A shallow rectangle, just one hundred miles from north to south, TENNESSEE stretches 450 miles from the Mississippi to the Appalachians. The marshy western third of the state occupies a low plateau edging down toward the Mississippi. Only in the far southwest corner do the bluffs rise high enough to permit a sizeable riverside settlement – the exhilarating port of Memphis, the birthplace of urban blues and long-time home of Elvis. The plantation homes and dull, tidy towns of middle Tennessee’s rolling farmland reflect the comfortable lifestyle of its pioneers; smack in the heart of it sprawls Nashville, synonymous with country music. The mountainous east shares its top attraction with North Carolina – the peaks, streams and meadows of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Tennessee’s first white settlers, most of them British Protestants, arrived across the mountains in the 1770s to settle in the hills and hollows of the Appalachians. Initially relations with the Cherokee were good. However, demand for land increased and confrontations throughout the state culminated in 1838 with the forced removal of the Native Americans on the “Trail of Tears”. When the Civil War came, the plantation owners of the west manoeuvred Tennessee into the Confederacy, against the wishes of the non-slaveholding farmers in the east. The last state to secede became the primary battlefield in the west, site of 424 battles and skirmishes. Despite economic development to rival any in the country, soil erosion and farm mechanization led to a mass migration to the cities in the years before World War I. The fundamentalist beliefs of these transplanted hill-dwellers (whose folk and fiddle music sparked Nashville’s country scene) influenced a prohibition movement that kept Tennessee bone-dry until 1939 and still sees many “dry” counties forbidding the sale of alcohol. The New Deal of the 1930s brought significant changes; in particular, the Tennessee Valley Authority, created in 1933, which harnessed the flood-prone Tennessee River, providing much-needed jobs and cheap power and ignited the transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy.Read More
Born in 1946, one of twelve children, Dolly Parton grew up in several modest homes around Pigeon Forge, the most isolated of them two miles from the nearest neighbour and over four miles from the mailbox. As a child she sang every week on local radio, before leaving for Nashville on the day she finished at Sevier County High School. Her first success, duetting with Porter Wagoner, came to an acrimonious end in the early Seventies, but she scored a major country hit in 1976 with “Jolene”. She then crossed over to a poppier sound, and, with her charismatic presence, was a natural in Hollywood films like 9 to 5 and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Her songs have been acclaimed for their readiness to address issues like rural poverty, and as a woman, a singer, and a songwriter she has always been a strong-minded and inspirational figure. Dollywood, Parton’s “homespun fun” theme park at 700 Dollywood Lane in Pigeon Forge (April–Dec; schedules vary; April–Oct $55.90, children 4–11 $44.70; cheaper in Nov & Dec; w www.dollywood.com), blends ersatz mountain heritage with the glamour of its celebrity shareholder. One section showcases Appalachian crafts; a museum looks at Dolly herself in entertaining detail; music shows are constantly on the go and the thrill rides offer plenty for adrenaline-junkies and kiddies alike. A water park, Dolly’s Splash Country (late May to mid-Sept; $45.80, children $40.25; w www.dollywoodssplashcountry.com), is adjacent.