How else to combine Barn Quilts; a President’s Homestead; and The Lost State of Franklin?

Oh, Tennessee’s oldest college and a covered bridge, too.

Oftentimes in Central Europe we would explore smaller, sleepier towns or villages when they had a “special offer” on, like a festival or holiday market; and that has remained a guiding sightseeing principle here in East Tennessee. Up in the northeast corner of the state there is a cluster of historic towns, each worth a visit. “The Plan” had been to explore each during their “special offer” but then, pandemic.

So we threw a virtual dart at the map and it landed on Greeneville. With an “E,” the only Greeneville in the U.S. spelled so. In case you wondered, the other 34 Greenville’s across America are short one “E.”  Greeneville is named for Nathanael Greene, a Revolutionary War General…from Rhode Island. Makes complete sense.

Along the drive. Retro and, well…

We began our tour chronologically with The Lost State of Franklin. In the post-original Brexit years it was not a given that states would necessarily default and join the United States. Feeling that they were a separate people (being west of the Appalachians) from North Carolina, of which they were a part, the good people declared their independence. From 1784-1789 Franklin encompassed a fair number of counties that were once part of North Carolina, as Tennessee did not yet exist. Of course, Franklin never really existed as a state because it was never authorized by Congress, but for four years and change its citizens fought (and died) for legitimate statehood.

Franklin, so named for Benjamin Franklin as a ploy to get his buy-in, had a State House in Greeneville. Spoiler: Ben never approved.

How did this autonomous zone come to be? The story goes that Franklinites were concerned that North Carolina had given their territories to Congress as a way to pay off NC’s Revolutionary War debts, so they attempted to secede. For four years or so Franklin ran a parallel government with North Carolina. Eventually North Carolina took control over Franklin again but ceded the Territory to the U.S. in 1789 when it ratified the U.S. Constitution.  Seven years later this “Southwest Territory” and then some would become Tennessee in 1796.

The creation of Franklin was novel in that it resulted from both a cession (an offering from North Carolina to Congress) and a secession (seceding from North Carolina, when its offer to Congress was not acted upon and the original cession was rescinded.) Not to mention it being a not so subtle hint that the Founders needed to pay more attention to the “West.”

Two years before Statehood was bestowed upon the Volunteer State, however Tusculum University was founded just outside of Greeneville. It is Tennessee’s oldest institution of higher learning, established by Scots-Irish ministers to educate settlers of the American frontier.

A Chik-fil-A on Tennessee’s oldest campus, too. What would the founders think?

Fast forward to the 1820s. A young and uneducated apprentice named Andrew Johnson moved from Raleigh to Greeneville to establish himself as a tailor. A year later he married Eliza McCardle, who taught him the Three R’s. Johnson put knowledge to power to become Mayor of Greeneville, then moved into the state legislature and eventually to Congress, with a brief stint back to serve as governor of Tennessee. Abraham Lincoln named him as his Veep, and we all know how his rise to the presidency went down.

Johnson’s Tailor’s Shop inside his early homestead; now it is the Andrew Johnson Visitor Center. The ever-so-kindly NPS Park Ranger talked to Clayton Theodore, who had joined us on this outing while we toured the Center.

The Bible upon which Andrew Johnson was sworn in as President following Lincoln’s assassination.

Under Johnson’s tenure as President the Alaskan Territory was purchased, though considered a folly by some at the time.

President Johnson and the Queen of England exchanged kind words of unity via the first Transatlantic Cable.

Johnson was the first president to host a visit by a Queen in the White House, Queen Emma Kalanikaumakaʻamano Kaleleonālani Naʻea Rooke of Sandwich Island, now Hawai’i. (Yes, the whole of it sounds terribly made up, doesn’t it?)  She brought a lovely ivory basket as a gift.

But the love was just not there for Johnson and his plans for Reconstruction. Impeachment and acquittal followed for our 17th President.

The Johnson familial homestead was not open for touring, but you know what the interior of these homes look like by now. We wandered the historic downtown of Greeneville, pretty enough but terribly quiet on our visit.

The Dickson-Willams Mansion is a gorgeous example of Federal architecture, though it, too, was not open for touring. During the Civil War it housed both Union and Confederate officers, most famously the Confederate General John Morgan, who was killed in the garden. Greeneville’s stately hotel is named for him, so I suppose that if and when cancel culture ever reaches these parts, there’s enough history around here to keep the revisionists busy for weeks.

Greeneville, with all of its history, is also a town along Tennessee’s Quilt Trail. I liken this trail to the unmarked Kunst am Bau that I would stumble upon serendipitously whilst out and about. There is no map, there is no city-managed list from which I can plot my outings. I just have to stumble upon them, and stumble upon them we did in spades here.

A dog-friendly former Tannery (on the National Historic Register) turned eatery for lunch. Sandwiches for us and love for our Hound. What more could one ask for?

En route to our own homestead after this history-dense outing, a pass by the Bible Covered Bridge. Nothing overtly religious, just a pretty and well-constructed bridge built by E.A. Bible in 1932 as a private traverse to serve their farm.

Looking forward to a return to Greeneville during a “special offer.”