Murfreesboro Is a Lovely, Historic Town (Accept No Substitutes!)

My father was stationed at Sewart Air Force Base (located in Smyrna, Tennessee), when I was a kid. Daddy was never one for living on base, though. He and Mom bought their first home here in Murfreesboro, on Leaf Avenue. (It was on the outskirts of town back then.) My brother was born here; I went to kindergarten here. Then we moved away, and didn’t come back for nearly twenty years.

And I’m still here. 🙂 This is the sort of Southern town where the guy at the dry cleaner you patronize still calls you “Miss Jamie,” long past the time that any but little children use that form of address. This is the sort of Southern town that has history.

Real history. There are several towns in Middle Tennessee that bill themselves as “historic,” but Murfreesboro is the real deal, y’all. It began as a small village called Cannonsburgh right at the center of Rutherford County (and, interestingly, the geographical center of the state), which was organized in 1803. (Tennessee had become a state in 1796.) By 1811, the name had been changed to Murfreesboro for a Revolutionary War hero who never lived here. (I just report these things.) Murfreesboro was even, briefly, the capital of Tennessee (1818–1826).

And there is no more iconic a structure than the Rutherford County Courthouse. One of only six pre-Civil War courthouses still standing in Tennessee, we’re told, and this one actually was the site of a Civil War battle: Forrest’s Raid on 13 July 1862. And unlike many antebellum courthouses, this one is still functioning as a courthouse. (Many have been turned into restaurants or post offices.)

I could go on and on, but I just want to give the casual tourist a list of points of interest. (I’ll cover restaurants in another post.) Herewith that list:

There’s that magnificent courthouse right in the middle, of course. From June to October there is a farmer’s market every Saturday, and from June through September there’s a live concert every Friday. There are great restaurants, places to shop (you should visit the hardware store—just sayin’), and nightlife too—my Irish brother- and sister-in-law spent a delightful Saturday night club-hopping on the Square. (It’s true.)

  • Historic church buildings in downtown

There are several churches in historic buildings downtown; many of them are on their third building, the congregations are so old.

> First Baptist Church was organized 1843, and their first building was rendered useless during the Civil War. The current (third) building was completed in 1920.

> Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was organized 1908 and its building completed in 1911.

> First Presbyterian Church was organized 1812 (making it, possibly, the oldest congregation in Murfreesboro); the first church building dismantled by Union troops in the Civil War (to much indignation). Rebuilt in 1867, the second building was severely damaged by the 1913 tornado that took out much of downtown. The third and current building was completed in 1914.

> First Methodist Church was organized before 1823; its third building was completed 1888 and is still standing, though it is now a bank. There is talk of the city buying the building to preserve it from possible destruction.

> St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was founded 1892, and its first building was constructed by local citizens of all denominations working together. In 1926, that building was moved to the church’s current location on East Main Street; a new sanctuary was added in 2002.

> Church of Christ—now East Main Street Church of Christ—was organized in 1833. They built their first dedicated building in 1859; during the Union occupation of Murfreesboro during the Civil War, Gen. James A. Garfield (who later became president) worshipped here. The congregation built its third building in 1900, which was remodeled to its current look in 1922.

  • East Main Street

There are a myriad old homes and mansions along East Main Street all the way out to the college, as well as in the blocks running parallel to East Main. Drive slow so you can ooh and ah. Don’t worry, they’re used to it. I have a booklet with a self-guided walking tour if you’re interested.

East Main continues on past the college, of course, but when you get to the intersection of East Main and Middle Tennessee Boulevard, you’ll see the president’s mansion and, stretching behind it for acres and acres, Middle Tennessee State University. Founded in 1911 as a normal school (that is, it trained teachers), it is now a gorgeous campus with vintage buildings alongside state-of-the-technological-art buildings. I did some freelance writing for them over a period of years and learned a lot about MTSU; one thing I’m delighted by is how green it is—recycling, renewable energy, and lots more. The programs MTSU is most known for are aerospace (since the 1940s), recording industry management, and concrete industry management. They have world-famous professors (I’ve interviewed some of them) and claim three Nobel Prize Laureates.

I always take visitors to Oaklands. Aside from the fact that it’s gorgeous to look at, there’s just so much history. It was built in 1815, survived a Civil War occupation, and was abandoned by the 1950s. Then a group of history-minded women saved it from being bulldozed, and the home was opened as a museum in the early 1960s. It’s only gotten better. I even have a friend who works there as a gardener and docent—and was recently promoted to manage the collections. (Hope I got that right, Connor.) Ask for him! It’s a special place.

A significant Civil War battle took place just outside Murfreeboro from 31 December 1862 to 2 January 1863, and although the park preserves less than a fifth of the more than 3,000 acres over which the battle was fought, you can still … see … it. Sense it. It’s eerie, this place, the cannon still standing where they were left. Across the street from the park, there is the National Cemetery. I remind visitors they will not see Southern boys here; it’s a federal cemetery, and the South was in rebellion. In fact, the Southern soldiers were close to home and were probably buried in local churchyards or taken to family plots. Those who were not are buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Murfreesboro.

When the Old City Cemetery on Vine Street began to fill, a new cemetery was started on land a few blocks away, donated by the Maney family. It’s beautiful, if you find these sorts of things beautiful. (I do.)

There are many historic buildings in Murfreesboro; this one dates from 1917–18 but represents a school originally established in 1811 on land donated by a Revolutionary War officer. It was long a school for black Murfreesboroans and has a nice museum.

Operating on Tuesdays and Fridays from mid-May through October, the farmers’ market is one of my favorite places. Though it won’t be open while my guests are here, I’m including it for completeness: when I’m traveling, I love visiting seasonal markets to purchase fruit and other snacks. I should remark also that a local farming family has a wonderful you-pick strawberry patch; during the height of the season you can fill a very large basket in ten minutes. Finally, another source of fresh, organic produce is my local Kroger supermarket on South Church Street; it’s newly remodeled and well stocked. I highly recommend it.

  • Two historic restaurants

I’ll cover eating in Murfreesboro in a separate post, but we’ve talked a lot about history here, so I’ll include these. Both are what Southerners call a meat-and-three: pick from a list of meats and a larger list of vegetables to build your own blue-plate special. City Café opened on the Square in 1900, and has been written up countless times in newspapers, magazines, even regional books. It looks rough, but I love it. The Kleer-Vu Lunchroom (just 40 years old) looks just as rough and serves up soul food just as good.

Murfreesboro has a few parks and green spaces, but I enjoy the Greenway. Peaceful, quiet, a great way to wind down, walking along the river. When I first learned of the Greenway in the early ’90s, it was only a couple miles, but now it’s nearly 10 miles and they’re not done. There is an arboretum, apparently, but this map provided by the city doesn’t indicate it. Oops.

  • Shopping

Sure, you might want to shop. 🙂 Start on the Square. There are also many artisans and craftsfolk in the area (check here for a list), but my favorite is Studio S. For local and national retail, see Stones River Mall and the Avenue. The Avenue, in fact, has a good-size Barnes & Noble with an excellent selection of magazines. Might I suggest you stop by and pick up a copy of Southern Living?

So that’s my Murfreesboro List. There’s plenty more that didn’t make my personal favorites but which you might want to consider:

And here’s a list of buildings on the National Register of Historic Places list in Rutherford Country.

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2 thoughts on “Murfreesboro Is a Lovely, Historic Town (Accept No Substitutes!)

  1. Pingback: Tennessee Tourism—There’s a Lot to See and Do | Wanderlustful

  2. Pingback: Tennessee Vignettes: If Your Time Is Limited | Wanderlustful

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