What Language Are You Speaking?

Today I left my appointment with a physical therapist and, since it was just after one o’clock, decided to drop by Panda Express. Call it fast food if you must—and it is, usually, fast—but they use fresh ingredients and you can taste the freshness.

There was a line. And it wasn’t fast today. Behind me, standing a little too close, two men carried on a conversation in a language that sounded vaguely Hispanic. (I say a little too close in the sense that we Americans like our personal space when we’re standing in line. But some cultures are comfortable standing closer, and I don’t believe in letting things like this bother me.)

Then one of the workers announced to those of us waiting: “We are out of to-go boxes and”—he named several of the most popular items on the menu. “I’m sorry, but our delivery didn’t arrive today.”

Several people peeled out of the line and left, but I wanted my Panda Express, dagnabbit, and another worker brought up a bunch of the little cardboard cartons you traditionally see used for Asian takeout, so we were in business. By “out of to-go boxes” they’d meant those awful Styrofoam boxes.

So I and the two gentlemen behind me fanned out in front of the buffet to see what was available, which was when I got a look at them. One of them had a full head and mustache of white hair and could have been mistaken for Omar Sharif. The other was younger, but probably not by much. They used English to speak to the restaurant worker and to commiserate with me, smiling, then turned to each other and had a conversation in …

“What language are you speaking?” I asked, putting my hand on the younger man’s arm* to politely interrupt. “I’ve traveled a little, but I’ve never heard this.” Oh! Those rolled Rs! This language was like music.

“Arabic,” he said, and they both smiled. I smiled. We were all smiling. The younger man said, “You should visit Jerusalem,” in the manner of passing on a well-kept secret. “It is beautiful.”

And that was it, just a few words, but it made me happy today.

* Later I wondered if, by touching him, I’d violated some social custom. But they are here in Tennessee, and I am a woman who touches people when she talks to them. Also, they didn’t react in any way other than to smile and keep the conversation going.

Not by appointment do we meet Delight
And Joy; they heed not our expectancy;
But round some corner in the streets of life
They, on a sudden, clasp us with a smile.
—Gerald Massey (1828–1907), The Bridegroom of Beauty

 

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Eating in Murfreesboro

I’m not a picky eater. I just like good food, and I don’t care if it’s a chain. (I know that it’s all about who’s managing the place.) There’s lots of choice in Murfreesboro these days—you can just drive down the street and see lots of places I haven’t mentioned—so bear in mind this is just one gal’s recommendation.

Links provide addresses for mapping, although I’ve tried to give a general location.

Lists are in no particular order. I’ve indicated whether a restaurant is local only, or a regional or national chain.

Breakfast

  • Peter D’s (local): We love this place; had our wedding day dinner there. Near the party hotel.
  • Mimi’s Café (national): Always good, always satisfying. Near the party hotel.
  • Sylvan Park (local): Meat-and-three Southern cooking.
  • Cracker Barrel (regional): Choice can be overwhelming but it’s solid and fast.
  • City Café (local): It’ll do. Diner-style breakfast. On the Square.
  • IHOP or Waffle House: You know about these. Not far from the party hotel area.
  • Panera Bread (national): Dependable and good. Not far from the party hotel area.
  • Dunkin’ Donuts (national): Out by our house. (Starbucks too.)
  • Fast food: Sonic, McDonald’s, Hardee’s, Bojangles, Chick-fil-A

Lunch & Dinner
Note that there is a lot of dining around the college area that I’m completely unfamiliar with.

  • Parthenon Grille (local): One of my faves. Out near our house.
  • Chop House (regional): Always, always good. Not far from the party hotel area.
  • Lemongrass Sushi & Thai (local): One of my favies. Close to our house.
  • Marina’s (local): Italian, been here for at least 20 years. On the Square.
  • Maple St. Grill (local): Chef owned and operated. On the Square.
  • The Alley on Main (local): Chef owned and operated. Just off the Square.
  • O’Possum’s Pub (local): Chef owned and operated. I have friends who love it.
  • Five Guys (regional): There is no big ol’ greasy burger better! Not far from the party hotel area.
  • Five Senses (local): Chef owned and operated. Go to linger over your meal.
  • Toot’s (local): Wings. Much loved. Noisy. Go to Broad Street location.
  • Peter D’s
  • Mimi’s Café
  • Sylvan Park
  • City Café (lunch)
  • Don’t forget the BBQ list. 🙂

Pubs

Treats

Enjoy!

A Word About Barbecue

Whole books have been written about what Southerners call barbecue, so it’s not a topic I’m going to tackle with any depth. But here’s a woman who did—as a graduate thesis at the University of Virginia, for heaven’s sake—so dig in. Quick mention: What you all do with a grill (“I’m going to barbeque some hamburgers”) would be confusing to a Southerner. We grill hamburgers and eat barbeque. 🙂

We Southerners do take our food seriously. Check out the Southern Foodways Alliance—an Institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. They’ve got a whole lot to say about barbecue. (So does Southern Living.)

Suffice it to say, sampling the local purveyors of barbecue is a MUST on my list of things to do in the South, and every neighborhood has its own favorite. I ran the preferred barbecue question up the Facebook flagpole, and came up with a recommended list for my out-of-town friends. (Top choice is on top.)

Available in Murfreesboro:

  • Slick Pig BBQ: Local to Murfreesboro.
  • Jim ’N Nick’s: A regional chain, but we like it, not least because everything is cooked fresh. There are no freezers at Jim ’N Nick’s.
  • Whitt’s: A Nashville chain. Whitt’s taught me about the deliciousness of coleslaw on a barbecue sandwich.
  • Famous Dave’s: A national chain and not always well run, but it’ll do and we generally like it. Located in Smyrna (10 miles from Murfreesboro).

Available in Nashville:

But wait—let’s talk about Nashville Hot Chicken too! It’s a thing, y’all. And if you like a little heat, you should check it out. OMG. Locals have been loving it for years.

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.

Tennessee Tourism—There’s a Lot to See and Do

I have several close, dear friends coming in from out of town (to celebrate my marriage to Gerry). Many of them have never been to Middle Tennessee, although I have lived here since the 1970s (I always go to them, in the West, where I grew up).

I want them to enjoy their time here. So I’m putting together some posts on things to do in the area. Some are longer than others; I want to keep it interesting and enjoyable to read. Not a slog through everything I know. So it’s not a comprehensive list—there are websites for that. It’s a quick look at the sort of things I’d recommend my friends consider.

Snatched from the Tennesseee Department of Tourist Development website.

Snatched from the Tennesseee Department of Tourist Development website (linked above).

I’m a categorizer, though, so here’s how I started thinking:

Cities
Small Towns
Music
History
Culture
Unique/Local Color
Natural Beauty
Eating
Shopping

That’s enough variety to cover most folks’ interests, don’t you think?

So let’s get started; here are the articles:

Welcome!

Rover, Unincorporated

Gerry and I have been taking long country drives so he can practice up for his driver’s test. (He lived his whole life in a city with great public transportation—he’s never needed to drive before now.)

One morning we set out to find the location of a church in Eagleville, Tennessee, where we’ll be attending a wedding next month. And that is how we came to find Rover … driving down Highway 231 to Fosterville, turning right on the Midland-Fosterville Road, which cuts west over to Highway 41A (becoming Kingdom Road in the process). Where Kingdom Road meets 41A—that’s Rover. Turn right and Eagleville’s three or four miles up the road; turn left and Unionville (such as it is) is a couple miles down it in the other direction.

IMG_0186

But there were lots of interesting things to see along the way, and I spent some time looking for histories of these communities. Any history of Middle Tennessee is closely tied to the history of Nashville, which, with its location on the Cumberland River, was an important trade post stockade built in 1779–80 by James Robertson and John Donelson. The town that was soon to be named Murfreesboro had been established as the Rutherford County seat in 1811, some forty years later. Shelbyville was laid out around the same time and incorporated—and got a United States post office—in 1819. These three points on the map form the backdrop for what little there is to be gleaned about Fosterville, Unionville, and Eagleville. Only the latter is still a real town, but the other names live on as … communities.

Fosterville, for example. Named after John Foster, listed in the 1820 census for this district and who established a home and trading post on what is now 231, halfway between Murfreesboro and Shelbyville. Highway 231 was actually the first turnpike (for stagecoaches) in Rutherford County—the Nashville / Murfreesboro / Shelbyville Pike; the road was completed and gates erected by 1842. But they were already working on the railroad—when it was completed in 1851 Fosterville was a stop on the Nashville-Chattanooga-St. Louis Railway and the community shifted east about 3,000 feet to the rail line.

In March 1890 a tornado blew through the heart of the village—stores, post office, train depot, church, mill—and it never fully recovered. A tiny post office is still across the street from the train tracks, but I’m not sure if it still operates. There’s a volunteer fire department, a few houses … a church and a few houses along 231. And then two miles on the other side of 231, along the Midland-Fosterville Road, this:

The Lebanon Campground Church of Fosterville, TN.

The Lebanon Campground Church of Fosterville, TN.

I can’t tell you much about the church. There are dozens of “campground churches” of various denominations* across the South, but this one boasts no affiliation. It has no web presence. It may not even have a congregation—it was Sunday morning when we took these photos. But it is an election polling place.

* I believe they sprang up from “camp meetings,” which were a phenomenon of American frontier Christianity, which had neither enough preachers nor enough church buildings. So campgrounds sprang up, to which people would travel on occasion to camp, listen to itinerant preachers, sing hymns, and otherwise fellowship. This was a component of the Second Great Awakening (1790–1860), an evangelical movement promoted primarily by the Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians.

And yet … the church has been decorated for Christmas.

And yet … the church has been decorated for Christmas.

The side yard of the Lebanon Campground Church—looking back along Midland-Fosterville Road.

The side yard of the Lebanon Campground Church—looking back along Midland-Fosterville Road.

Across the road from the Lebanon Campground Church is an old cemetery:

Wood & Tucker Cemetery. This sounds more like a pair of families; I doubt that it was ever associated with the church.

Wood & Tucker Cemetery. This sounds more like a pair of families; I doubt that it was ever associated with the church.

The only access to the cemetery was to walk up through the field—and the ground was very soggy, as it had been raining for days—or this private drive. We were not brave enough to drive up; you just never know what kind of greeting you’ll get.

The only access to the cemetery was to walk up through the field—and the ground was very soggy, as it had been raining for days—or this private drive. We were not brave enough to drive up; you just never know what kind of greeting you’ll get.

Right where the road changes from Midland-Fosterville to Kingdom, there’s a beautiful, clean farm. I was fascinated by it because all of the buildings were grey.

I call it the silver farm.

I think of it as the silver farm.

There’s another unused church along this road …

The Kingdom Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Unionville, Tennessee.

The Kingdom Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Unionville, Tennessee.

The address of this church is Unionville, although it’s about three miles away (as the crow flies) from the current village of Unionville. I can find no online history for the church or the town, though one guesses it has something to do with the Civil War. Wouldn’t you think? The church to which we were headed was originally called Union Ridge Baptist Church (according to the history on its website). As the crow flies, again, Unionville is about twelve miles from Wartrace, where Union soldiers kept a large prisoner-of-war camp of Southern boys; perhaps the main Northern encampment was a little further away. In what came to be known as Unionville. Along this ridge. That’s the only connection I can draw.

But this church. There’s a sanctuary and beside it a larger building, probably for Sunday school classes and a kitchen and so on. The sign next to the sanctuary door reads, “Kingdom Church, established 1852. Cumberland Presbyterian Historical Heritage Site.” Next to the two buildings, a pavilion.

A pavilion with picnic tables. It’s called the Pastor Milton & Mrs. Bobbie Statum Pavilion, the sign says, and it was dedicated at Easter 2000.

A pavilion with picnic tables. It’s the Pastor Milton & Mrs. Bobbie Statum Pavilion, the sign says, and it was dedicated at Easter 2000.

It’s kept up, but was deserted in the late Sunday morning when we stopped to take photographs. So in fifteen years, this congregation died out. (Perhaps literally.)

Belied by the sign outside.

Belied by the sign outside.

Look closer, though.

Look closer, though.

So we drove another mile, headed toward the future wedding church (with a Unionville address), which is just off Highway 41A. And that’s when we rode smack-dab into Rover. This is pretty much all that’s left:

Carlton’s General Store—“We Sell Most Anything”—of Rover, Tennessee.

Carlton’s General Store—“We Sell Most Anything”—of Rover, Tennessee.

Behind the shuttered store, an old house, still occupied, and a barn and outbuildings.

It is well-kept, and has a simple beauty, I think.

It is well-kept, and has a simple beauty, I think.

There are a few houses close by—neighbors. No doubt they know each other well. There’s been a published history of Rover, interestingly, but that was more than ten years ago and no trace of it exists online. Apparently there were two schools in Rover at one time; I’ve gleaned that much.

One of them was right across the street:

A self-proclaimed historic site.

A self-proclaimed historic site.

It would have been a small-ish school, but is now a very neatly kept home.

It would have been a small-ish school, but is now a very neatly kept home.

But we were headed to the future wedding church (whose address is Unionville, interestingly, but simply because there is no post office in Rover anymore). We could see it from where we stood at the old general store.

Rover Baptist Church in the distance.

Rover Baptist Church in the distance.

As previously noted, had we turned right, we’d have ended up in Eagleville. It’s still a thriving community. Originally called Manchester when it was founded in 1832, the name was changed when they applied for a post office and discovered there was another Manchester twenty or so miles south. When the post office opened in 1836, the community became known as Eagleville. Local lore has it that the name was inspired by an unusually large eagle killed in the vicinity. Niiiice.

But … we were on a quest, and we turned left, away from Eagleville, heading south on 41A. Rover Baptist Church is on—conveniently—Baptist Church Road, about a thousand feet from the abandoned Rover General Store. I’d looked all this up on Google Maps, and noticed something just beyond the church, something … green.

It’s a cemetery, y’all. And you know how I feel about those. We could see it as soon as we turned onto Baptist Church Road.

See there on the right, up on the hill? A cemetery.

See there on the right, up on the hill? A cemetery.

We did drive into the parking lot and had a look at the church. But … meh. We didn’t tarry. I wanted to get to that cemetery.

It’s the Simpson Cemetery. It’s beautiful.

It’s the Simpson Cemetery. It’s beautiful.

There’s a chair near the entrance, under a tree, near the posted rules and regulations, for contemplation.

Gerry, contemplative, sort of.

Gerry, contemplative, sort of.

So I walked up the hill with my camera. There are lots of the same names here, family groups.

It was a beautiful day.

It was a beautiful day.

Another Crick.

Another Crick.

How different this is from an Irish cemetery, where the graves are cheek by jowl.

How different this is from an Irish cemetery, where the graves are cheek by jowl.

The sign says the cemetery was established in 1868, but there are a few older graves here.

These pillars drew my eye because they are an older style.

These pillars drew my eye because they are an older style.

Mostly I was just interested in the art and the words …

This woman, a Simpson by marriage, didn’t even get her name on her grave stone—just her initials, although her husband in mentioned by name. But she must have been pious.

This woman, a Simpson by marriage, didn’t even get her name on her grave stone—just her initials, although her husband in mentioned by name. But she must have been pious.

Here’s here husband. He was a Mason, apparently. His wife, M. W., lived 20 years without him.

Here’s her husband. He was a Mason, apparently. His wife, M. W., lived 20 years without him.

This woman, also a Simpson by marriage, was born in 1786. That may have been the oldest birth year I found.

This woman, also a Simpson by marriage, was born in 1786. That may have been the oldest birth year I found.

Isn’t this wording interesting? “Thomas H., consort of Lettetia Spence” … And what kind of tree is that?

Isn’t this wording interesting? “Thomas H., consort of Lettetia Spence” … And what kind of tree is that?

This one says “Come Ye Blessed” and those must be the pearly gates … but it looks more like a picket fence to me.

This one says “Come Ye Blessed” and those must be the pearly gates … but it looks more like a picket fence to me.

There was some humor here.

Big John. I must go back to find out if he was a Simpson.

Big John. I must go back to find out if he was a Simpson.

Gone fishing.

Gone fishing.

It’s the children’s graves that break my heart, though.

Willie Hammond, who lived for 6 years, 7 months, and 2 days. As a mother myself, I can understand this need to count the loss.

Willie Hammond, who lived for 6 years, 7 months, and 2 days. As a mother myself, I can understand this need to precisely count the loss.

I can’t even imagine this. I wonder how John and Mattie picked themselves up. Did they try again? Was it something genetic that fated their babies to this? The tests for such things didn’t exist back then, so they might never have known.

I can’t even imagine this. I wonder how John and Mattie picked themselves up. Did they try again? Was it something genetic that fated their babies to this? The tests for such things didn’t exist back then, so they might never have known.

“Our boys,” they said. They were 15 and 17 when they died 6 weeks apart, perhaps of some illness. The photograph is just heart-stopping.

“Our boys,” they said. They were 15 and 17 when they died 6 weeks apart, perhaps of some illness. The photograph is just heart-stopping. (Don’t forget you can zoom in on these photos.)

“Are you ready?” Gerry asked me. Yes. There are so many stories—not just in this cemetery but on the road between it and our house. We also saw a goat farm, several walking horse stables and farms, and one farm that advertised spotted ponies for sale. We were quiet on the drive home, listening to the radio—to Ottorino Respighi’s The Birds.

This Is Your History, Murfreesboro!

Why is it that so many wedding expos happen in the early months? Perhaps it’s that once the holidays are past, brides-to-be are ready to start planning? I don’t know. But Oaklands Mansion—our local house museum—inaugurated an early-spring wedding dress exhibit four years ago, and it’s become very popular. My friend Jenny and I made a date to see the 2015 show the first week of March.

I love Oaklands Mansion. Murfreesboro is a historic town, but Oaklands takes you straight back to our earliest history. Revolutionary War hero Hardy Murfree—a North Carolinian—was granted land in Tennessee as a result of his service, and, in fact, Murfreesboro (originally Cannonsburgh) is named for him, though he never actually lived here. Upon his death in 1809, the Tennessee holdings appear to have been divided among his five children. The youngest, Sally (b. 1793), inherited 274 acres in Rutherford County. That’s where the Oaklands story starts.

I should have said, probably, upon the probation of the will Sally inherited. That would make it 1813—she was twenty years old, and the year before had married James Maney, a medical doctor. Their first child was born in 1813. Two years later they began construction on a two-room brick house on the site in newly renamed Murfreesboro; that brick house is still there, enclosed in the many additions that came later. The first of those was a large, Federal-style two-story addition on one end of the brick house in 1820. The family grew (ultimately there were eight Maney children), the plantation—farmed by slaves—prospered. Another addition to the home was built in 1830—fifteen years after the original two-room home was erected.

When Sally died in 1857 (she would have been around sixty-four, her husband around sixty-seven), Dr. Maney retired from practice and his oldest living child, Lewis, took over the plantation. Lewis had married Rachel Adaline Cannon—daughter of the governor of Tennessee—in 1846, when he was twenty-three year old. Adaline and Lewis resided at Oaklands, and for the next three years, they made extensive renovations to the mansion, creating a showplace befitting their social status.

When they were done, the house looked like this. The previous three structures are behind this one.

When they were done, the house looked like this. The previous three structures are behind this one.

The driveway ran all the way to Main Street; now it’s called Maney Avenue.

The driveway ran all the way to Main Street; now it’s called Maney Avenue.

The war, of course, put a stop to the high living. When the Yankees occupied Murfreesboro, they took over Oaklands; the army camped on the plantation. The end of slavery brought economic hardship, and by the time Dr. Maney died in 1872, the family was selling off land in Mississippi and at Oaklands to make ends meet. Lewis died ten years later, and shortly thereafter his widow sold the house. There more history, of course, at the Oaklands website and in this article, but it was the Murfrees and Maneys who gave us the estate that we can visit today.

I don’t want to romanticize, of course. The period of time in which this house came to be is not a proud moment for the South. But these people simply lived in those times, lived the lives they were born to. Even with money, they weren’t easy lives. When you walk through the house, you can see that.

But it’s lovely, Oaklands.

 Imagine sitting on this porch.

Imagine sitting on this porch.

I always take out-of-town guests to see it.

But Jenny and I were here to see the wedding dresses. (You can see a nice interview about the exhibit here.)

The room was arranged chronologically. The oldest dresses are on the left in this photo.

The room was arranged chronologically. The oldest dresses are on the left in this photo.

Taking in the room. The newest dress, from 2014, is in the foreground here.

Taking in the room. The newest dress, from 2014, is in the foreground here.

The exhibit is new every year, as many dresses are offered for display. The folks at Oakland take a little oral history, so there is something of interest with each dress.

There’s a little bit of history with each dress.

There’s a little bit of history with each dress.

I really enjoyed seeing the photographs of the young couples.

I really enjoyed seeing the photographs of the young couples.

In addition to the wedding portraits, the headdresses are often displayed.

In addition to the wedding portraits, the headdresses are often displayed.

These are some of the newer dresses.

These are some of the newer dresses.

I was delighted to run into my friend Connor Moss, who is a docent at the museum. And since the price of our admission included a tour of the house, we jumped at the opportunity for a personal tour.

In the main downstairs hall (that’s the front door in the background).

In the main downstairs hall (that’s the front door in the background).

The grand staircase was a part of the final Italianate addition.

The grand staircase was a part of the final Italianate addition.

So we got a wedding dress exhibit and a leisurely tour of the house!

So we got a wedding dress exhibit and a leisurely tour of the house!

And then we went down the street a few blocks to the Kleer-Vu Lunchroom, another iconic Murfreesboro establishment.

And then we went down the street a few blocks to the Kleer-Vu Lunchroom, another iconic Murfreesboro establishment.

Had a great time! And I think I will make the wedding dress exhibit an annual date. As the docent says in the video linked above, these dresses were worn by our neighbors! I think it’s a nice way to celebrate Oaklands Mansion’s two-hundreth year.