We are self confessed history buffs. That’s probably one reason we’re making a point of seeing all 400+ National Park sites. Our Plan B route was designed to take us through areas for some of the lesser known NPS sites, some privately operated sites and visits to family.
Our first stop was Greeneville, Tennessee to visit the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site. We had to stay in a commercial park as the two closest state parks were renovating their campgrounds. We found a small private park, A Round Pond, located on a farm in Baileyton. We did check out Panther Creek SP for later use and the new campground looks very good.
So how much do you know about our 17th President, Andrew Johnson? If you are like us, chances are not much. He was catapulted into office upon Lincoln’s assassination. He also was the first President to face impeachment proceedings. Like all the other Presidents from Tennessee, he was not born there. He was from North Carolina. His widowed mother struggled to raise her family and when she could no longer support them she apprenticed her two oldest sons to a tailor. Working long days and no formal schooling cut his childhood short. Like the man he would follow in the White House he was self educated but read everything he could. After getting into trouble as a young teenager Andrew Johnson ran off to South Carolina and Tennessee where he established a tailor shop in Greeneville. He married and it is his wife who is credited with helping fill his education gap. The Andrew Johnson NHS is composed of a Visitors Center, the home where the Johnson family lived in the 1830s-1851 and the home he returned to after his Presidency. It was during the 1830s that he entered politics first as Alderman, then Mayor, state representative and US Representative. One term as Governor of Tennessee 1853-1857 led to his election to the US Senate.
The beliefs he carried throughout his political career were anchored in strong faith in the common man. He favored free land for homesteading, public education and elimination of the electoral college in favor of direct election. He also believed in the preservation of the Union. It was this last item that made Lincoln choose him as Vice President. He needed a southerner from a border state on his ticket. However the two men differed greatly in personality. Lincoln was known for his jokes and storytelling as well as his ability to convince opponents to see his viewpoint. Johnson on the other hand was a very forceful and demanding personality. When met with opposition he became even more forceful which created enemies.
In the tumultuous days of Reconstruction Johnson butted heads with many politicians and even his own cabinet. One such conflict was the cause of the impeachment proceedings. Johnson wanted a federal army. William Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of State who stayed on, wanted states to have their own armies. When Stanton proceeded with his idea over Johnson’s disapproval he was fired. There was a law that no President could fire a cabinet member once they were approved. The Congress used this as grounds for impeachment while Johnson claimed he had “inherited” the Cabinet rather than having named his own. Much of the underlying ill will between Johnson and members of Congress played a part. He was impeached by the House but failed impeachment in the Senate by just one vote. He returned to Tennessee and lived the rest of his life as a private citizen.
Today his legacy lives on every year when the White House sponsors the annual Easter Egg Roll. While he wasn’t the first President to hold the event he was the one who made it an annual affair. We were at the Andrew Johnson NHS just a week before Easter and the park was holding an egg coloring activity for local children. We’d been warned by the Visitor Center that there might be crowds. We went down to the second home for the tour anyway. Crowds? What crowds? We were the only people on the tour! The Ranger was very knowledgeable and spent a lot of time answering our questions. Don’t limit your visits to our National Parks to just the big ones. History really comes alive when you visit our historic sites too.
The following day we made a trip to another type of National Park site, the Obed Wild and Scenic River. First we stopped at the Visitor Center in the town of Wartburg, Tennessee. Then we drove to a parking area at the river and took a short hike to an overlook. Most people come here to hike, whitewater canoe or rock climb. It was still early Spring so the landscape lacked color. The Fall is most likely the best season for photography.
For our next stop we headed to the Nashville, TN area to visit Steve’s family. We were staying at Cages Bend, a COE park in nearby Gallatin, TN. About ten miles from our destination a car was waving at us. “One of your trailer tires is very low”. We hadn’t felt a thing but pulled over right away. Yes it was low but Steve felt we could make it to the park. We did but just barely. By the time we’d parked and set up it was flat. So it was off to Discount Tire but they wanted us to bring the tire in. No problem as they loaned Steve a floor jack. The tire had a big gouge and was unrepairable. So $300 later and several trips back and forth to the tire dealer, we were all fixed.
After a good time with Steve’s aunt and uncle we took a day to visit the Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson. This is a privately run historic site rather than a NPS site. “I guess we’re spoiled but neither Steve or I were impressed with our time there. We paid $12 each for entry then another $8 for audio tour sets. The museum was good and we learned a lot. Then we went on to the home. The tour was given by a series of guides who looked and sounded bored. It was a ‘get ’em in, get ’em out’ approach. Rooms were roped off so it was hard to see while in a group.” Compared to our NPS experiences and other historic home tours it fell way short of our expectations.
Andrew Jackson was a military hero after winning battles at Horseshoe Bend (1814) and New Orleans (1815) when he became a leading frontier political leader in the 1820s-1830s.. He had a tough and aggressive personality (nickname Old Hickory) which led him to initiate battles during the Seminole Wars and fight duels over personal slights. The most famous duel was over his marriage to Rachel Donelson Robards. She thought herself divorced when she married Jackson in 1790 only to find she was still legally married. Once the divorce was final the couple remarried in 1794. In 1806 after a political opponent published an attack on Jackson in the newspaper and mentioned the bigamous relationship, Jackson challenged him to a duel. Jackson sustained a bullet in the chest but shot and killed Charles Dickinson. Elected as our 7th President in 1828, his beloved wife died of a heart attack two weeks after her husband’s victory. Jackson was one of our few unmarried Presidents and his niece served the necessary social role until the Petticoat Affair (1834) and her death in 1836. Then Sarah Jackson served as well and this is the only time two women have served in the role of First Lady simultaneously. Although childless, Andrew and Rachael Jackson raised two Indian children, a nephew and acted as guardians for eight other children.
During his tenure, Andrew Jackson championed States Rights but believed in the preservation of the Union, vetoed the reissue of a charter for the Second Bank of the United States, paid off the national debt in 1835 (the last time it was paid off in full), called to abolish the Electoral College, initiated rotation in government office for political appointees, passed the Indian Removal Act, survived the first assassination attempt on a sitting President and saw the admission of Arkansas and Michigan to the union. There is much more written about him than can be addressed here. A very interesting and controversial figure to be sure.
So now we pull out of our campsite and head to see some of Chari’s family in Mississippi. Chari practiced hooking up the trailer and drove out of the site and park for the first time. Still a bit nervous about driving in traffic Steve took over. “I really do think we have a guardian angel!” We hadn’t gone more than ten miles when BANG!! It sounded like a shotgun and we immediately knew we’d had a blowout. Yep, the other tire on the side of the flat had blown. There had been no evidence of damage or loss of air while we were parked. We pulled off, got out and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Here’s what we saw….
So here we go again. Call the insurance. Find a dealer on our route. Wait for parts to be ordered. Hope it doesn’t mess up our plans too much. How did that black cloud from Florida find us here in Tennessee? So Steve removed the torn fender. We called Roadside Assistance and got another new tire. Then headed on our way.