By Heather Short
Too often our days are filled to the brim from sun up til sun down with work, school, making meals, playing with the kiddos and taking kids to and from wherever it is they need to be. When the weekend finally makes an appearance, it’s all too often full of catching up on household chores, going to sports games and perhaps sleeping in, if you have the chance.
On a day off, it is enticing to sit around and do nothing. Movie marathons are often at the top of the list and ordering pizza may be a close second. But sometimes there’s a little voice in the back of your mind screaming for an adventure. Nothing extravagant, just a day-long getaway to recharge.
If you live in Clarksville, you can get a nice dose of historical education and play time all in one at the Customs House Museum. It’s in downtown Clarksville with easily accessible parking.
The Customs House Museum once housed a bustling post office and customs house in 1898. In 1983, it was given to the city of Clarksville as a museum to preserve the community’s history.
The museum is home to both permanent and rotating exhibitions. One of the permanent exhibits includes Becoming Clarksville: Honoring Legacies of Leadership. This exhibit allows visitors to travel back in time to see how Clarksville became the city it is today by examining its very inception.
Another interesting exhibit lets visitors step back in time to the original 1898 post office. Guests can see what the post office and customs house looked like over 100 years ago.
If you ever wondered who Wilma Rudolph Boulevard is named after, the Customs House Museum proudly displays an exhibit dedicated to this Olympic gold medalist as well as other notable Clarksville athletes.
The Explorer’s Gallery was created with children’s play in mind. Kids will enjoy venturing down into the original 1898 portion of the building and getting lost in imaginative play. They can take a trip to McGregor’s Market and stock up on “groceries” in kid-size grocery carts. Children of all ages will also have a blast exploring the Bubble Cave. There are different stations set up for kids to create different sizes and shapes of bubbles. They can even find out what it’s like to be inside a bubble.
Admission fees vary, and annual passes as well as military discounts are available.
Historical stops and parks
The southern states offer a bounty of history-packed places to visit. Across the nation, children enjoy completing required tasks to become junior rangers at national parks. Two of those parks, Fort Donelson and Stones River National Battlefield, are within a day’s drive.
Fort Donelson is celebrated as the location where Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant waged a victory over the South, who had built the fortress to control the Cumberland River. This park is near the Kentucky and Tennessee border in Dover, making it an easy drive away from city life. It was designated a national park in 1928 and spans just over a thousand acres.
Fort Donelson has 11 historical sites, including the National Cemetery. Many of the sites require you to drive from each location to the next, but it will be well worth it.
Inside of the Dover Hotel, there are interpretive exhibits on the first floor that document the circumstances of the surrender of Confederate Brigadier General Simon B. Buckner to Ulysses S. Grant, which took place at the hotel. You can also get out and walk along the area known as the Confederate River Batteries. The area along the river is still “armed” with inactive heavy seacoast artillery. Seeing them lined up will give you a sense of what it looked like during the Civil War and the fight for control over Clarksville and Nashville. Of course, kids will love seeing the canons lined up!
Stones River National Battlefield is located in Murfreesboro and is the location of the Union defeat of the Confederate Army of Tennessee. The park is a popular place to stop because of the wonderful hiking trails available in the area. There are about 7 miles of trails within the woods of the park that helped the Union declare victory in early 1863.
Children will love getting their junior ranger booklet from the visitor center and finding all the clues within the park to complete their tasks. To children, it’s an exciting scavenger hunt all while learning about an important time in national history. There are also several different ranger programs available throughout the year.
Another area of interest to see is the Hazen Brigade Monument. It stands in honor of those who gave their lives defending the area known as Round Forest. The stone monument is the nation’s oldest still-intact Civil War monument. There are several picnic tables near the visitor center where guests can enjoy a packed lunch and relax.
Port Royal State Park in Adams, Tennessee, might seem small when looking at it on a map, but the significance of this area represents more than any map could. This park preserves an original section of the Trail of Tears. This historic trail marks the path that several thousand Native Americans were forced to travel on in 1838 in their forced relocation to Oklahoma. While the section of the trail isn’t long, it is marked with an official sign and is a conversation starter for children.
There is also a half-mile trail through the woods that offers a bit of peace while reflecting on the history this land has seen through the years. The River Bottom Trail takes you near the Red River and the remains of the original 1904 bridge that used to take people across the river.
Port Royal was officially founded in 1797 and some of the 18th century foundations can still be seen in the park today. It’s hard not to imagine what the area looked like long ago and the families who once walked in the same spot when you visit this park. Near the River Bottom Trail head is an open field and bonfire pit with benches for guests to take a rest and enjoy their company.
Dunbar Cave State Park has an interesting history to it. It was opened in the 1930s as a popular site for musical entertainment well into the 1940s. But that isn’t the most interesting bit of trivia. The cave itself stretches over 8 miles, and there is archaeological evidence that the cave has been used for thousands of years.
Tours of the cave are available during designated times from June until late August. The summer months are actually the perfect time to tour the cave due to the cave itself staying at a cool, inviting 58 degrees F.
The park has three different hiking trails, with the longest just under 2 miles. The trails are easy enough for children navigate on a family hike or for adults to enjoy on a quiet morning stroll.
There are no fees to enter the parks, but donations to support the parks are always welcome. These parks not only give families the opportunity to learn about the history in this area and how it relates to the history of this country, but they also offer the opportunity to enjoy nature and each others’ company during an exciting adventure.