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The Wonderful City of Knoxville

After spending the previous week dealing with sweltering heat and huge crowds in the Smoky Mountains area, I was 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 decided that this area, with its lush, rolling hills dotted with picturesque small towns, was absolutely the best part of the state. 

 

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

Although I'm not a real "city person," I like visiting cities during my travels and wanted to check out nearby Knoxville, because I'd never been there 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 for only a few minutes, enough to say "been there, done that". 

 

But the sun soon emerged and the town was so interesting that I spent a half-day walking around, shooting pictures and adoring this city I had known nothing about.  As I learned, Knoxville is the home of the University of Tennessee, which is spread over a large campus on the banks of the Tennessee River near downtown.  I walked through the campus and thought it was beautiful.

 

If you've been following my website, you know that Knoxville is also the hometown of Survivor - Australian Outback winner and fellow Doritos-lover, Tina Wesson.  I didn't bump into Tina but I ate some Doritos in her honor.  I loved visiting her city and decided that if I ever moved to Tennessee, Knoxville would 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:  Hank Williams, one of the cornerstones of country music, died here at the Andrew Johnson Hotel in Knoxville on New Year's Eve in 1952.  He died of an overdose at the young age of 29.  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 a little boy when his father died in 1952.  This is my favorite Hank Williams song, There's A Tear In My Beer.

 
   

Historic and Scenic Greeneville, Tennessee

The main reason I was here in 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 in 1862 (see News: June 30, 2001). 

 

Above:  My great-great-grandfather, Ransom Myers, fought with the 10th Michigan Cavalry in eastern Tennessee during the Civil War.  A fine horseman, Sergeant Myers was a one-armed courier who delivered messages to Union officers.

After serving in Corinth for a month, Ransom's unit was sent to Kentucky, where he was shot in the left arm by a Confederate soldier.  His arm was amputated and he returned to his farm in Michigan to recover.  He could've sat out the rest of the war but he felt so strongly about the Union cause that he re-enlisted in 1863.  Of course, it's hard to fire a rifle with just one arm, so Sergeant Myers joined the 10th Michigan Cavalry as a mounted, one-armed courier.

 

A few 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 had fought here in northeastern Tennessee.  Thanks to the website, I learned exactly where Ransom saw action during the war, including places with strange names like Strawberry Plains, Rheaville, and Chucky Bend.  I enjoyed driving through northeastern Tennessee and visiting 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 regiment, the 10th Michigan Cavalry, is 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."  Either way, towards the end of the war, the 10th Michigan and a few other units chased Morgan all over eastern Tennessee and finally cornered him in the town of Greeneville, where, during the ensuing battle, Morgan was killed.  Since I was following Ransom's footsteps, I decided that I, too, had to visit Greeneville.

 

I learned from a billboard as I was heading into town that Greeneville, Tennessee was also the home of America's 17th President, Andrew Johnson, so I stopped at the National Park historic site here that commemorated his life.  The site is small by national park standards, less than a city block, but it's interesting, nonetheless, and includes Johnson's house, which is filled with numerous displays and paintings.  Being the only visitor there, I talked to the cute-'n-perky young woman ranger at the front desk for a while, who told me all about Johnson's life.  She said that she was also from Greeneville, so I figured she might've been a bit biased in her opinion of Johnson.

 

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

The only thing most people (including myself, before I visited Greeneville) know about Andrew Johnson is that he was the only president other than Bill Clinton to ever be impeached.  Few people remember why Johnson was impeached, but most folks probably think that he must have done something wrong and wasn't a very good president.

 

According to the cute-'n-perky ranger, however, Johnson was intelligent and honest, and he stood up strongly for his beliefs in the U.S. Constitution.  Johnson was an articulate self-made man, she told me, 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 Congress.  Because of that, and because Lincoln wanted to heal the wounds with the southern states after the war, Lincoln picked Johnson in 1864 to be his vice presidential running mate.  Lincoln was assassinated the next year, just a few days after the end of the war in April 1865, and Johnson was thrust unexpectedly into the presidency. 

 

As President (and 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.  This dissension, according to some historians, ultimately led to Johnson's impeachment by Congress but by a single vote, 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.

 

Andrew Johnson was a bit of an enigma and, as I later learned, historians today are divided in their opinions about him.  Was he a recalcitrant southern sympathizer who underhandedly supported slavery?  Or was he a moderate who could see both sides of the issue and sought to heal the nation?  It depends on your perspective.

 

   

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

Above right:  My great-great-grandfather, Ransom Myers, fought in the the Union regiment that captured the Confederate cavalry general, John Hunt Morgan in this Greeneville house in 1864.

 

       

Above left:  John Hendricks, curator of the Greeneville Museum, next to a photo of General John Hunt Morgan.  John gave me a great 30-minute tour of his wonderful 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.  My ancestor, Ransom Myers, also fought here.

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

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

 

       

Above left:  Walt Disney lied because 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, Tennessee.

Above center:  The Davy Crockett memorial.

Above right:  Some people 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, "Always be sure you're right, then go ahead."  That's always been one of my favorite sayings.

 

Here's Bill Hayes with his famous rendition of The Ballad of Davy Crockett, from the 1950s TV series starring Fess Parker.

 

The Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwestern Virginia

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

 

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

I've stayed at hundreds of campgrounds in my life, mostly in the western U.S., and have always preferred campgrounds in the west.  My smugness took a hit, though, because Beartree Campground is one of the nicest I've ever stayed 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 stayed for four nights, which allowed me to get caught up a bit on my website (updating a travel website like this takes a lot more time than I ever imagined, by the way).  During my stay I made a few forays into the pleasant nearby towns of Abingdon, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee for supplies and fuel.  Each night, back at Beartree Campground, I fell asleep to the sound of chirping crickets and the trickling of a nearby creek.  Camping doesn't get any better than this.

 

I left Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area on a Saturday morning and continued driving north for a few hours, then pulled into Roanoke, Virginia (pop. 94,000).  Roanoke is a bustling city 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 decided not to camp in a campground that evening because it would've been pretty crowded.  Saturdays are the worst days to camp for cross-country travelers like me.  Instead I opted 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 I've ever stayed at and more like a Holiday Inn.  To top it off, I bought an eight-piece box of fried chicken at the Hardee's nearby.  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 I've ever stayed at.  It's in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in southern Virginia, an area similar to 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 power outlets for granted!

Above right:  A good candidate for "This Old House," near Abingdon, Virginia.

 

       

Above left:  The cheapest gas 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.  That's about 20 cents per gallon cheaper than out west.

Above center:  The New River is a misnomer.  Actually, it's 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, though, and I could've waded across.

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

 


 

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