Seeing Tennessee: One Day in the Volunteer State (Nashville Version)

Tennessee is known as the volunteer state, so named because of the disproportionate number of volunteers they have provided to the US Military in wartime.  While none of the LEAP Ambassadors have served during wartime, we do volunteer a lot, so we felt a distant kind of kinship.

The first stop planned for our third day of the Southern leg of our trip was The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home.


Our tour began with museum exhibits describing the history of the seventh President of the United States in chronological displays. The exhibit began with the wars in which Andrew Jackson played important roles, the War of 1812 and the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.


Original artifacts, such as swords used by the British and the Americans during these historical events, were also displayed in glass cases allowing each visitor to stop and admire the details of each. Larger artifacts, such as his carriage, were displayed on the floor of the exhibit space.


The exhibits were packed with history, but also well-organized, making it easy to follow and understand.


We learned not only about Andrew Jackson’s life, but also much about his wife, Rachel.


After the indoor museum exhibits, we moved on to a self-guided audio tour of the grounds that led us to Jackson’s mansion.


The guides on the tour discussed every room in the 8,000 sq. foot mansion. The parlor downstairs off the entryway was covered in elegant wallpaper that General Jackson ordered from France, along with many original artifacts. Although the mansion was beautiful, it does not have all the modern conveniences that homes today have, such as indoor plumbing! The second floor houses guest rooms and the grandchildren’s rooms. And as a special treat, the upstairs tour guide pointed out one of the guest rooms where Sam Houston slept during one of his visits to see General Jackson.

After the mansion tour, we meandered the garden, still guided by the audio tour. In the garden, elaborate for its time, we saw the tombs of the Jacksons, along with several family members.


The garden was originally made for Rachel as a place for her to relax, a much-needed respite from the stress of her husband’s political career. Sadly, she passed away days after Andrew Jackson was elected President; and it is said that the political stress caused her death. After the tour of the museum exhibits, the mansion, the garden, and a quick photo-op on the $20 bill…


…we had worked up an appetite, so we made our way to The Pharmacy for a quick fix.

We know what you’re thinking, but no, we didn’t go to the local drugstore for lunch! The Pharmacy is actually a burger parlor and beer garden, although we didn’t sample the latter. The restaurant has been named the “wurst burger joint” around because of the German influences in their food and beverages. The phosphate and crème sodas, Wurst, and beer make this Nashville spot distinct and popular. The restaurant was cozy with a large outside patio garden.  The patio was beautiful; however, we sat inside to cool off after a morning of sunshine at The Hermitage.

We ordered different varieties of burgers made from 100% Tennessee beef. Beatriz, ordered the Farm Burger, with bacon, egg, and ham and other fixings, while others tried the Biergarten Platter, which had a variety of wurst sausages and mustards. All the food and cream sodas were satisfying and we were more than ready for our next stop, The Parthenon.

Gryphons stared down at us serenely as we climbed up the steps of Nashville’s Parthenon. We entered through the west side, noticing that atop the majestically stoic Doric columns a scene was unfolding depicting Athena being crowned by Nike (the winged goddess of victory, not the shoe brand). Built in 1897, this replica Athena’s shrine was at one point meant to be temporary.  Due to Nashville’s love of the thought of having their own Parthenon (they were known as “the Athens of the South”) and since it had quickly grown in popularity, it stayed.

LEAP Ambassadors at the Parthenon–Nashville, Tennessee

As we set foot into the structure of classical architectural style, not only did we travel across space towards Athens, Greece where the real Parthenon lay, but we also stepped into a place of art. Literally. The Parthenon is both a bona fide replica of the authentic Parthenon and a museum housing more than 60 pieces of art donated by Mr. James M. Cowan under a strange circumstance…he had donated the pieces of art with only one condition: that he remain anonymous as the donor until after his death.

We moved upstairs where we were able to see the goddess of wisdom herself. Made of a number of materials, including 3.6kg of gold leaf, she stands impressively tall with Nike in her right hand and her faithful shield in the other.


One of the many interesting things about Nashville’s Parthenon are the gargantuan bronze doors. Measuring up to 6.5 ft. in height and weighing about 7.5 tons, these doors are thought to be the largest set of bronze doors in the world. However, even the smallest of our group could easily move them.

After digesting much great Greek mythology, art, and architecture, we passed by a gryphon one last time…


…Beatriz giving it a fist bump of gratitude for its great work at guarding Athena.


With that last goodbye, and a last glance at the great Athena, we left wiser on the subjects of art, architecture, Nashville history, and a bit of the goddess of wisdom herself.

From there, we visited the Tennessee Capitol.


Like many other major building projects, construction of their capitol was behind on schedule and way over budget, taking fourteen years instead of three, and costing about three times as much as the initial budget.

The Tennessee Capitol is one of 13 state capitols which does not have a dome.  Instead, it was built in a Greek revival style. Not only is it different in architecture, but this capitol is the only one to be home to three deceased people, the first being the architect who designed it, William Strickland. Strickland is buried in the walls of the building, which he regarded as his greatest work. Along with Strickland, Samuel Morgan, the original building commissioner, is also buried on the site (actually, in the walls of the building).  And wrapping up the list are President James K. Polk, and Polk’s wife, Sarah, are bured on the grounds (but not in the walls).


We learned much about Polk and the other two presidents from Tennessee (Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson). As we went along our tour, our guide (who was very knowledgeable and one of the best tour guides we’ve had!)…


…pointed out a bearded Sam Houston, who was governor of both Tennessee and Texas.


Although one LEAPster, who shall remain nameless (Megan), failed to recognize him, it was nice to see that General Houston was given credit for the work he’d done in Tennessee.

Tired of waiting for the entire capitol building to be built, the Supreme Court of Tennessee decided to move right in and start hearing cases. One judicial record, the tour guide explained, indicates the Court held a construction company in contempt of court for making too much noise while working on the building.


Even so, the tour was great, filled with humor and interesting facts, such as the two occasions in which a president chose a vice-president with the last name Johnson, which didn’t work out so well for the presidents, who both ended up dying in office. Our cheerful tour guide made the tour one of the most interesting capitol tours we’ve been on.

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To top it off, we even got to use the old-timey state seal press to emboss our programs.



So, as the day and the tour came to a close…


…we knew it was time to move on to our next destination, Louisville, Kentucky.

The LEAPsters are always up for adventure no matter how frightening it may appear.  One member of group stated that completing the fully-underground, aerial ropes challenge course at Louisville Mega Cavern truly embodied the LEAP spirit.

As we opened the front “door,” it was apparent that the cavern’s interior had been refurbished with artificial ceilings and walls in order to accommodate the recreational attractions inside. Louisville Mega Cavern houses a bike course, ropes course, “mega” zip line, and holds tours of the cavern’s mines.


This night we were set for the elevated, trapeze-style obstacles on the ropes course.


Several of us are not fond of heights, and regardless of the multiple, secure straps attached to every elevated obstacle, fear of falling was still prominent.


Our pseudo phobias did not deter us from trying as many hanging rope bridges within our time limit, though.  Bridges between the platforms varied in size, shape, difficulty and amount of balance required to traverse, from suspended, unbalanced planks to tension ropes to challenges that simply cannot be described without seeing them.


For Alex, acrophobia kicked in while trying to balance over this system of suspended ropes and planks: At these moments my blood would rush in anticipation of hitting the ground, my palms would start to perspire inside my leather gloves making them almost slide off my hands, and my head would be showered in more sweat as I noticed how high off the ground my struggling body hovered. I would tightly clench the rope from which each overpass was suspended and inch my way through with each move coordinated to keep balance. No matter how much I wished to stay safely footed on the floor, I mustered all the courage my shaky spirit could supply.


For the most part, though, we successfully walked, crawled, and hopped, and prayed over the obstacles without falling.


And all the LEAPsters made it to the grand finale:  the zip line.


Some jumped off, some slid off, and at least one asked to be pushed off,  but we all made it off the platform at least once.  We wrapped up the late night and with blistering hands and muscles strained from the continuous stress of cheating an unwelcome dive to the hard ground, we climbed in our traveling van, ready to reach our hotel for some much-needed rest.



Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, Huron Daily Tribune, Laredo Morning Times, Beaumont Enterprise, Connecticut Post, and Midland Reporter Telegram. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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