Tennessee celebrated its 225th birthday June 1 with special observances across the state. If you missed the festivities, don’t despair — Gov. Bill Lee kicked off a year of events and activities that celebrate Tennessee's statehood with “Untold Tennessee: Commemorating 225 Years of Tennessee Statehood,” with details on what’s billed as a “95-county roadshow” to be found at www.tennessee225.com.
Sign up on the website to receive email updates as events are added to the calendar; for right now, I’m not seeing many events but that’s sure to change.
The website has four components: Nominate, Educate, Celebrate and Communicate.
Under “Nominate,” Tennesseans are urged to “celebrate our shared Tennessee heritage now and with future generations” by submitting an untold story showcasing something special about the area of Tennessee they call home. According to the website, this could be a local pastime, a place, a tradition, a person or folklore.
“Educate” provides links to a number of stories compiled about those people, places and things unique to Tennessee. “Celebrate” will include the various events planned throughout the year, and “Communicate” provides a social media toolkit for those who wish to spread the word about the yearlong birthday party.
You don’t have to wait for an invitation, though. Visit the historic sites that appeal most to you, from museums right here in our own back yard, literally too many to pay proper respect to in this column, all the way across the state to the western border. Naturally, Nashville is a great place to find our history. One of my favorites is the Bicentennial Capitol Mall, which is not a shopping area but a park where the story of Tennessee is depicted in outdoor exhibits. The park celebrated its 25th anniversary along with Tennessee Statehood Day on June 1. My family and I were living in nearby Lebanon in 1996 when it opened and visited there shortly before moving back to Blount County.
Another place to visit is the Tennessee State Library and Archives, where I spent many hours researching my family history during our time living in Lebanon. For Statehood Day, the three original Tennessee constitutions were brought out and displayed under armed guard, although copies are always available for public perusal. TSLA moved into a new building on the northeast corner of the Bicentennial Mall in April, a state-of-the-art facility that’s much larger and technologically advanced and provides a safer home for Tennessee’s archival materials. Check it out at https://sos.tn.gov/tsla.
According to the Tennessee State Museum’s website at www.tn.gov/museum, the museum is commemorating the 225th anniversary of Tennessee’s statehood with “Tennessee at 225: Highlights from the Collection,” a self-guided tour within the museum’s galleries complemented by an online exhibition showcasing 100 artifacts from the museum’s collection across five key themes. Those themes, including Art, Community, Innovation, Service and Transformation, encompass artifacts within all the museum’s current galleries, ranging from as early as the Paleolithic period to 2020. Together, they tell an expansive story about Tennessee, from its first peoples to the present day. The self-guided tour and online exhibition will be available now through May 31, 2022. I was pleased to find that the museum also has a new home, now at the base of Capitol Hill in Nashville overlooking the Bicentennial Mall. Both the TSLA and the Tennessee State Museum are accessible to people with disabilities, according to their websites.
A brief history: Before Tennessee joined the Union, it was part of the Southwest Territory governed by Blount County’s namesake, William Blount. In 1795, Blount called for a constitutional convention in Knoxville to begin the process of applying for statehood. The delegates first organized a government and prepared a constitution before applying to Congress for admission. John Sevier was the first governor, Blount and William Cocke were the first senators and Andrew Jackson was the first representative. On June 1, 1796, Tennessee became the 16th state.
Blount County was formed on July 11, 1795, almost a full year before Tennessee was accepted into the Union. It was named after territorial governor William Blount, and the county seat, Maryville, was named in honor of Blount’s wife, Mary Grainger Blount.