got a really interesting history as a community gathering space and summer recreation area, thanks to the cool air that comes out of the mouth of the cave, which is one of the largest in the county (Middle Tennessee has endless caves, so that’s saying something). Definitely worth a stop by if you are in the area.


35mm taken with my Canon EOS Rebel 2000. Click here for more posts from Tennessee.

And don’t forget to check out my podcast about museums and travel, Museums in Strange Places, available on Apple Podcasts and wherever else you get your podcast fix.

Burgess Falls State Park, Tennessee

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A few photos from an early-Spring 2017 day trip to Burgess Falls State Park, about an hour from Nashville, Tennessee. One of my favorite thing about living in Nashville for two years was the state park system. Tennessee has 56 state parks filled with gorgeous nature, waterfalls, caves, cliffs, and other amazing natural and man made features (some ancient). I went to Burgess Falls a few time while living in Nashville. As you walk along the trail through the woods, you can stop at three waterfalls of increasing size. It’s a wonderful day trip from Nashville, and if you go I highly recommend stopping at the Cafe Between the Parks (8272 Burgess Falls Rd, Baxter, TN 38544), a cozy family-run shop and lunch place between Burgess Falls and Cummins Falls (the latter is an amazing place to go swimming in the summer, FYI). burgessfalls2burgessfalls7

35mm taken with my Canon EOS Rebel 2000. Click here for more posts from Tennessee.

And don’t forget to check out my podcast about museums and travel, Museums in Strange Places, available on Apple Podcasts and wherever else you get your podcast fix.

Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana

Among the beautiful preserved plantation homes you can visit in the greater New Orleans area, Whitney Plantation stands out. You don’t go there to marvel at the lavish lives of the slave holding white upper class. You don’t go to enjoy period architecture. You go to learn about the brutalities of slavery in the only plantation museum in Louisiana that focuses on the lives of the people enslaved, not the slave-holders.

“In 2014, the Whitney Plantation opened its doors to the public for the first time in its 262 year history as the only plantation museum in Louisiana with a focus on slavery.

Through museum exhibits, memorial artwork and restored buildings and hundreds of first-person slave narratives, visitors to Whitney will gain a unique perspective on the lives of Louisiana’s enslaved people.” (via the website)

I’ll include some videos at the end of this post to help you understand just how unique this is, but I will say that after two hours in the 90+ degree Louisiana sun learning about the horrors of slavery, I felt like I could have gone on another tour. Our guide was bold and unafraid to make strong statements about the realities of America’s first few hundred years. It was an incredibly powerful experience, and I would urge you to visit if you ever get the chance. You will not walk out the same. This place is not only a museum, but a memorial to the what we have done. In Germany, there are memorials to the Holocaust all over. But in the US, we don’t have memorials to slavery. Instead we have monuments to the people who fought to keep African Americans enslaved. The Whitney Plantation is doing something about this.

I can’t embed it, but I highly recommend this video about the Whitney Plantation from the New Yorker. You can also learn more about the museum from NPRNational GeographicThe AtlanticThe Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times.

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[35mm taken with my Canon EOS Rebel 2000. For more photos of my 2016 roadtrip through the South, click here.]

Birmingham, Alabama: Kelly Ingram Park and Vulcan Park

 

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In June, Aleksi and I took an eight-day roadtrip through the south. Starting in Nashville on a Friday evening, we headed down to Birmingham, where we spend the night and most of the next day before driving to Mobile, Alabama to spend the night. Early Sunday morning, we drove the hour or so to Dauphin Island on the Gulf Coast. After a day in the sand and sun and Audubon Bird Sanctuary we drove to New Orleans, where we spent three days exploring the city and the nearby swamps. From NOLA, we headed north a bit to Lafayette, Louisiana, where we spent the night in an Airbnb houseboat on the Vermillion River. To wrap up our trip, we zipped up to Jackson, Mississippi and spent two days taking the beautiful Natchez Trace Parkway the rest of the way home, stopping in Tupelo (birthplace of Elvis), to spend the night.   birmingham12

In Birmingham, we stayed with a cool retired intellectual couple in their old home on a hill overlooking the city. In the morning, the husband plied us with fresh muffins and espresso, and we chatted about economics and Marxism before leaving to explore the city. We spent most of our time learning more about the Civil Rights Era in Birmingham in and around Kelly Ingram Park. The park itself had some intense sculptures memorializing the brutal attacks of police against protesters, including participants in the children’s marches.

birmingham1 On one corner of the park is the 16th St. Baptist Church, where four little African American girls were murdered by a bomber in 1963. There is a memorial to the girls in the park (first picture in the post). We took a tour of the church and listened to a member of the church talk about its history and role in the African American community in Birmingham and the Civil Rights Movement.

birmingham5On another side of the park is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, an outstanding history museum and research center. I really enjoyed my visit there. It appeared to have some of the same exhibit designers as the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, but even where the content overlapped, they offered unique insights and visual tools for understanding. birmingham4

There is also a great Civil Rights history walking path in downtown Birmingham. We followed the signs from Kelly Ingram Park, which gave us a direction to wander until we came across a Caribbean festival happening in a park and stopped for lunch.

birmingham10After lunch, we visited the 50%  kitschy/ 50% majestic Vulcan Park, where there is a giant cast iron statue (the largest in the world) of Vulcan atop a column on  hill overlooking the entire city. You can walk or ride an elevator up to the top of the column, where you can get great view of Birmingham and Vulcan’s buns. The statue was built for the 1904 World Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri, then brought back to Birmingham (home of the iron smelting industry at the time) and placed on his pedestal.

Speaking of iron, our final stop for the day was the historic Sloss Furnace, which deserves its own blog post entirely  (coming up next.

 

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[35mm taken with my Canon EOS Rebel 2000. As soon as I post more entries from this trip, you’ll be able to see them here.]

Historic Madison, Indiana

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Just across the Ohio River from Kentucky, about an hour northeast of Louisville, is the precious historic town of Madison, Indiana. It’s a picture-book American small town, tucked in a narrow valley along the river. The National Park Service has documented 43 historic buildings in Madison’s National Landmark District, and during WWII it was so picturesque that the U.S. government used it as the filming location for a 10 minute propaganda piece.madison1

Aleksi and I spent the day in Madison at the tail end of a visit to Louisville in early 2016. While Louisville turned out not to be a great city to explore on a cold, dark winter day, Madison was charming even with most historic sites shut and intermittent snow fall. Thanks to connections through my job, we got a tour of the Shrewsbury-Windle House, which was closed to the public for restoration. That building and the house below were build by the same Baltimore architect in the mid-1800’s. They both feature gorgeous tall ceilings, stunning spiral staircases, and views of the river. On my Instagram you can see a shot of the the interior and staircase of the yellow house. madison20

We wandered around historic downtown Madison, enjoying the lovely little historic houses and main street and popping into a few cute stores. It was worth a visit in the winter, and I’m sure it’s delightful in the summer. For extra credit, check out my Instagram of the snow falling on the quiet main street.

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[Photos taken with a Canon Rebel EOS 2000 SLR.]