Hometowns of Tennessee’s three presidents highlighted in new trail

By KATE COIL
TML Communications Specialist

A new historical trail aims to highlight the lives, careers, and hometowns of the three U.S. presidents from Tennessee.


The Tennessee Presidential Trail officially opened on Presidents’ Day, connecting sites in Columbia, Greeneville, and Nashville related to Presidents Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Andrew Johnson. Sites on the trail include the James K. Polk Home and Museum in Columbia, the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site and Cemetery in Greeneville, and three Nashville locations: Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, the Tennessee State Museum, and the Tennessee State Capitol.


The trail was spearheaded by Columbia Tourism and Marketing Director Kellye Murphy, working in partnership with officials from the two other presidential home sites and the state museum.


“This has been a project in the making since I came to work with the city of Columbia in 2017,” Murphy said. “When I came here, I was totally in awe of our amazing downtown, and I was especially excited to see that Columbia was the home of President James K. Polk. We are fortunate to have such rich presidential history right here in Columbia. It just made sense to share that history statewide. I thought why not approach our other two presidential homes – Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage and the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site and Cemetery – about that. The folks with both sites were very receptive. It just took time to build. We couldn’t help but bring in but bring in the other two key partners: the Tennessee State Museum and the Tennessee State Capitol.”


David Foster, superintendent of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville, said he and the National Park Service were excited to partner with the other sites for the trail.


“When Kellye Murphy first broached the idea with us and the other sites, we were obviously excited to do anything we can to highlight our towns and our sites,” Foster said. “It’s important to be able to tell these stories. The presidential trail just helps connect people. Someone may come to the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site who didn’t know that the homes of Andrew Johnson and James K. Polk are just four hours away. It’s a way we can educate people about all the sites.”


Murphy said the trail is a way to both guide visitors on a unique travel experience.


“Trails are really popular right now, and what better way to experience Tennessee’s presidential history,” she said. “We packaged it and created a fully immersed experience for people who came to the state. We have to think about it from a visitor’s perspective. Having three presidents who called this state home is impressive, and people who are truly interested in presidential history would consider this trail very significant and take it on. The trail is to inspire travel.”


Ashley Howell, executive director of the Tennessee State Museum, said the museum will be working closely with the three homes. Visitors can also see artifacts related to all three presidents at the museum, including a famous 1817 painting of Jackson.


“Tennessee has a rich presidential history, and we encourage residents and tourists to take advantage of the many resources available right here in Tennessee to learn more about that history,” Howell said. “The State Museum, the State Capitol and the three historic sites on the Presidential Trail make for a remarkable start on that journey.”


Visitors coming to the presidential sites will also be encouraged to check out the three presidential hometowns. Two of the presidential homes are within the area’s downtown with Polk’s home adjacent to downtown Columbia and the Johnson historic site located a block from Main Street in Greeneville.


“Our goal is to have people come to Columbia,” Murphy said. “They are here for a presidential experience. and while they are here we want them to visit downtown. We want them to fall in love and come back for other events. There is so much they can do in the area. If they go beyond Columbia, that’s great too. We want to attract more people to the state. Each of the homes keep the experience fresh and has rotating exhibits. You can absolutely come back to each place and see something new.”


Amy Rose, public relations manager with Greeneville, said the trail gives visitors a chance to learn more about the town’s most famous resident. Johnson’s first political offices included serving as an alderman and mayor of Greeneville.


“We welcome visitors along this new trail to our presidential town where they can learn more about Andrew Johnson’s childhood, education, work as a tailor, and the numerous political offices he held,” Rose said. “It’s a fascinating story.”


Foster said a lot of visitor’s come to the town because they want to explore Johnson’s legacy and end up getting to see the downtown as well.


“Johnson started his political career here and went on to hold basically every political office from alderman through president,” Foster said. “There are only 45 folks in history that have held the office of president. It is a big deal. It’s an anchor for the community and a draw for tourism. I work for the federal government, but I know the town of Greeneville and the folks here take pride in his legacy. We average about 55,000 visitors a year. For us, it’s great to partner both with the town of Greeneville and the other two sites.”


The trail also brings together officials who work in similar historical fields and oversee similar museums. Murphy said the trail has served to help staffers at each site connect with each other and engage in cross-promotion.


“They all talk the same language, and have a lot of the same challenges in terms of marketing themselves and their marketing budget,” she said. “One of the challenges for us was how to market the Polk home on a limited budget. We are able to do that by bringing them together with the other two sites. There is power in numbers, and all the sites can have a greater voice marketing themselves as a whole.”


Foster said it is valuable to connect with fellow professionals.


“It’s a learning experience for all of us to see what the other sites are doing,” he said. “Sometimes we see something they are doing and think it would work well for us. It’s a great networking piece for us. We are looking forward to the continued collaborations, sharing of ideas, and highlighting events each site has coming up. I really think it shows Tennessee’s rich history, and its rich history of leadership.”


Ultimately, Murphy said the goal is to grow the trail and find new ways to showcase Tennessee’s presidential history.


“We want to continue to promote the trail and find new and exciting ways to promote the trail,” she said. “We are finding other ways to work together, including discounted rates and promotions. The future is wide open for this particular project.”

To learn more about the Tennessee Presidential Trail, visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TNPresidentialTrail.