Clarksville, Tennessee is full of historic and recreational attractions. In addition to delightful public art, there are attractive downtown shops and a professional theater with a full calendar. Visitors can learn about Olympic-caliber athletes who were born in the city, step back in time to the 1800’s at Historic Collinsville Pioneer Settlement, learn about the Civil War events that took place in Clarksville and be inspired by the displays at the Pratt Military Museum at nearby Fort Campbell.
1. Step back in time at the Historic Collinsville Pioneer Settlement
Following a 43-year project of dismantling, moving, reconstructing and collecting 18 separate buildings authentic to the 1830-1870 time period, Glenn and JoAnn Weakley proudly and eagerly opened the Historic Collinsville Pioneer Settlement to the public in 1997. Since then, thousands of area schoolchildren and history lovers have visited to learn and reminisce.
Buildings on site include a vintage tobacco barn, a dog-trot house, smokehouse, corn crib, schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, loom house and others that graphically depict the lifestyle of those who lived over 150 years ago. Each contains furniture, equipment or household items that are appropriate to the era.
Historic Collinsville is open on Saturdays and Sundays for self-guided tours and during other days of the week for previously-scheduled guided tours.
2. Liberty Park honors legendary Clarksville athletes
Liberty Park encompasses a lake, a marina, a walking trail, an event venue, a playground and other family-friendly spaces, but visitors will no doubt make their way to two particular statues. One honors Wilma C. Rudolph, the three-time gold medal Olympic runner who overcame childhood polio to be the fastest woman of her time. The other recognizes Pat Head Summitt, an Olympic medalist in basketball who went on to coach women’s basketball at the University of Tennessee. When she retired, she had amassed the most career wins of anyone in college basketball history.
Clarksville is understandably proud of its ties to these stellar women, and if you are a sports fan, you will enjoy learning more about them.
3. Add to your knowledge of American history at Fort Defiance Civil War Park
Perched on a high and important lookout along the Cumberland River, it is easy to see why the location of Fort Defiance was so strategic. Fort Defiance is actually an earthen fort that was built to control the war effort of the Confederates along the banks where it intersects with the Red River. The Confederates actually surrendered there in 1862, and it was occupied by Union troops for the remainder of the war.
An interpretive center was dedicated by the city in 2011, where visitors can take guided tours, browse the informative displays and walk the trails located on the property. It is closed on Mondays, but there are regular hours of operation during the other six days. Admission is free.
4. Imagine the elegance of days gone by at the Smith Trahern Mansion
The Smith Trahern Mansion was originally built in 1858 for Christopher Smith, a successful tobacco farmer. The elegant home consists of two stories with four large rooms on each, a grand hallway and a curved staircase. It was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1988, and is now a popular event venue. The setting makes an extremely photogenic backdrop for weddings.
The sad story of Mr. Smith is that while he was on one of his many business trips to New Orleans via river boat, he became ill and died. Then, as his body was being brought back to Clarksville, the boat exploded, and his body was never found. The house stayed in the Smith family until 1919, when Joseph and Margaret Trahern bought it. The Smith Trahern Mansion is now owned by the City of Clarksville. The website provides contact information to schedule tours.
5. Plan a river outing with Blueway Adventure
The Cumberland River is prominent in the landscape, the attractions and the appeal of Clarksville. Visitors come from miles around to enjoy canoeing, tubing, fishing and kayaking. With its location and launch ramp in the perfect spot, Blueway Adventure is a great place to rent equipment or schedule one of the guided trips that are available. Safety, of course, is a primary consideration.
The river has an easily-navigable current that works to the advantage of floaters and paddlers.
Blueway also sells live fishing bait.
6. Admire Clarksville's artists, civic leaders and a massive model train exhibit at the Customs House Museum
The architecture of the building will immediately grab your attention, and you will easily understand why the Customs House Museum is considered the most photographed building in Clarksville. Once inside, you will be even more impressed by the size of Tennessee’s second largest general museum. The building, opened in 1898, was originally built to accommodate the trading of the many area tobacco farmers and to house a Federal post office. Both temporary and permanent exhibits are on display at the Customs House Museum, but not to be missed are the model trains and the Bubble Cave. Both of those will especially appeal to families with young children.
The museum gift shop is exceptional and contains a large number of handmade items such as jewelry, pottery, books, paintings and home accent pieces.
7. Stroll through downtown to get a closer look at the public art
Sculptures, murals, historic architecture and amazing stained glass can be spotted during a walking tour of downtown Clarksville. Clarksville was heavily destroyed by a tornado on December 22, 1999. Several art installations give recognition to that event, such as the Day After sculpture and the Bursting with Pride mural depicting 15 downtown buildings damaged by the tornado. Be sure to also look for Clarksville’s version of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” painting and notice the statue of Frank Sutton, the lovable television sitcom character made famous in the Gomer Pyle series. You will see more scattered throughout the campus of Austin Peay State University in the heart of Clarksville.
8. Learn about the important military contributions of Fort Campbell at the Don F. Pratt Museum
Fort Campbell, which is technically in Kentucky but claimed by Clarksville, is the home of the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Military and its famous Screaming Eagles. Civilians are allowed on the base with a valid photo identification specifically for the purpose of visiting this museum. It is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and is filled with informative and insightful memorabilia and artifacts. Particularly moving are the names of those who have been killed in action who were sent from Fort Campbell. The museum primarily represents the time period from 1940 to the present day.
Visitors may schedule guided tours or choose to take a self-guided tour. A small gift shop is also on site.
9. Attend a performance at the Roxy Theatre
The Roxy Regional Theatre is the only professional theater within a 45-50 mile (72.4-80.4 km) radius and boasts performers who are recruited from as far away as New York City. Opened in this location since 1947, the Roxy hosts theater-goers for performances 345 days a year, some for a popular Sunday afternoon film series but many for first-class live performances of plays and musicals. “Charley’s Aunt” and “Damn Yankees” are on the calendar for July and August of 2019, and Season 37 was recently announced with much fanfare. It will open with “A Chorus Line” in September. The prices at the Roxy are attractive and affordable, plus discounts are given to students at Austin Peay State University and military personnel at Fort Campbell. It is said that “there is not a bad seat in the house” in the 153-seat downstairs theater.
10. Explore the fascinating underworld at Dunbar Cave State Park
May to September is the official cave season, and many visitors will arrive to explore the incredible depth and indigenous cave drawings inside Dunbar Cave. The cave extends for 8 miles (12.87 km), and the entrance is easily recognized by the poured concrete arches. Tickets for tours may be purchased at the Museum Gift Shop.
In addition to examining the cave, visitors can take advantage of the 3 miles (4.8 km) of hiking trails in the park and the abundant bird-watching opportunities. Dunbar Cave State Park hosts a wide variety of educational events throughout the year, and its candlelight yoga classes inside the cave sound particularly relaxing.
All of these and more will keep you busy in Clarksville
McGregor Park along the river, Millenium Plaza downtown, the attractive boutiques, antique shops and vinyl record stores and Miss Lucille’s Marketplace are additional places visitors will enjoy in Clarksville. Clearly, the city, just 45 minutes west of Nashville, offers something for all ages, and the townspeople hope you will plan your visit soon.
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