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5 Tennessee State Parks With Museums

Today I’m featuring five Tennessee State Parks with museums. Now, I admit that I’m defining “museum” broadly. I include one park that doesn’t have a traditional museum but, in my opinion, functions as an outdoor museum. Two of the parks have traditional museums but also serve as outdoor or living museums. My argument is that they have the same purpose as traditional museums: they still preserve the past albeit without four walls. 


I’ve only picked five to feature here, but, of course, there are many more parks that would’ve qualified. And all of the below parks have museum tours or interpretive events coming up so plan accordingly!


David Crockett Birthplace State Park


Let’s start in far East Tennessee with David Crockett Birthplace State Park, about 40 minutes west of Johnson City. This park is near Limestone, Tennessee. David Crockett, the famous pioneer, was born in this area, and the park is named in his honor. (1)


A small cabin of wooden poles with a mud-like mixture in between poles in David Crockett Birthplace State Park in Tennessee
A replica of a cabin at the park.

There is a museum showcasing frontier life, but I like to think of the entire park as an outdoor museum since it features a replica of a homestead from the 1700s including cabins, gardens, and even a donkey enclosure, home to Jack and Jenny. (2)


A cream-colored donkey and a brown donkey stand in the corner of their enclosure behind a fence of wooden poles in David Crockett Birthplace State Park in Tennessee
Jack and Jenny

On March 10 at 2:00, staff will host a tour of the homestead.


Norris Dam State Park


Norris Dam State Park is also in East Tennessee, about thirty minutes north of Knoxville. Visitors to the park can tour the Lenoir Museum Cultural Complex which includes a grist mill, threshing barn, and the Lenoir Museum. 


The park describes the artifacts in the museum as “Early Americana.” (3) Will and Helen Lenoir collected them over decades and donated them to Tennessee. (4) I haven’t visited myself, but from the park’s photos, I see a lot of home goods. (5) There’s also an antique barrel organ for those of you interested in musical instruments. (6)


The park will host free tours of the museum at 1:00 p.m. on Saturdays until April 27. 


Cordell Hull Birthplace State Park


Moving to Middle Tennessee, Cordell Hull Birthplace State Park is about an hour north of Cookeville and is not far from the Kentucky border. It honors Cordell Hull who was born in Pickett County, Tennessee. (7) Hull was a U.S. Senator and U.S. Representative before becoming Secretary of State under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (8) He helped create the United Nations and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945. (9)


The park has a museum dedicated to his life, and it’s also home to the Hull Library and Archives. (10)  


Hull was born into a farming family in 1871, and on May 4, the park will have a free “Historic Market Day” to show visitors what farming in the 1800s was like. (11)


And because I can’t help myself, I want to point out that the park has several classes coming up like beginning shuttle tatting, beginning blacksmithing, broom making, and beginning cross stitch.


Cordell Hull always has the most unique skills classes; I’ve learned how to make soap and weave baskets there. If you get the chance to attend a class, I highly recommend it!


Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park


Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park is right in the heart of Music City with a great view of the Capitol building. It’s a great place to relax downtown, but it’s also an outdoor museum where visitors can learn about the history, geography, and culture of the state. (12)


Intricately carved sections of stone columns sit on a bed of mulch in Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park in Tennessee
Pieces of the original state capitol building columns

Staff will host tours of the park at 1:00 p.m. on most Saturdays and Sundays for at least the next month. (13)


A long black stone wall with text lines the right-side of a sidewalk while tall obelisks marking each decade line the left side in Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park in Tennessee
This wall tells the history of Tennessee.

I attended a park tour last summer and highly recommend them. This is one of those places that has so many features that aren’t obvious at first so it’s great to have an expert point them out. 


Fort Pillow State Historic Park


Finally, we go to the very western border of Tennessee to the site of a Civil War battle, Fort Pillow State Historic Park. (14) This park has a museum of artifacts from that time period, and visitors can request a screening of a short video about the battle that occurred here in 1864. (15) The museum is open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily. (16)


In more of the “outdoor museum” vein, there is also a reconstructed fort here. (17) On April 13 and 14, the park will host a Civil War living history event. (18) I’ve learned that the schedule should be available closer to the first week in April, but the park has said that this will depict the way of life of Civil War soldiers. (19) Visitors will be able to explore camps of Confederate and Union soldiers. (20)


Maybe I’ll see you out there!


 
  1. https://tnstateparks.com/parks/david-crockett-birthplace 

  2. https://tnstateparks.com/assets/pdf/additional-content/park-brochures/david_crockett_birthplace_brochure_2021.pdf; April 2023 visit; https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=809645867869446&set=a.313876867446351 

  3. https://tnstateparks.com/parks/activity-detail/lenoir-museum 

  4. https://tnstateparks.com/parks/activity-detail/lenoir-museum 

  5. https://tnstateparks.com/parks/activity-detail/lenoir-museum 

  6. https://tnstateparks.com/parks/activity-detail/lenoir-museum 

  7. https://tnstateparks.com/parks/info/cordell-hull-birthplace 

  8. https://tnstateparks.com/parks/info/cordell-hull-birthplace 

  9. https://tnstateparks.com/parks/info/cordell-hull-birthplace ; https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1945/hull/facts/ 

  10. https://tnstateparks.com/parks/info/cordell-hull-birthplace 

  11. https://tnstateparks.com/parks/info/cordell-hull-birthplace ; https://tnstateparks.com/parks/event_details/cordell-hull-birthplace/#/?event=spring-planting-day-cordell-may-2024 

  12. June 2023 visit

  13. https://tnstateparks.com/parks/events/bicentennial-mall/#/?park=bicentennial-mall 

  14. https://tnstateparks.com/parks/history/fort-pillow 

  15. https://tnstateparks.com/parks/info/fort-pillow 

  16. https://tnstateparks.com/parks/info/fort-pillow ; March 1, 2024 call to visitor center

  17. https://tnstateparks.com/parks/info/fort-pillow 

  18. https://tnstateparks.com/parks/event_details/fort-pillow/#/?event=fort-pillow-yearly-program-schedule-2024 

  19. March 1, 2024 call to visitor center; https://tnstateparks.com/parks/event_details/fort-pillow/#/?event=fort-pillow-yearly-program-schedule-2024 

  20. https://tnstateparks.com/parks/event_details/fort-pillow/#/?event=fort-pillow-yearly-program-schedule-2024 


March 3, 2024

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