With iconic landmarks like the Grand Ole Opry, there are plenty of icons in the Volunteer State. Off the beaten path, however, are few epic places that even locals don’t know about.
Tennesseans are a proud bunch. They boast of the state’s delicious food, rave about their winning sports teams and practice classic Southern hospitality with visitors. Most have been to the popular tourist attractions and are happy to share their vast knowledge of all that Tennessee has to offer, but even born and bred Tennesseans might not know about these secret gems that are found throughout the state.
This quirky museum is the product of a woman’s decades-long love of salt and pepper shakers. In fact, she has spent more than 25 years collecting over 20,000 sets from around the world, many of which are on display at the museum. The collection represents the evolution of salt and pepper shakers over the years, including many different shapes and sizes, plus some dating back to the 1500s. Within the displays, short stories discussing the shakers can be found for visitors to help learn more about the unexpected art of the shakers. Admission to the museum is $3 for adults and goes towards any salt and pepper shaker purchase in the gift shop. Children 12 and under are free.
Robert Brinkley Snowden, a former owner of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and the great-grandson of the Peabody’s founder, designed and built this home for his family in 1896. It was later turned into a restaurant by a new family in the 1960s but is most famously known as being the castle to a man known as Prince Mongo. In 1990, Mongo, a Memphis millionaire with an eccentric personality, purchased Ashlar Hall and converted the property into a nightclub. Prince Mongo claimed he was 333 years old and came from a planet called Zambodia. He was a mayoral candidate who ran multiple times but never won, although he still earned a reputation due to his questionable lifestyle. With 11,000 square feet, eight rooms and a full basement, the home was a prime party spot. The property, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was purchased by contractor and real estate investor Juan Montoya after Prince Mongo turned over the keys in 2013. The fate of the home is currently unknown, although renovations were part of Montoya’s plans when he purchased the property.
With over 8,000 caves registered, Tennessee has more caves than any other state in the U.S. One of those impressive caves is found in the East Tennessee town of Sevierville. Hundreds of years ago, the Eastern Woodland Indians roamed East Tennessee in search of hunting grounds and used the cave as shelter in the winter. From the 1920s until 1943, the cave was used to make moonshine, since it had a constant water supply and remote location ideal for making homemade whiskey. It was finally opened to the public in 1967 after three years of excavation set in motion by a group of businessmen. It has the largest wall of rare cave onyx in existence and other features including towering chimneys, a crystal-clear stream and sparkling formations. Tours of the caverns utilize special lighting effects and stereophonic sound to enhance the experience for visitors.
What was once the segregated Flagg Grove School in Brownsville, Tennessee is now a museum dedicated to soul superstar Tina Turner. Born Anna Mae Bullock, Turner attended the one-room school in the 1940s. Inside the museum are photographs of Tina, a collection of her flashy costumes and many of her gold and platinum records, as well as her high school yearbook. The pop star worked with the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center to provide audio and video commentary and donated many items for the museum’s exhibits. The school-turned-museum is one of several properties operated by the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center.
Backyard Dinosaur Park started as the dream of a young boy wanting a life-sized dinosaur and grew to a place where children can come and see over 40 prehistoric creatures. Here, all of the dinosaurs are life-sized recreations that are made using a scientific process. There’s a T-Rex near the entrance, as well as a flying Pteranodon and other dinosaurs. The donation-based attraction also has a fossil dig site and small gift shop. The park is part of Backyard Terrors, a group in Bluff City that puts together event and parties, specializing in the haunt industry.
Run by Puddy Tat Protectors, House of Mews is a “feline adoption agency and cat-lover gift shop” in Memphis. Here, there is only one full-time staff member at this cat sanctuary, otherwise it’s fully staffed by volunteers. The sanctuary, which has been in Memphis for more than 20 years, is an alternative to government-run shelters and operates on the principle that cats’ lives are not marketable. The sanctuary doesn’t buy or sell cats, but instead asks those who are approved to adopt to make a donation in order to cover veterinary costs. Cats at the sanctuary roam freely through the building and live in shelved white cages until they are adopted. People are free to play with the cats as long as they simply sanitize their hands first.
The world’s largest collection of porcelain Veilleuses-Theieres, or “night-light teapots,” can be found at this museum in Trenton, Tennessee. Dating back to 1750 and coming from all over the world, the teapots on display were purchased and donated to the city of Trenton by Dr. Frederick Freed. Originally, the teapots were displayed in the lobby of the Peabody High School Auditorium until Dr. Freed had a special display case built in the city council chambers of the Municipal Building. The museum, which is free to visit, sees around 3,000 visitors each year.