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July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)  < Previous News  |  Next News >

 

 

The Wonderful City of Knoxville

After spending the previous week dealing with sweltering heat and huge crowds in the Smoky Mountains area, I was getting pretty drained, both physically and emotionally.  Fortunately, northeastern Tennessee came to my rescue.  I had spent the past 10 days traveling all across Tennessee, but after I got to northeastern Tennessee, I quickly decided that this area, with its lush, rolling hills dotted with picturesque small towns, was absolutely the best part of the state. 

 

Although I'm not a real "city person," I enjoy visiting cities during my travels and I wanted to check out nearby Knoxville, because I'd never been there before and knew absolutely nothing about it.  I left the campground near Sevierville and drove into Knoxville on a foggy Tuesday morning thinking that I'd stay only a few minutes, but the sun soon emerged and the town was so interesting that I spent about three hours there.  As I learned, Knoxville is, among other things, the home of the University of Tennessee, which is spread over a large campus on the banks of the Tennessee River right near downtown, and I spent some time touring the campus.

 

If you've been following this website, you also know that Knoxville is the hometown of Survivor winner and fellow Doritos-lover, Tina Wesson.  I didn't see Tina but I ate some Doritos in her honor, and I really enjoyed visiting her city.  If I ever moved to Tennessee, Knoxville would definitely be the place.

 

       

Above left:  After traveling through some not-so-great cities in the South, I visited three great cities in one day:  Knoxville, Greeneville, and Jonesboro, all in eastern Tennessee.  Knoxville sits on the Tennessee River and is the home of the University of Tennessee.

Above center:   Knoxville is a pleasant blend of the old and the new.  It's a real gem.

Above right:   Street scene in Knoxville.

 

       

Above left:  Knoxville reminded me of Portland, Oregon.  Both cities are on a large river with lots of interesting architecture and with sculptures scattered about.

Above center:   Hank Williams, one of the founders of country music, died here at the Andrew Johnson Hotel in Knoxville on New Year's Eve, 1952.  He was only 29 and died of an overdose.  Hank, of course, was the father of Hank Jr., the guy who sings "Are you ready for some football?" on Monday nights in the fall.

Above right:  Here's Hank Sr. (with guitar) with his wife, daughter, and son, Hank Williams, Jr. in happier times.

 

Through the miracle of modern technology, here's Hank Williams Sr. singing with his son, who was only a little boy when his father died.  This is There's A Tear In My Beer.

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Greeneville, Tennessee:  Ransom Myers, Andrew Johnson and Davy Crockett

 

Above:  My great-great-grandfather, Sergeant Ransom Myers, a one-armed courier with the 10th Michigan Cavalry.

 

The main reason I was visiting northeastern Tennessee was to retrace the steps of my great-great-grandfather, Ransom Myers.   If you've been following my website, you may remember that Ransom fought with the Union Army in Corinth, Mississippi early in the war (see News: June 30, 2001).  After Corinth, he was shot in the arm in Kentucky, his arm was amputated, and he returned to Michigan, where he could've sat out the rest of the war.  Ransom felt so strongly about the Union cause, however, that he re-enlisted.  Of course, it's pretty hard to carry a rifle with one arm, so Ransom joined the 10th Michigan Cavalry as a mounted, one-armed courier.

 

A couple of years ago, I discovered a website devoted to Michigan Civil War history and learned that during the last two years of the war, Ransom's unit fought in northeastern Tennessee.  Thanks to the website, I learned exactly where Ransom saw action during the war, including places with strange names that I'd never heard of, like Strawberry Plains, Rheaville, and Chucky Bend.  It was fun to drive through northeastern Tennessee and visit these areas, as I envisioned the one-armed Ransom dashing across the rolling hills on horseback while carrying messages from one unit to another.

 

Ransom's unit, the 10th Michigan Cavalry, is probably most famous for capturing the Confederate cavalry general, John Hunt Morgan, who led several raids throughout the Ohio River valley during the Civil War.  Unionists called Morgan "notorious" while Southerners referred to him as a "hero."  Anyway, towards the end of the war, the 10th Michigan and a few other units had chased Morgan all over and finally cornered him in the town of Greeneville, Tennessee, where, during the ensuing battle, Morgan was killed.  Therefore, in following Ransom's footsteps, I decided that I too had to visit Greeneville.

 

As I learned from a billboard as I was heading into town, Greeneville was also the home of America's 17th President, Andrew Johnson, and I stopped at the National Park historic site here that commemorated his life.  The site is pretty small by National Park standards, less than a city block, but it's interesting, nonetheless, and includes Johnson's house, which is filled with interesting displays and paintings. 

 

 

Above:  Greeneville's Andrew Johnson, President of the U.S. from 1865 to 1869.

 

Being the only visitor there, I talked to the cute-'n-perky young woman ranger at the front desk for quite a while and she told me a lot about Johnson's life.  The only thing that most people (including myself, before I visited Greeneville) know about Andrew Johnson is that he was the only president other than Bill Clinton to be impeached.  Few people remember why Johnson was impeached, but most Americans probably think that he must have done something bad or wrong, and therefore probably wasn't a very good president.

 

As I discovered, though, from the cute-'n-perky ranger, Johnson was very intelligent and honest, and stood strongly for his beliefs in the Constitution.  Johnson was an articulate self-made man who started as a tailor here in Greeneville and worked his way up to the U.S. Senate where, after the outbreak of the Civil War, he became the only southern Senator not to resign from U.S. Congress. 

 

Because of that, and because Lincoln wanted to help heal the wounds with the Southern states after the war, Lincoln picked Johnson in 1864 to be his running mate.  Of course, Lincoln was assassinated the next year, just a few days after the conclusion of the war, and Johnson was thrust unexpectedly into the Presidency. 

 

As President, and as a Southerner, Andrew Johnson didn't believe that the South should be harshly punished after the Civil War.  This irritated many of his Northern colleagues who wanted to impose severe restrictions and penalties on the southern states, and this dissension ultimately led to Johnson's impeachment by the Congress.  By a single vote, however, Johnson retained the Presidency.  After he finished his single term as President, Johnson moved back to Greeneville in 1869 where he lived until his death, six years later.

 

    

Above left:  Greeneville, Tennessee is a pleasant town with beautiful architecture, about an hour northeast of Knoxville.  This town was named for Nathaniel Greene, a general during the Revolutionary War and supposedly another one of my ancestors, even though Greene never actually visited Greeneville.  You can see Greene's house in Connecticut in News: July 20, 2001

Above right:  Ransom's unit captured the Confederate Cavalry General, John Hunt Morgan in this Greeneville house in 1864

 

       

Above left:  Here's John Hendricks, the curator of the Greeneville Museum, next to a photo of General John Hunt Morgan.  John gave me a great 30-minute tour of his museum.

Above center:  President Andrew Johnson's home at the National Park site in Greeneville.

Above right:  Well, at least they're honest.

 

       

Above left:  Jonesboro is a another beautiful town in northeastern Tennessee.  Ransom Myers also fought here, as well.

Above center:  Jonesboro is the oldest city in Tennessee, dating back to the 1700s.  It has a lot of interesting old buildings. 

Above right:  A Jonesboro advertisement in the pre-billboard era.

 

       

Above left:  Walt Disney lied:  Davy Crockett (1786-1836) wasn't born "on a mountaintop in Tennessee."  Actually, he was born here on the banks of the Nolichucky River.  This is a replica of his cabin, at Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park, near Greeneville.

Above center:  The Davy Crockett memorial.

Above right:  I always get Davy Crockett mixed up with Daniel Boone.  Crockett was the one who died at the Alamo while wearing a coonskin cap.  His motto was, "Be sure you're right, then go ahead" -- good words to live by and one of my favorite sayings.

 

Here's Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen singing The Ballad of Davy Crockett, from the 1960s TV show.  Good thing they stuck to acting.  I'm still looking for the better-known version, sung by Bill Hayes in 1955.

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The Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwestern Virginia

After leaving Tennessee, I crossed into southwestern Virginia and stumbled across the pleasant Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area.  This area is something like Great Smoky Mountains National Park a few hours south, but it's a lot less congested.  I drove into the Beartree Campground here on a Tuesday afternoon thinking that I'd camp for a couple nights. 

 

I've stayed at hundreds of campgrounds in my life, mostly in the Western U.S., and I've always believed that campgrounds in the West are generally superior than those in the more crowded eastern half of the U.S.  My smugness took a hit, though, because the Beartree Campground is, quite honestly, one of the very nicest that I've ever camped at.  As an added bonus, it's at over 3,000 feet in elevation so it was a lot cooler here than down in the lowlands.  The daily high temperatures here were "only" in the 80s, compared to the 90s or low 100s down lower.  

 

In fact, this campground was so nice that I stretched out my visit here to four nights, which gave me plenty of time to get caught up on my website and process some of the 3,000 digital photos which I'd taken since leaving Bellingham a month earlier.  During my stay, I also made a few forays into the pleasant nearby towns of Abingdon and Bristol, Tennessee for supplies and fuel, and each night, back at Beartree Campground, I fell asleep to the sound of chirping crickets and the trickling of a nearby creek.  It doesn't get much more peaceful than this.

 

After leaving Mt. Rogers, I continued heading north for a few hours, then pulled into Roanoke, Virginia (pop. 94,000), a bustling city that's separated from the rest of Virginia by the Blue Ridge Mountains, making it feel more like eastern Tennessee than Virginia.  Since this was a Saturday, I had decided not to camp in a campground, which would've been pretty crowded, opting instead to head into town and splurge for a motel room.  So splurge I did, at a Motel 6.  Actually, it was a very nice Motel 6, certainly the nicest one I've ever stayed at and more like a Holiday Inn.  To top it off, I bought an 8-piece box of fried chicken at the nearby Hardee's.  A nice, air-conditioned motel room with AC outlets to charge my laptop and a box of fried chicken... this was like heaven.  Simple man, simple dreams.

       

Above left:  The peaceful Beartree Campground is one of the nicest campgrounds that I've ever stayed at.  It's in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in southern Virginia, an area like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park but without the massive crowds.  Note the power cord running from my cigarette lighter to my laptop.  I've learned on this trip never again to take AC outlets for granted!

Above center:  A possible candidate for "This Old House," near Abingdon, Virginia.

Above right:  The cheapest gas that I've seen so far was in Abingdon.  Gas is a lot cheaper in the South than on the West Coast, averaging about $1.35 per gallon here, about 20 cents per gallon cheaper than out West.

 

       

Above left:  Traveling on the Virginia backroads in the beautiful Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.

Above center:  The New River is a misnomer.  Actually, it's probably the oldest river in North America and has been cutting through the Appalachian Mountains for millions of years.  It's only a few feet deep here in Radford, Virginia, and I could've waded across.

Above right:  "Splurging away" at the Roanoke Motel 6.

 

 

 

Next News

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

 

 

Previous News

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington) 

 

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Home > Travels (2001-02) > U.S. Trip > July 14, 2001